HC Deb 18 November 1998 vol 319 cc956-98

.—(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint one or more persons—

  1. (a) to review, in accordance with subsection (2), the operation of the system of election provided for by section 3 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 as substituted by section 1 of this Act, and
  2. (b) to make a report to the Secretary of State within six months from the day of appointment.
(2) The review shall consider, in particular, how the ability of electors to vote for particular persons on a party's list of candidates might affect the results of an election. (3) The Secretary of State shall carry out his duty under subsection (1) within one month from the date of the first general election to the European Parliament which takes place after the coming into force of section 1. (4) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of any report received under subsection (1)(b) before each House of Parliament.'.

For the second time this week, I find myself at the Dispatch Box, which is always a pleasure, seeking this House's agreement to overturn a vote in the other place on the Bill. I am here because a group of people—whose only claim to sit in the legislature is some action of their forebears—believes that it has the right to impose its will on this democratically elected House.

Since we last discussed the Bill less than 48 hours ago, we have amended the review clause to give statutory effect to my promise last time to consult the Opposition parties about who should undertake the post-election review. That is now, or will be, if the House and the other place agree, in the Bill. In addition, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear at Prime Minister's Question Time, there could also be a role for the independent electoral commission that was proposed by Lord Neill and his colleagues, which has been welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and on which we hope to legislate as soon as possible.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

We are pleased to hear that the review has been strengthened, and hope that Conservative Members who have said that they enjoy the Neill approach to electoral commissions will be satisfied with that; but I wonder whether the Home Secretary is aware that the Conservative spokesman, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, called for precisely such a review in Committee. I wonder whether the Home Secretary feels that the amendment is now satisfactory in terms of what he knows about what the Conservative peers wanted in June.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but it was not only in the other place that Conservatives were calling for a review. It is difficult to follow the contortions of the Conservative party on the issue over the past two years. On Monday, the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) said: We cannot accept the latest review put forward by the Government."—[Official Report, 16 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 716.] He added that it was "ludicrous", and criticised us for the fact that we were proposing that the review should cover the merits of the open list as well as the closed list. His comments were more revealing than he thought. They showed how this decrepit Opposition have lurched from one wheeze to another, and are now impaled on the ludicrous and indefensible proposition that hereditary Conservative peers should block the will of this elected House.

Among his other problems, the hon. Member for Hertsmere is suffering from a bout of serious amnesia.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way after I have dealt with the hon. Member for Hertsmere.

Here is a man who now says that a review, post the elections next June, is "ludicrous", yet, on 12 March in the House, the same man moved new clause 4 to the Bill. What did that propose? That said that the Secretary of State should establish an independent review of the advantages and disadvantages of the electoral system under the Bill—the closed list system—compared with the open list and first-past-the-post systems, and to do so no sooner than 12 months after the June elections.

That is the same thing as we put before the House on Monday, with one difference: we propose to carry that out within six months; the hon. Member for Hertsmere did not want it to happen until 12 months had elapsed. If he has some explanation of why he has changed his mind, I should be happy to give way to him.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Certainly. As the Home Secretary will know, we opposed the closed list from the outset, but, on the review, the Home Secretary's own memory is playing a few tricks on him. He will remember that, on Second Reading, he promised to listen to and to look at both sides of the arguments. Since then, he has received no representations in favour of the closed list, but has come down in favour of it. How can we have any confidence in him and his reviews when we have had an experience such as that?

Mr. Straw

If I had been in the hon. Gentleman's position, I would not have made that intervention, because it explained nothing. Of course I have been willing to listen. No one can accuse me of not having listened to the debate. I have sat here for almost every minute of the hours and hours that we have devoted to the issue.

Indeed, I can fairly claim—I think I will have the generous approbation of Opposition Members on this—that, if I have done nothing else during the 35 hours, now, of debate, which is almost a world record, I have made Mr. Victor d'Hondt famous, and greatly contributed to the forthcoming annual Christmas quiz: name 10 famous Belgians. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who are the others?"] Well, four hereditary Tory peers have Belgian origins.

Mr. Lansley

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I am going to give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but let me deal with the hon. Member for Hertsmere.

We had the Second Reading of the Bill on 25 November. I did say that I would listen to the arguments, and I did listen to them. As my record on the Human Rights Bill shows, I believe in listening carefully to the arguments, and, where possible, accepting them, from whatever part of House they come. We were not able to accept the arguments in favour of the open list, for reasons on which—whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not—I shall expand in a moment; nor were we able to accept the arguments in favour of the Belgian system.

The hon. Gentleman knew all that by 12 March. On 12 March, he tabled new clause 4, which called for a review, not before we introduced the closed list, but after. On Monday, he turned on his head and said that he was not in favour of a review after all.

Mr. Lansley

I recall the same joke about the Belgians being made in the course of those many hours. We are even hearing the same jokes all over again.

Can the Home Secretary recall how many of his Back Benchers, in all those hours, spoke in favour of the closed-list system for next year's elections, and how many spoke in favour of an open list? In fact, all his hon. Friends are opposed to a closed list and in favour of an open list.

Mr. Straw

As ever, the Conservative Opposition spoil their case with exaggeration and invention. It is not true that every Labour Member has spoken with a difference of emphasis—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will. The numbers are clear from Hansard, and include my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) in the original debate on 25 November. The proposition was absolutely clear on that day. My hon. Friends the Members for Battersea (Mr. Linton) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg) said the same two days ago. Such is the power of the argument we have advanced that we have been massively supported in the Lobbies not only of the House of Commons, but of the other place. [Interruption.]

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

Order. We must be able to hear the Minister.

Mr. Straw

The Conservative party must face up to what happens once someone is removed from the list. The fact that 131 hereditary peers voted in favour of the change to closed lists provides the clearest possible mandate.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

Is the Home Secretary seriously suggesting that the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) was in favour of the closed list?

Mr. Straw

Yes. I listened to his speech with great interest, and, if he was not in favour of the closed list, he could have voted in the No Lobby.

Mr. David Lock (Wyre Forest)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

I will in a moment. I have some more illuminating remarks to make to Conservative Members first.

Beyond the issue of a review, little has changed since Monday, except that the British people now see more clearly than ever why they were so wise to approve another categorical Labour manifesto commitment—the commitment to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. The more the public see of them, the stronger they make the case for abolition.

On the one o'clock news on the BBC, we witnessed the risible spectacle of the fourth Baron Ampthill—a Cross Bencher, as it happens—claiming to speak for the British people and British democracy. He, of course, voted with the Conservatives, as nearly all Cross Benchers do. [Interruption.] Thirty Cross Benchers voted on the Tory side—because most of them are Tories—and six voted against.

It was a stunningly difficult case for the fourth Baron Ampthill to make, and it was made no easier by the fact that his main claim to fame is that for four years he was general manager of the co-operative stores to the upper classes, Fortnum and Mason. His great-great-grandfather received the peerage, in 1881, for being no more than British ambassador to the German empire. I ask the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), or any other Conservative Member, in the 117 years since creation of that barony, what right has Lord Ampthill or any other hereditary peer had to sabotage the decisions of this elected House?

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. While he is being gratuitously offensive to a Member of the other place—first because he earned his living working for a perfectly reputable company; and secondly because an ancestor gave distinguished public service—will he remember that the claim to fame of his noble Friend who has been appointed to lead another place is simply that she is the daughter of a former Labour Prime Minister and was married to a former ambassador?

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Hawkins

Will the Home Secretary—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will calm down while I am speaking. First, his intervention was too long. Secondly—I tell those on both sides of the House—let us not get into the personalities of the other place.

Mr. Straw

We now have a statement from the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, who speaks for the moderates among Tory Members—God protect us from the rest of them. He is a serious Conservative Member. It is therefore interesting that he is claiming that hereditary peers have the same status—the same right to sit and to vote in the other place—as those who are appointed on their own merits. I note that, and file it.

I was casting no aspersions on Lord Ampthill, except to say that I find it risible that he was claiming to speak on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom. It is important to examine the background not of individuals who are currently in the other place but of those who were "elected" there initially. The 26th Baron of Mowbray, Segrave and Stourton—

Several hon. Members


Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House will have heard what you said about not dealing with personalities. If that applies to Conservative Members, may we assume that it applies also to Labour Members and to the Home Secretary?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have heard what I said. May I tell the Home Secretary that it does not help to talk about the personalities of individual office holders. We should be temperate in our language. I also tell hon. Members that I want to hear the Home Secretary. He is a very nice Home Secretary, and I want to hear him, but I have not been able to.

Mr. Straw

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I note that I had only to read out the name—the fact that he is the 26th Baron. That is all I said about him.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

They rise to the point. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I should like to know whether he is making the same point as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath—that hereditary peers have the same right as life peers to sit in the other place, and that those who are appointed on the merit of some long-dead forebear have the same right in the other place as those who are appointed on their own merit. Is that the point?

Mr. Robathan

I am grateful to the Home Secretary. I shall not talk about personalities, but simply ask whether the Home Secretary believes that one criterion for being Lord Chancellor, for example, might be having been the Prime Minister's pupil master, or that one criterion for being appointed Solicitor-General might be having shared a flat with the Prime Minister?

Mr. Straw

There is a serious point to make, which is that people on both sides in the other place who are appointed as life peers are appointed on their own merit. Although the hon. Gentleman may disagree about who is appointed—as we sometimes disagreed about appointments by Conservative Prime Ministers—there is a profound difference between those who are appointed on their own merit, however much that may be challenged, and those who are there simply because of the actions or claims of their long-dead forebears.

As I reminded the House on Monday, the great Tom Paine, whom the Tory party at the end of the 18th century was trying to have locked up, and who had to go off to America, said, in a phrase that is as right today as it was then: The idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges, as hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; as absurd as an hereditary Poet Laureate.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)


Mr. Straw

I have given way a lot. I just want to make a couple more points.

Mr. Cash


Mr. Straw

Well, if the hon. Gentleman wants to ask me about Tom Paine, I shall give way.

Mr. Cash

The Home Secretary is making an analogy with the 18th century. Does he not think that the new system that the Government are devising for replacing the hereditary peers is going back to the 18th century? Instead of rotten boroughs, he will be creating rotten peers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are not debating the replacement or removal of peers. [Interruption.] Order. I am stating to everyone in the House that that is not what we are debating, and everyone on both sides will have to listen.

4.45 pm
Mr. Straw

We are not replicating a system that existed in the 18th century, for one incontrovertible reason, which will be acknowledged by hon. Members on both sides: Mr. Victor d'Hondt was not born until the 19th century, and without him none of this would have been possible.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)


Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)


Mr. Straw

I shall give way to the two hon. Gentlemen, then I shall get on.

Sir Peter Tapsell

I should like to bring the Home Secretary back from the 18th century to 1998, and back from personalities to the constitution, which he, as Home Secretary, is partly responsible for protecting. We rightly hear a great deal from him about the need to protect the rule of law in this country. Whatever may happen to the House of Lords in the next Session of Parliament, for the moment the law of the land says that hereditary peers have the same voting rights in the upper House as life peers. It is not open to the Home Secretary to change the constitution by diktat.

Mr. Straw

It is certainly not open to me to change the constitution by diktat, and I should not have the impertinence to try to do so. The creator of modern so-called Villa Conservatism—Lord Salisbury—devised the Salisbury doctrine in the late 1880s, recognising the right of an elected House of Commons to meet its manifesto commitments. We have an unwritten constitution, so there is nothing in tablets of stone and no formal basic law that describes the powers of the other place or this House. We are dealing with carefully crafted conventions.

One of the most important conventions, which has kept a balance between this House and the other place, is that established by a distinguished former Conservative Prime Minister and party leader. Those on the Conservative Front Bench, and the other place, are seeking to destroy that convention.

Mr. Cash

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that this is a point of order.

Mr. Cash

It is indeed a point of order. It is about the application of conventions in this House. The Home Secretary has just alleged that there was a Labour manifesto commitment on this issue. That is not the case—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman catches my eye, he may be able to rebut the Home Secretary's argument, but it is not for me to worry about what the Home Secretary says.

Mr. Straw

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), and then I shall get on.

Mr. Brady

I apologise if I spoil the Home Secretary's fun by returning the debate to its theme. Instead of discussing the House of Lords, perhaps he could consider the difference between the democratic legitimacy of someone elected as a candidate standing in an open election and that of someone who is elected simply because the leader of his party put him at the top of a list.

Mr. Straw

I shall come to that.

We would not be holding these debates were it not for the fact that the other place has sent the issue back to us for the fourth time. Our manifesto commitment was clear—to introduce a proportional system of representation for the European Parliament. As with any party's manifesto, we did not set out every last detail, on that or anything else. That is a verity for all parties.

The closed-list system is used by more voters than any other system in Europe. Moreover, as I shall remind Conservative Members at greater length in a moment, it is a system that their own party used in the 12 months before the general election. They might therefore have spotted that it was the system most likely to be used. I know of no Conservative candidate—I shall be happy to give way if there is one—who, whether he or she won or lost a seat at the general election, raised the issue of what kind of list system we should use for the European elections. Everybody understood what we intended to do.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)


Mr. Straw

I shall not give way; I have already given way many times.

The other place asked us to think again, yet it has offered us no new arguments to support that request. I have studied carefully what was said there. Yesterday's debate was notable for an excellent speech by the former Labour Prime Minister, Lord Callaghan, who made the important point that no electoral system is perfect, but that the open-list system contains within it, as I have shown, the possibility—indeed, the likelihood—of perverse results. My noble Friend also exposed the Conservative party's tactics for what they are—nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with opportunism.

Another notable aspect of the debate in the other place was what was not said. No new arguments in support of open lists were advanced, and no attempt was made to justify the perverse results that they can produce, or to say how those would be explained to a bemused electorate.

I shall spell the problem out, because I do not believe that Conservative Members properly understand what would happen. In the other place, the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman, Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish, said that he accepted that, under the open-list system, someone might be elected despite having received fewer votes than someone else on another party list. I take that admission as an important sign that, at long last, the penny has dropped a little with at least some of the supporters of the fundamentally flawed so-called open system.

The noble Lord then spoiled his argument by saying that such an outcome, whereby someone could lose but win, and someone else could win but lose, happens all the time under first past the post—when, he added, one compares one constituency with another.

It is an obvious truth that that may happen when we compare one constituency with another. I cannot quite remember how many votes I got at the general election, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because there were so many, but it was a lot. Other people may have got more votes and lost—but that would have been in another constituency. Nobody in the House was elected having received fewer votes than somebody else in the same constituency. Yet that is the proposition being supported—

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

No. I want the hon. Gentleman to listen, if he does not mind. If he pays attention, I may consider giving way to him later.

Conservative Members have not yet properly understood the point that I have just made. We are talking not about a comparison between votes cast in different electoral areas, but about votes cast in the same electoral area.

For example, one of the candidates for one of the parties—let us assume that that person is the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)—may be so well known, in the west midlands, say, that he has got near the top of the list, or even right at the top. Everybody wants to vote for him, and few people want to vote for anyone else in the multi-member constituency. The right hon. Gentleman will get most of the votes, and the other Conservative candidates will get very few. In the other parties, the votes are more evenly distributed, and all the other candidates in the other parties get more votes than the second, third, fourth and fifth Conservative candidates. This point can be reversed.

Under the so-called open, or personal system—and because of the high vote that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield got—the result would be that people who received more votes than the second, third and fourth Conservative candidates would not get elected, and the people who got fewer votes than them would get elected. I suggest to Opposition Members that that would be an extraordinary and perverse result. What I have said is accurate, and has been acknowledged by Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. All he could say is that that happens under first past the post—when it does not.

Mr. Brazier

In trying to make his case that one system of PR is even worse than another, could I ask the Home Secretary to recall in a few months the remark that he made a moment ago—that the great merit of the existing system is that you cannot be defeated by a candidate who gets fewer votes than you, which, of course, would disappear if alternative voting were introduced, as Lord Jenkins has recommended?

Mr. Straw

It might disappear because of some other things that Lord Jenkins may propose, but not because of the alternative vote. Under that system in single-member constituencies, the only person who can conceivably be elected is the person who receives the most votes. [Interruption.] I know we are talking about second or third preferences, but it is still the person who pops up at the top. Of course I understand that. It is no good the Conservatives getting angry about it. I am not arguing for the alternative vote system, but, under the system advocated by the Conservatives, there would be the most extraordinary results from the so-called open list, which is scarcely an open list at all.

If there were five vacancies under a true open list in a multi-member constituency, the voters would be given five votes. They might be given five votes as crosses to allocate equally, or five votes to allocate in order of preference. Under the Conservative system—which, I suggest, is only dimly understood by Conservative Members—voters in the five-member constituency would be given not five votes, but one vote, so that they could vote for only one candidate of their choice. Having voted for one candidate of their choice, they would trigger the operation of a list.

We are, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spelt out, trying to save the Conservative party from itself in this endeavour. The Conservative party is saying that people will have a choice, but they will have nothing of the kind—except the oddest kind of choice, in which five vacancies have to share one single vote.

In contrast to the extraordinarily complicated system that the Conservatives are proposing, with the serious and perverse result that the winners lose and the losers win— a system which can best be described as last past the post—there is the closed-list system. The great merit of the closed-list system is that the voters know exactly what they will get. They vote for the list as a whole, and they choose which team they wish to support.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

Speaking as the only Cross Bencher in this place—although I am not allowed to speak from the Cross Benches—can I wonder whether the British, as a free people, should not be voting for individuals rather than a party slate?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is the exception in this House that proves the rule. He stood as an independent candidate without a party.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Labour party backed him. [Laughter.]

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend also makes my point, and I am deeply grateful to him—as ever. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) may have had Labour party backing, but he stood as an independent. The people of Tatton had a choice between a Conservative candidate, who happened to be named Hamilton, and an independent candidate—the hon. Gentleman.

All the rest of us, who carry party labels, came here as party candidates on closed lists of one. [Interruption.] It is no good Conservative Members complaining about that, because it is the truth, for the following reason.

It is easy to devise a system in which voters have a choice of party, but are also given a choice of candidate for that party—some systems of that sort exist in the United States. The ballot paper would offer a choice of, for example, the Labour, the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties, which would determine which party won, but it would also offer a choice of, say, three Liberal Democrat, Conservative or Labour candidates. Therefore, the primary takes place on the same day.

No party in the Westminster Parliament operates that system. Each selects its own candidate and presents the electorate with a single, closed list: one party, one candidate. So the principle that we are dealing with for the European elections is the same principle under which everyone in the House, bar the hon. Member for Tatton, has been elected.

5 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Straw

No. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have already given way a great deal.

Nor was any attempt made in the other place to answer the point made by the Conservative Lord Bethell—no friend of this Government—that Members and aspiring Members of the European Parliament would be known only to a tiny minority of the electorate, and that choices made between them would inevitably involve much randomness. I remind the House that the noble Lord said in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, which was published on Monday: I wonder, though, if the Conservatives want the elections to he fought on the fully 'open list' system. If so"— this is a warning that Conservative Members would do well to note— they will run into problems. The open list offers a choice so wide as to be confusing, especially since hardly any of the several hundred candidates whose names will be put forward have any public profile. Ballot papers will carry 50 or more names. Hardly anyone will know of them. Voters will mark their crosses at random.

The arguments for the closed list are simple and persuasive. It is an easy system to use, it removes the need for randomness, and for possibly discriminatory choices, and it does not have the potential for anomalous results. It is used in five other major European countries: Germany, Greece, France, Spain and Portugal, whose people are just as committed to the principles of democracy as we are.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

What has that to do with us?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) asks what Europe has to do with us—

Mr. Alan Johnson (Hull, West and Hessle)

It has very little to do with her.

Mr. Straw

Well, I understand her xenophobia, even though I do not share it.

I have never supported the proposition that, just because something happens in Europe, we should follow it, and I do not think that anyone supports it. However, the people of Germany, Greece, France, Spain and Portugal are just as committed to the principle of democracy as we are. They have been ready to accept the system. It has worked, and there have been no complaints about its fairness there.

I would also point out, in particular to the hon. Lady, but also to her hon. Friends, that she may have forgotten—those on the Conservative Front Bench have plainly forgotten it, but we have not—that the closed-list system was exactly the system that the Conservative Government used two years ago. [Interruption.] It is no good groaning about it. I know that Conservative Members do not want to be reminded of any of their history, but the closed-list system—

Mrs. Gorman

The right hon. Gentleman is being insulting.

Mr. Straw

I am not insulting the hon. Lady, but I will be happy to give way to her.

Mrs. Gorman

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Notwithstanding the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is substituting rhetoric for argument, I have stated in this House, and will do so again, that I do not particularly admire European systems. On examination, one realises that, over the centuries, they have produced unstable Governments or dictatorships, whereas our system of first past the post has guaranteed a democratic system under which this Government have flourished.

Mr. Straw

Those countries use modern systems, which have not produced what the hon. Lady suggests.

The Conservative Government introduced the closed-list system only two years ago. The system that the Tories now say raises a fundamental principle of democracy is the very one that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), described as "fair and balanced"; he said that it would produce "a representative outcome".

As became obvious to all who heard the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield on Monday, there was really no way out of that box. All he could come up with was that the former Prime Minister had decided to use the system because of the "special circumstances" of Northern Ireland. The principal special circumstance was the creation of a path to democratic government in the Province.

Are we seriously being asked to believe that the former Prime Minister chose the closed list notwithstanding the fact that he believed at the time that it was an anti-democratic system? Of course he did not. He chose it because, as he said, it was fair, balanced, and representative; he also chose it for all its other merits of simplicity, which the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) spelled out at the time.

Over and above the arguments for the change, a simple, stark fact stands out. On each of the four occasions when the Government were defeated in another place, the outcome of the vote would have been different without the votes of the hereditary peers. Last night, the Labour Government achieved one of their highest votes ever for any of their legislation. A clear majority of those—from all parties and none—who were appointed to the other place on their own merit, voted for the closed list. Only the votes of the hereditaries—including 103 Conservative hereditaries—who are in the other place not on account of their own merit, but through the chance of their birth, defeated the Government's proposal.

The end of the Session is almost upon us. The Government remain committed to the electoral system in the Bill. If the other place persists in its stance, it must do so in the knowledge that it will cause the Bill to fall in this Session. The Government will have failed to achieve one of their manifesto commitments because of the obstruction of another place—a clear breach of the doctrine established by Lord Salisbury, the great-grandfather of the current Leader of the Opposition in another place.

Both on the merits of the issue, and on the constitutional principle, the House of Commons is right. I ask it to send the clearest possible message to the other place.

Sir Norman Fowler

The Home Secretary has spoken on this matter four times, but his case is becoming significantly weaker and more threadbare. He has again set out the range of arguments that he used first time round. He keeps quoting Lord Bethell, but Lord Bethell said in the debate in the House of Lords last night: I know that we cannot have a closed list, which is abominable. My noble Friend on the Front Bench is quite right."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 November 1998; Vol. 594, c. 1139.] The Home Secretary cites as support among Conservative peers someone who regards the closed list as abominable.

The Home Secretary is wrong in all his arguments. Moreover, many people will object to the arguments that he directed against named hereditary peers; those arguments will do neither his cause nor his reputation any credit, especially as—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) should listen. One of the noble Lords who has consistently voted for the Government is Lord Warner, who was sent to the House of Lords for no reason other than the fact that he was the Home Secretary's special adviser. We shall not take lectures from the Home Secretary on this issue. As for Cross Benchers—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Whip must be quiet.

Sir Norman Fowler

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Home Secretary ignores the argument about Cross Benchers and says that they normally vote with the Conservative party. Historically, that is rubbish. In the previous Parliament they voted almost consistently against the Conservative party. Cross Benchers' votes show that anyone who considers the issue from an independent point of view comes out against the Government's proposition.

The Prime Minister calls the position that we are in an affront to democracy. The true affront to democracy is to have a closed list, which denies the public the right to choose a candidate; to put power in the hands, not of the electorate, but of the party bosses; and to force this measure through in spite of all the arguments made, not only by Conservative Members and the House of Lords but, time and time again, by Labour Members.

The Home Secretary says that we have a constitutional problem, but he has no one but himself to blame for the mess that the Government are in. He has ignored all advice and pushed ahead with the closed list. If there is a constitutional problem, he is its author. His handling of the Bill has been an example of blundering incompetence, and all his arguments have been discredited.

The Home Secretary has made it clear that if the debate is lost we will go back to first past the post. I have made it clear that I would prefer that; but that is not the issue. The issue is the form of electoral system that we have under proportional representation. I am tempted to ask the Home Secretary whether his announcement that we will go back to first past the post is a threat or a promise. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Mr. Ronnie Campbell, please be quiet.

Mr. Cash

I have found it difficult—in fact, impossible—to vote with my party on this question, because I am so much against the principle of proportional representation, but I congratulate the Opposition on the fact that it looks as though we will go back to first past the post; and thank God for that.

Sir Norman Fowler

I knew that the time would come when my hon. Friend and I would march arm in arm together.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The right hon. Gentleman will know that there are no Conservative Members of the European Parliament from Scotland under first past the post. Has he consulted the Conservative candidates who have been chosen to go on the list for Scotland about the implications for their prospects of what he is doing?

Sir Norman Fowler

If the hon. Gentleman takes any interest in such matters, he will know that we are committed to first past the post. I do not think that he attended any of the other debates on this subject, so he will not have noticed, but I have clearly set out that policy on every occasion.

The Home Secretary says that he is trying to deliver a manifesto pledge. The closed list was not a manifesto pledge. It could not be, because on Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman himself set up a review of a system—the Belgian system or semi-open list—that went wider than the closed list. If everyone knew that we would get a closed list in any event, his review was a complete sham, so why did we waste our time?

The Home Secretary's argument is that everyone in the country secretly knew that the Labour party was pledged to a closed list. That will take a great deal of swallowing. Are we really to believe that Labour went to the polls in 1997 telling the public, "You can have a closed-list system or a semi-open system, but not an open-list system"? That is an absurd proposition.

That proposition was knocked down most conclusively by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Bern), who said: Is there a mandate for the Bill? No one came up to me during the general election campaign to say, 'Tony, we will vote Labour only if you promise that we cannot vote for an individual candidate in the European elections.' No one said any such thing, and I did not know that that was the policy."—[Official Report, 16 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 685.] The Home Secretary does not appear to have been very successful in explaining the position to the public, let alone convincing his own side.

The closed list was not a manifesto commitment, so let us forget that nonsense. No more credence should be given to the Home Secretary's argument that the use of the system in 1996 for the Northern Ireland deliberative forum creates a precedent for the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) made it clear at the time that the system was not ideal and was intended to meet the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, and that was the view of the then Leader of the Opposition, who is now the Prime Minister.

Above all, the Home Secretary knows that there are and have been special circumstances in Northern Ireland. I assume that he does not propose to set free terrorists and criminals here in the same way that the Government are doing there. There are fundamental differences. Let us have no more of this nonsense.

5.15 pm
Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman keeps failing to answer a fundamental point. His argument is not based on the merits of whether we had a closed-list or another system in Northern Ireland. He is saying that the closed-list system is anti-democratic: in other words, that it is absolutely beyond the pale for all purposes. Given that strong assertion, why did he support the use of that anti-democratic closed-list system for Northern Ireland?

Sir Norman Fowler

The system is anti-democratic in the way in which it will be used in the European elections. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon said: I agree with his view that the electoral solution is not ideal."—[Official Report, 21 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 500.] The word "his" refers to the view of the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister.

Mr. Straw

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the use of the closed-list system in Northern Ireland was anti-democratic?

Sir Norman Fowler

It met the special circumstances of Northern Ireland. That is exactly what we have been saying. It is also exactly what the Prime Minister and the previous Prime Minister said.

By far the most significant feature of all our debates on the issue has been the almost total reluctance of Labour Members to speak out in favour of the closed list. As was demonstrated again last Monday, some of the most bitter criticism of the closed-list system comes from the Benches behind the Home Secretary.

On Monday, the Home Secretary claimed "overwhelming support" for the closed list, or what he then began to call the "simple list" system. The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), who is rather franker on these issues, said: It is customary to begin by saying that we have had a good debate. On this occasion, perhaps I will be forgiven for saying that it has been an interesting debate."—[Official Report, 16 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 717.] By that, he meant that of six Labour Members who spoke and listened in the debate, four abstained from voting. Two thirds of those who spoke could not bring themselves to support the Government in the Lobby, while the two who voted with the Government said that they preferred the open list. They held their noses and voted with the Government.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fear that grips the Home Secretary is that, if the open list is adopted, people in Manchester, Yorkshire, Birmingham or London who traditionally vote Labour may be tempted to vote for the old-fashioned socialists who have been shuffled off down to the bottom of the list and to reject the new Labour luvvies who have been put at the top of the list by Mandelson towers?

Sir Norman Fowler

My hon. Friend makes a very good point.

Let me remind the House of some of the contributions from Labour Members. They are entirely relevant to what is now being seen as a clash between the Commons and the Lords. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield, who is not exactly a stranger to the debate on the House of Lords and its functions—[Interruption.] If the Minister for Local Government and Housing, the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong) wishes to intervene, I will be happy to allow her to do so. She was not much good in her previous Department, I cannot believe that she is much good—[Interruption.]

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield said: the arguments against the closed-list system are absolutely overwhelming. Indeed, those arguments are the same"—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary should listen to this. The Minister for Local Government and Housing will not offer any advice. The right hon. Gentleman said: Indeed, those arguments are the same as those arguments against the House of Lords itself for its Members all got in on the closed list. The Prime Minister draws up a little closed list, and puts all its Members into the House of Lords. If we get rid of the hereditary peers, which I would welcome, we shall have nothing but a closed list in the Lords. They will all be the Prime Minister's friends. My objection to the Bill is, therefore, the same as my objection to the House of Lords.

I do not think that even the Home Secretary would regard that as a wholehearted endorsement of his policy. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield does not like hereditary peers, but he seems to like even less the policy of appointees and placemen, which seems to make up Labour's vision of the future—the House of Lords as a giant quango.

In the same debate, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said: It has been suggested that I should regard this as a battle between Lords and Commons, and that I could do myself a bit of good by voting with the Government this time. [Laughter.] Labour Whips do give us helpful advice: that is what they are there for. As Opposition Members are laughing, I want to make it clear that the Labour party is not a party of control freaks—I am authorised to say that … I shall leave the Chamber for a little while to commune with destiny … I intend to contemplate my vote, eat my sausage and mash, and hope that someone comes down to see me. I do not know whether anyone went down to see him, but he did not vote for the Government.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said: I feel very strongly about this matter … I saw the effect of list systems on the European Parliament and the control that all political parties exercised. I explained time and again—wrongly it now appears—that we would find it difficult to accept that system in Britain, because we had a genuine commitment to a constituency link and we believed that the individual was tremendously important in our system of government. I believe that very strongly."—[Official Report, 16 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 684-705.] The hon. Lady also abstained.

Let no one think that the debate on Monday was in any way exceptional. The advantage of having so many debates on the same issue is that it has been possible to see the trend in the argument. The cast of Labour Back Benchers may change, but the arguments against the closed list are basically the same. In the debate on 27 October, the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, quite bluntly: I am not in favour of the closed-list system. I did not vote for it on Second Reading and I do not intend to vote for it tonight."—[Official Report, 27 October 1998; Vol. 318, c. 196.] On 10 November, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) was equally blunt when he said: the closed-list system allows fixers to get their way, which is the real reason why I oppose it.

Those are some of the Labour Members who have spoken against the measure. Labour Member after Labour Member has opposed the system. They have opposed the transfer of power to the party organisation, and 1 suspect that, for every one who has spoken, there are dozens of others who echo those feelings.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a further deficit in the closed-list system is that in no circumstances can there ever be a by-election?

Sir Norman Fowler

That is true. It is just another of the issues involved.

We then get to the desperate defence from the Home Secretary. He recognises that the balance of the argument in this debate has been against him. He would have to be blind and deaf not to recognise that. He says, "Labour Members voted for us, you know." We must ask why so many Labour Members voted for a system in which they do not believe. The answer was given by the hon. Member for Wrexham in the debate on 10 November. He said: My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) argued, with good grounds, that there was no majority in favour of the closed-list system in the parliamentary Labour party. Yet, he also argued that the Government would have a large majority tonight. I ask the House to think about that contradiction. If there is no majority in the Labour party but the system is such that the Whips and the Patronage Secretary can dragoon Members through the Lobby—and I admit that I will be dragooned when the time comes—what legitimacy does the elected Chamber have in comparison with the unelected Chamber whose Members may, by and large, vote according to their own judgment on the right course of action for the country?"—[Official Report, 10 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 226–29.]

That is a good question. Surely it is the question that we should be asking. This is a voting system that is wanted by next to nobody and it is being forced through against the opinion of both Labour and Conservative Members and against the vote in the House of Lords. The real issue is not whether the House of Lords is carrying out its right and proper function, but that Labour Whips are forcing support for a voting system which, if the Labour party was left to its own devices, it would reject.

In the House of Lords, the Labour party had substantial difficulty finding speakers to support its measures. Lord Shore, not exactly a Conservative hereditary peer, has to his great credit, spoken and voted consistently against the measure, as has Lord Stoddart. As I pointed out in the previous debate, even those who spoke in favour of the Government were careful not to argue for the closed list, although yesterday one of their Lordships did begin by arguing in that way, and then gave the game away when he said that he hoped that the court would be gentle with him. He had picked up a brief and momentarily forgotten where he was.

The real irony is that the only party which appears to have had anything approaching enthusiasm for this case is the Liberal Democrat party. Its official position is in favour of the open list so, naturally, it voted in favour of a closed list. The credibility of Liberal Democrats is in question, not only here but in the House of Lords. We have even seen the sad prospect of Lord Taverne voting for the closed list. Quite contrary to what the Home Secretary asserts, Lord Taverne once established that a named candidate could beat the party.

Lord Rodgers, now the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, is very much in the mould of his predecessor, Lord Jenkins, but without Lord Jenkins's common touch. After all his changes of party, he has voted for the closed list. In this whole debate, after the Home Secretary, the Liberal Democrats have come out with least credit.

The argument has gone solidly against the Government. It has gone against them in Parliament and outside. The Times continues to condemn the measure, as do other newspapers such as the Daily Mail. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin) is laughing. When Labour Members vote at the views of the Daily Mail, I wonder why the spin doctors, such as Alastair Campbell, spend so much time trying to win that newspaper's support.

Having lost every argument on the issue, the Government are now desperately trying to get going a debate on the Lords versus the people. It is the only argument they have. It is a little late for that argument, however, as one cannot run up a flag of democracy for an anti-democratic measure. This is an anti-democratic measure because it transfers power from the people to the party. [Interruption.] It puts power in the hands of the party bosses. That is the essence of the proposal, and that is why the House of Lords is entirely right to check that power. If the Government want a debate on the House of Lords, that is fine by us. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Mr. Caplin, you must be quiet. You must calm down.

Sir Norman Fowler

If the Government want a debate on the House of Lords, that is fine by us. They will find few people in their party, or anywhere else, who agree with their concept of a House of Lords of placemen and appointees, a giant quango of men and women who are on the list only because they can be relied on to vote for the Government. The Government do not want a second Chamber that takes an independent line. They do not want a second Chamber that exercises independent judgment. This Government cannot bear to be criticised, they cannot bear to be questioned and, above all, they cannot bear to be defeated. They reveal themselves in their true colours. The Government are arrogant, and that arrogance, sooner or later, will bring them crashing down.

5.30 pm
Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

I wish to make it clear that I have abstained on this issue throughout, but I have done so with a heavy heart. I do not want the Conservatives to exploit what is, for many people, an issue of conscience. There has been too much banter and not enough substance to the debate on the problem. I am against not only the list system, but proportional representation itself. The problem is PR. I have not yet come across a more sensible system than our current one, although I am open to debate on another occasion.

I wish that we could have discussed every option, but we are unfortunately not in that situation. We now have trench warfare. Throughout history, both sides have been damaged in trench warfare. In this case, both sides will suffer and democracy will be no better off for it. My abstention is based on my belief in democracy and my belief that I am accountable to a constituency. I have the right to stand for election as a human being, on the party ticket but not as a mere cog in a party machine. That is not why I am in Parliament.

If I get the sack from the people, so be it, but I would rather be sacked by the people than through the fiddling of a party list controlled by people who are almost unknown. I am not against the Labour Government, but I feel strongly that we need a system that allows the expression of the people's opinion to be heard and counted correctly.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

My hon. Friend has so far argued on the merits of the issue. Does he also argue that the unelected and undemocratic House of Lords has the right to overrule the House of Commons, even when a general commitment to a proportional electoral system was in our manifesto?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman may not have been present at the time, but I have already made the point that we are not debating the structure of the House of Lords or its powers. We are debating the amendments before us.

Mr. Michie

I have no truck with the hereditary peers or the Tory party. It is ironic that some Conservatives do not like the so-called closed-list system, but they support a closed list that has lasted longer than any other—the hereditary peers, who are selected by the elite. I do not want the same to happen to the House of Commons or to our democratic voting system. The closed list does not give total freedom of choice to the electorate. Fortunately, my abstention will not rock the Government, and it may be a futile gesture, but I feel that I have to make it.

I do not doubt that the present system leaves much to be desired, but the breaking of links with the present constituency system is wrong. The proposed system will not help democracy in any way. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made the point that we have no real choice if we have to choose between an inadequate system and an even more inadequate system. That is the dilemma that I and many other people face. It is not that we have no confidence in the Labour Government or that the Tories have any better ideas. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was very kind today because he said that he wanted the system changed to give other people a chance. He is also being kind in allowing the Tories to have a platform, because since the election they have not had one and that is why they are so enthusiastic about the issue.

We all worry that the European Parliament elections are viewed with scepticism and cynicism. We worry about the low turnout, but that is not because of the first-past-the-post system. It is because people are cynical about the European Parliament. They cannot feel any enthusiasm about it because it is so remote, and that is why they do not turn out to vote. Therefore, I cannot understand why we would wish to introduce a system that makes even the candidate remote. The candidate will be no longer a person, but a part of a party machine and that will make matters worse for European elections, not better. I will again abstain with a heavy heart, and I hope that my comrades will understand.

Mr. Allan

I approach this afternoon's debate with the same feelings as someone about to take the driving test for the fifth time—slightly nauseous and with my customary optimism dimmed by the previous four failures. However, unlike someone who has failed the driving test, we have passed the test in this House on four previous occasions with considerable majorities. What has happened is that the tester has asked a panel of people descended from his grandfather's friends for a second opinion, and sent it back to us on that basis.

I am pleased to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie), whose views I respect, even though they differ from my own, on this as on many other subjects. I know that he holds them with great sincerity. In deference to the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), another neighbour, I shall try not to refer to the first-past-the-post system as the closed list of one. Instead, I shall refer to it as a system in which the electorate have no option but to vote for the single candidate selected by the party if they wish to vote for that party. I hope that that more accurate and snappy rendition will satisfy him.

The people last year elected a Government with a mandate to bring in fair votes for Europe. Two thirds of the people in this country gave their votes to parties committed to that principle. This elected Chamber has now voted four times for the Bill to be passed without further amendment. If the Conservatives hold to their belief that their opposition should be loyal and democratic, they should stop playing partisan games and let the people cast their verdict on the system in the elections next year.

At worst, the closed-list system has been said to be an affront to democracy because party machines can be less than perfectly democratic in ordering their candidates. The Labour party has done its best to give us examples to highlight the problem for us, but party machines at least have to seek a mandate for their internal processes from their many hundreds of thousands of members. However much I deplore what sometimes happens in some parties, when it comes to a contest about democratic legitimacy, what happens within parties still strikes me as infinitely more democratic than allowing decisions to be made by those selected by heredity. Labour Members who are angry about selection processes should consider that.

Tonight, we have a choice: we are offered an election system decided by the democratic majority in this House, which involves a considerable degree of party influence in ordering candidates; or we are offered the alternative of an election system, chosen by the other place by people who owe their power to an accident of birth and who will combine with the hand of God arbitrarily to choose which candidates are elected from entirely open lists.

Mr. Lansley

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that it is perfectly possible, even under the system proposed by the other place, for the Government to ask that parties structure the open list in the order of party preference? What the Lords want, and what that would allow, is for those who support a party to be able to choose which candidate they want.

Mr. Allan

That is fine for the candidates at the top of the list—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is interested in this matter, but his hon. Friends seem keen to engage him in debate. His proposal would suit the top person on the list, and it would be fine in my party's case, where only the top person is likely to win through in many cases. However, it would not suit the second, third or fourth person on the list. Under the system proposed by the Conservatives, only one cross goes in the box. Will they tell their supporters that the list is ordered, and that those whose house numbers begin with one should vote for the first candidate, and those whose house numbers begin with two should vote for the second, and so on? There are fundamental flaws in that system.

Labour Members should realise that the option of our choice is by far the more democratic of the alternatives on offer. They can, at least, be elected to their national executive committee, but they have no hope of becoming Lord Muck of Nether Regions. I am conscious that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) contradicts that point, having been a peer in the past, and having no chance of being elected to the NEC, but Labour Members can change their party's processes if the will exists for change.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

This is the fourth or fifth time I have heard the hon. Gentleman speak on this matter. Perhaps he will give me a straight answer to a simple question. What is his preferred option? I do not want to know what he will vote for, but what he believes in.

Mr. Allan

For the fourth or fifth time, my view is that the open-list system is preferable, but that the system proposed in the amendment is not the one. We prefer the Belgian open-list system, which we proposed in Committee, for which we voted, and on which the Conservatives failed to support us. Irrespective of the merits of selection on the list process, members of any political party have the ability to alter the list through internal mechanisms. That option is not available to those who wish to change decisions made by people in the other place, to which we have no right of entry.

I feel a need to address my comments principally to the Conservatives who are, once again, backing a Lords amendment. I hope that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition will think about their duty at this eleventh hour. An imperfect system is on the table, and I have admitted to the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) that it is an imperfect system, and that it is not the ideal that the Liberal Democrats would propose if we were in power. However, the Government have agreed to a system that will introduce proportionality to the European elections for the first time, although it does not extend voter choice when it comes to candidates. We would like to extend voter choice, but we have accepted the Government's decision. When the matter was debated, and voted on, in Committee, we accepted that the Government had made their decision.

The latest last-minute attempts to amend the Bill are futile, and they are designed chiefly to obstruct the Bill rather than seriously to improve it. The fact that the specific system proposed in the Lords amendment has some clear flaws only adds to that impression. Evidence that the amendment is a ploy to block the Bill appears in the words of the Conservative spokesman in the other place, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. At the Committee stage, Lord Mackay made two interesting points. First, he criticised systems in which people could be elected with fewer personal votes than others who were not elected, calling such an outcome "manifestly unfair". As the Home Secretary has said, that is precisely what could happen as a result of the amendment. We cannot understand why that shift should have taken place. Secondly, Lord Mackay proposed precisely the kind of review proposed by the Government amendment in lieu. He told the Committee that he was "a realist", that he accepted that next year's elections would be under a closed-list system and that the most important thing was that there should be a review. He even ventured to suggest that the closed-list system might actually work, saying that, if all went "swimmingly and excellently", the Government would have nothing to fear at all."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 June 1998; Vol. 591, c. 355.]

Why is it, then, that, when the Conservatives are being offered exactly what they wanted in Committee, they appear to want to change the democratic will of the House of Commons? Our conclusion must be that they are seeking to achieve a partisan goal of preserving an unfair voting system, irrespective of any constitutional principle that is broken along the way.

What would happen if the Conservatives withdrew their support for the amendment? The elections would go ahead with a less-than-perfect system, but we would have a fairer voting system, which appeared in manifestos supported by the majority of the electorate. It would mean for the first time that every vote cast in Britain would count. Far from talking down the turnout, all parties would have an incentive to get out every vote in every part of the country. There would be no more electoral deserts once we moved to the proposed system.

5.45 pm

I ask the Conservatives to consider the point at which a revising chamber becomes a blocking chamber. It has become clear during the course of our debate that the Lords amendment is not a simple revision, but a fundamental issue facing the Government. Whatever the Government's reasons for their decision, and however unhappy or happy some of their supporters are about it, it was their decision, and they are the elected Government. The Conservatives themselves describe the amendment as an issue of fundamental principle. In that case, there is no argument for saying that the other place is merely tidying up the Bill, or revising it at the margins. The other place is raising a fundamental issue of principle. The Government take one view, the peers take another. It is clear that the elected will should prevail.

To continue to seek to reverse the Government's decision once it has been so clearly made is not, in any sense, to seek to revise the legislation. It is an explicit challenge to the Bill as a whole. I must ask the official Opposition whether they see their role as one of blocking legislation for which the Government have a mandate, and which two parties that commanded 60 per cent. of the vote last year espoused at the general election and have consistently supported in Parliament ever since.

The Conservatives have called the people to their aid throughout the debate, claiming to act on the people's behalf against the party machines. I challenge the Opposition to let the people have their will as expressed at the ballot box on 1 May 1997, when they voted for parties committed to electoral reform. Let the people give their verdict on the system in the Bill. We have heard much pre-judgment about what the people will or will not accept for the elections. We have heard apocalyptic visions of how the system will mean that the people will not bother to vote. However, we should give the people the chance to make their own decision about the system next June. If they do hate it, the Conservatives can have the satisfaction of saying, "Told you so."

There is a firm commitment to a review. I assure the Conservatives that the Liberal Democrats will play an active role in that review, and we shall campaign with anyone for change where problems have been identified. If the Conservatives have any confidence in their own abilities, they should work on the assumption that they can win a general election before the European elections of 2004. They would then have the chance to outline their own ideas for a better voting system. It could be a key part of the Conservative manifesto, and the party could seek its own mandate for a reversion to the first-past-the-post system.

Until then, the Conservatives should make a careful judgment about when loyal and effective opposition slips into a bloody-minded, partisan attempt to frustrate change for which there is a mandate. The official Opposition can no longer hide behind the fact that there is no explicit mandate for a technical aspect of the Bill. It is absolutely clear that the whole Bill is at stake now.

I ask my hon. Friends to use their votes, once again, to help the Bill on to the statute book. If it passes, every citizen in Britain will next year, for the first time in a national election, have a chance to cast a vote with real value. We shall not support the Conservative amendment. We shall back the Government's call for a review.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Like a bad film, this is where we came in, and came in, and came in, and came in. I am told that there have been astonishing scenes in the other place during the past week. Apparently there were more Range Rovers than ever before in the car park, and some people had to ask their way to the Chamber. There is an undelicious irony in the fact that the other place is lecturing the House of Commons on the essence of democracy.

Those hereditary peers who sit in the other place have never stood in elections, and know nothing about elections, yet they are telling us how to run elections. They are wilfully overturning a clear Government commitment to introducing a system of proportional representation for the European elections. They are, in effect, allowing themselves yet again to be Mr. Hague's poodle. They are signing their own death warrant and their actions are totally self-defeating. The essence of the matter is that they know that time is running out for the Government and that the alternative is the first-past-the-post system.

The Conservatives are, as always, against any change. If there were to be a first-past-the-post system for the European elections next May, the major casualties would be Conservative candidates. The Government, in their enormous beneficence, have provided a system that will help to raise the Conservative party's corpse from the dead.

Mr. Lansley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Anderson

No, I want to be brief.

Perhaps the Conservatives' motive is to reduce the number of Conservative MEPs because they know that, when they go to Brussels and Strasbourg, they tend to go native and might not support party policy. I accept that open and closed lists are not a barricades issue or a great issue of principle. The arguments are finely balanced. The closed-list system ensures that women and people from ethnic minorities can have their rightful place in the list.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

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.

Mr. Anderson

I am not a Whip, I have never been a Whip and I am unlikely ever to be a Whip, and my arithmetic is very bad, so I would not like to answer that question.

The open-list argument is based on simple fallacy—the argument that it is more democratic. It is as if there were, on the Rousseau analogy, a forest clearing in Switzerland where the citizens meet and decide who are the best to go forward in their name. Surely the essence of multimember constituencies is that they are all large and the individuals will be known only to a very few of the electorate. An election can therefore degenerate into a beauty contest between media stars. I know of other open-list systems in which there are several party members, but they are a recipe for internal party strife and an investment in the worst sort of populism.

It is absolutely clear that this is not a debate about a great principle; it is surely no more than a device used by the Opposition to embarrass the Government and kill off a Bill.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I thought that, with the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie), we would at last have a Labour Back Bencher supporting the Government, but of course he did nothing of the sort. The speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) on behalf of the Liberal Democrats demonstrated once again that he prefers open lists but will vote for closed lists. So much for principle and the Liberal Democrats.

This is the fifth debate on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill in which I have taken part. I do not intend to repeat myself, so I shall be brief.

Certain misconceptions have arisen, particularly during the past few weeks. The first, which was said on the "Today" programme yesterday and has been repeated in a number of newspapers and stated by the Home Secretary, is that the Lords are acting deliberately to frustrate a Labour party manifesto commitment. That is either sloppy journalism or the Labour party spin doctors have been working extremely hard, because it is not true. The Labour party manifesto commitment was simple: there would be elections for the European Parliament on a regional basis and by proportional representation. None of the amendments that have been returned to the House in the past few weeks by the Lords has contested those points.

The second misconception is that we already have closed lists for Westminster parliamentary elections; it has been put forward by the Home Secretary time and time again. He knows that it is pure sophistry on his part. We all know that in our selection systems hundreds of local people and supporters make selections from hundreds of candidates. That is not a closed-list system such as the system that the Home Secretary intends to operate, in which the order of the candidates and their likelihood of being elected would be determined by Millbank tower.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about how candidates in our party are selected, but in the Labour party, candidates such as the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth) are simply parachuted in by the central party.

Mr. Sayeed

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point. If the Labour party had a selection system similar to ours, it would not be in its current difficulties.

The third misconception is that it is for a political party alone to decide its selection procedures. If a proposed law permits an undemocratic system that ignores the wishes of the local people and promotes those of the party machine, it is right for either of the Houses of Parliament to try to amend that law. That is not simply a matter for parties, because democracy is a matter for Parliament.

Mr. Bermingham

Surely it is for a party to decide how it will select its candidates. That is an entirely internal matter. If one has a dispute with an internal system, one fights it internally. That is not a matter in which outside bodies should interfere unless it is contrary to natural law.

Mr. Sayeed

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. A law that would permit an anti-democratic system is a bad law.

Mr. Allan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Sayeed

No. I wish to be brief.

The fourth misconception is that expressions of support for the Government can be counted only in the voting lists. Anyone who knows how Labour Whips work, who knows the power of the Patronage Secretary—that name is not given lightly—and who knows the brutal tactics of Millbank tower will know that many Labour Members are dead against the party's proposals for closed lists but will vote as their Whips dictate. Labour Back Benchers' thoughts are demonstrated not by votes but by how they have spoken during the five debates and by the fact that not one has given whole-hearted support to his Front Benchers.

Mr. Donald Anderson

I am as whole-hearted as I am likely to be in supporting any Government measure.

Mr. Sayeed

If that is whole-hearted, I would hate the hon. Gentleman to be agin me, because I would still not understand whether he was agin me or for me. It sounded as though he was sitting on the fence. If he wants to be a great supporter of the Government's measure, all I can say is that he is the first.

The ability to resolve the dilemma is in the Government's hands. They can make sure that they fulfil their manifesto commitment to conduct regional elections to the European Parliament on a PR basis. All they need to do is abandon closed lists. Alternatively, they might be able to get away with it in the Lords if they undertook to operate closed lists as we intend to operate them. If they do neither, the loss of the Bill will be the Labour Government's fault. They will deserve all they get.

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North)

This is the first time I have spoken in the many debates on the Bill, but I felt the need to speak tonight. As I have done on every occasion, I shall support the Government tonight, even though I am 150 per cent. committed to the first-past-the-post system.

The Bill fulfils a manifesto commitment. I know that that is a strange concept to the Conservatives, which is part of the reason why they are on the Opposition Benches. A proportional system was endorsed as part of the Labour party manifesto in the general election. The only arguments left are on implementation. However improbable it may seem, a closed list is obviously the best system of implementation for the regions in question. For a region such as Yorkshire, with 5.5 million voters, it is nonsense to suggest that people in Redcar will recognise someone from Sheffield, 90 miles away.

6 pm

Mr. Lansley

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the one set of people who are likely to be recognised by the voters and to attract support in a European election are existing MEPs? Will he therefore remind the House how many existing Labour MEPs have been placed by his party in a winnable position on his party's lists?

Mr. Rooney

The hon. Gentleman is wise enough to know that most of us in this House are far less recognised than we would like, and that is even more true of MEPs, with the larger constituencies that they represent. One of the greatest fallacies perpetuated by politicians is the weight of their personal vote. The personal vote is nonsense. Personal identification is nonsense, except in a small number of cases. [Interruption.] I do not even mind saying in my own case that personal identification is nonsense. In the Bradford, North constituency in the 1997 general election, whoever was the Labour candidate would have won. It was not Terry Rooney who won. I might have made five votes difference in a positive sense—or lost 100 votes, for all I know.

What matters is not the individual, but the party. We know that that is overwhelmingly the case. That is why the closed-list system is much simpler and easier for the electorate to understand and deal with than a ballot paper with 50, 60 or 70 names on it. If we look at the local council elections in London this year, and the number of votes that each party's candidate got in each seat, we see that, without exception the candidate placed highest on the list got the most votes, and the next highest on the list of that party got the second highest number of votes.

That is the system proposed for the European elections, which would mean that voters had to read down a list of perhaps 50 names to identify the seven or eight candidates who were Conservative, Labour or whatever—what nonsense.

The real concerns about the closed-list system relate to the ranking order, but those are internal matters for a political party. The day this House tries to interfere with the rule book of a political party is the day this House dies. The political parties must determine their own rules.

I shall support the measure tonight, and I beg the House to do so too.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

I apologise to the House for the fact that I missed the first part of the debate. As you are aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was chairing a Standing Committee.

I shall make a straightforward contribution on behalf of my constituents in North Thanet and those living in the Euro-constituency of East Kent, in which I also live.

At Question Time this afternoon, the Prime Minister told the House that this was a device of the Tory hereditary peers designed to wreck a piece of legislation that the House wanted. You know me well enough, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to know that I would not for one moment suggest that the Prime Minister misled the House, but there is some case for saying that he tried to mislead the British public who might have been watching on television.

The matter has nothing to do with Tory hereditary peers. The argument is simple. It concerns the right of the individual elector to vote for an individual candidate of the party of his or her choosing. The rest is a smokescreen. I shall give two examples—one theoretical and one literal—of the practical effect, beginning with the literal example.

For the past four and a half years, the Euro-constituency of East Kent has been represented by a Labour Member. There are many things that that Member has not done which might have furthered the interests of his constituents, which is a source of some criticism. There are things that he has done which are also a source of criticism. Specifically, he claims authorship of the European ferry passenger registration directive, which will affect the livelihoods of people working on the cross-channel ferries.

Hon. Members may not be aware that, if that directive is introduced, it will require every man, woman and child travelling back and forth across the channel to register their name, age and sex, before travelling. As a result, the queues from the channel ports will stretch far back along the roads, and the ferries will be disadvantaged. One MEP has been responsible for that legislation, which has deeply angered his constituents. I cannot tell whether that anger will manifest itself to such a degree that he will be ejected from his seat at the next election, but I know that the electorate of East Kent want the opportunity to voice judgment on his stewardship of his seat.

Under the proposals before us, that MEP has been placed by the Labour party at the top of the list. Unless nobody in East Kent or the south-east votes Labour—dream on—that MEP will be there for life, provided that he stays on-message and keeps his nose clean. That cannot be democratic.

Let us consider a theoretical situation.

Mr. Bermingham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gale

No. The hon. Gentleman intervenes on virtually everyone. I want to be brief.

Consider the case of a Labour voter who is anti-abortion and wants to vote for candidates to his or her moral liking. If that voter casts a vote and if the Labour candidate at the top of the list is pro-abortion, the voter is inevitably voting for a moral principle that he or she abhors. That is not democratic.

No, the issue is nothing to do with the hereditary peerage. It is to do with the right of one voter to exercise his or her vote for the candidate of his or her choice, of whatever political party and moral persuasion.

The Prime Minister said at Question Time this afternoon—with considerable arrogance, some of us felt—that, were we to go back to the old system—the one that everyone understands, first past the post, one member one seat, win or lose—the Conservative party would indubitably win fewer seats in the European elections. That is a chance that we are prepared to take in defence of a principle: the right of the individual to exercise his or her vote as he or she wishes. That is the principle that the Prime Minister seeks to abolish.

Mr. Bermingham

I was sad that the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) would not let me intervene, and accused me of intervening all over the place. I do not. I intervene only when an hon. Member makes a patently bad point, as I see it. I expect that others intervene in my speeches if I make patently bad points. That is what the Chamber is all about—at least, it used to be when the hon. Gentleman and I first came here. There seems to be a little intolerance in the Opposition these days, but these things happen. He well knows that, under the current system, if a Member has what is called a safe seat, he or she will be there for life—assuming that that Member obeys the party rules.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because he has just made a patently bad point. If a so-called safe seat ensured that a Member was elected for life, 100 of my former colleagues would be sitting beside me this evening. However, under first past the post, they were thrown out.

Mr. Bermingham

That is because they were patently not safe seats. So we return to the subject at hand.

I have spoken several times about this matter, and I am sad that my old and hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) is not in the Chamber. I intended to try to persuade him not to waste his vote by abstaining. That is what one does when one abstains: one makes no point one way or the other.

We have reached a situation where the Government—my party—wish to put their political will before the country. At the end of the day, the people will decide whether the system is good or bad. If the system is bad, they will thump us. The Government wish to introduce a system that will be reviewed in due course. At this stage—on the fifth occasion—surely the House of Commons has the right to tell the Lords that this is the will of the people.

The measure was in the manifesto, and it has been accepted by members of the governing party. Labour Members are not rolling about the aisles in rebellion. I accept that there has been the odd vote against the measure and the odd abstention—such is the entitlement of any hon. Member. However, the overwhelming bulk of the Government party has voted consistently for the measure in its present form.

I say to the Lords: that is the will of the people. If their will as expressed by the Government is wrong, the people will surely tell us by voting against us. The next referendum—as it were—on this subject should be in June next year. It is time that this ping-pong farce ended.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

In response to the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), I contend that, if the voters had wanted a closed-list system, we would have seen some evidence of that desire. If the focus groups had suggested to the Government that the people wanted a closed-list system, it would have been stated specifically in the Labour party manifesto. The truth is that not a single party represented in the House included the closed-list system in its manifesto. It is worth repeating the words of the bishop who said last night in another place: I believe that we shall be doing the right thing by the democratic principles which have prevailed in this country for a very long time."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 November 1998; Vol. 594, c. 1148.] There are two constitutional principles involved. The first is that the governing party with a majority in the House of Commons should expect to get its way. If the Government were to accept the amendments, they would still have a proportional representation system—albeit not the one on which they have lately decided to insist. The second principle is that the second Chamber tries to defend the rights of the voters. For example, the House of Lords has the opportunity of preventing the House from extending the life of a Parliament. Those are the kinds of democratic principle that the second Chamber represents.

We turn to the question of support for the form of proportional representation that the Government are attempting to force through Parliament. This time, I will put my question to the House, not the Minister. Will those Labour Back Benchers who embrace the closed-list system as their personal preference intervene on me now? Not one Labour Back Bencher is prepared to state that that is his or her personal preference.

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

Was the hon. Gentleman not in the Chamber earlier this evening when several Labour Members spoke in favour of precisely that system?

Mr. Bottomley

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will bear witness to the fact that even the Minister has not declared that the closed-list system is his personal preference. The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) said that he was 150 per cent. behind the single-member constituency. I have made my point. The Minister failed to answer my question during his winding-up speech on Monday: he could not name one Labour Back Bencher who has disclosed that this system is his or her personal preference. We know how the Government Whips can force Labour Members through the Lobby.

Let us turn to the only other significant argument in this debate, which was advanced by the noble Lord Callaghan in the other place. He pointed out that the Government were offering a review that would make it possible to introduce a better system. By proposing that the Lords should go quietly because a review is promised, he acknowledges that the closed-list system is not the best system even in his view. My conviction is that the other place will be justified if it decides to hold to its view that the voters should be able to cast their votes for individual candidates and influence who represents them, and to decide that it should not be left to the parties to put names on a closed list. I believe that the other place will be right to say that the Government's insistence on their course of action is unjustified and undemocratic.

6.15 pm
Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

I have three questions that I hope will introduce new points into the debate and be addressed by the Opposition.

My first question concerns the nature of the system that the Opposition propose. They favour not the so-called Belgian open-list system—which the Government considered and rejected—but the Finnish open-list system. As far as I can establish, that system is used by only two countries in the European Union—Finland and Luxembourg—and I have not heard any Labour or Liberal Democrat Member speak in support of it. The system prevents voters from voting for parties: they can vote only for candidates. That leads me to my first vital question.

Mr. Lansley

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House why the Government have chosen not to return to another place, in lieu of the Lords amendments, an amendment in favour of the Belgium list system, if that is the system that he—by implication—and the Liberal Democrats support?

Mr. Linton

The Government considered that course of action and decided against it.

Mr. Lansley


Mr. Linton

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman ask the Minister.

My first question for the Opposition is: how will the system work? How will you order your candidates on your list? As I understand it, there are only two ways to do that under this system. You can put the candidates either in alphabetical or in random order. Should you decide to put your candidates in alphabetical order—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) keeps using the term "you". I do not have any candidates to put in order—at least, not yet.

Mr. Linton

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was of course referring to potential Conservative candidates. I have a copy of the Conservative party's list of candidates for the European elections, who are listed under the party name. If those candidates were re-listed alphabetically, Javad Arain, who is currently No. 4, would jump into first place in the east midlands. This is a perfectly relevant question, because that is precisely what happens in Finland. That country has an alphabetocracy: the people whose names begin with the letters A and B are much more likely to be elected.

In the eastern region, Sir Graham Bright—former Parliamentary Private Secretary to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major)—would find himself in first place on the list. Most interestingly, Lord Bethell—who is now at No. 3—would go to No. 1 on the list for London. Before we take this proposal seriously, the Opposition must explain how the system would work.

My second question concerns Lord Bethell. When the issue was debated in the House of Lords last night, two of the three Conservative peers who are standing in the European elections voted with the Opposition. The third, Lord Bethell, did not vote.

I ask myself why Lord Bethell did not vote. We may have a clue—

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

From the list.

Mr. Linton

No; we may have a clue from the letter that Lord Bethell wrote to The Daily Telegraph, which said: The open list offers a choice so wide as to be confusing, especially since hardly any of the several hundred candidates whose names will he put forward have any public profile. Ballot papers will carry 56 or more names. Hardly anyone will know them. Voters will mark their crosses at random. That is the view of the most senior Conservative peer who has already been a Member of the European Parliament expressing his views on the Opposition motion. He went on: A change to the open list will also cause conflict between candidates of the same party, who will be competing as much against their colleagues as against their adversaries. One advantage of the closed list is that in London, for instance—where I hope to stand—all 10 of us Conservatives are in the same 'job lot'. A vote for one is a vote for us all. Those are the views of the most prominent Member of the House of Lords who is a candidate in the European elections. How does he square that with Conservative Front-Bench support in the House of Commons for a system that he has denounced?

My third question is intended to be helpful: have Opposition Front Benchers considered the effect on their own party lists were—heaven forbid—that system to be adopted? If there were seven, eight or nine names on a list in alphabetical order, and a vote could be registered only by voting for one of those candidates, there would be increased temptation for people to vote for Europhile or Europhobe Conservative candidates. There would immediately be a campaign to support the Europhobe candidates, which would no doubt be backed by a large sum of money. Many voters would want to move those candidates to the top of the list.

On the other hand, Conservative voters, in their maturity, may prefer the Europhile candidates, and may fill the European Parliament—

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Does that not precisely illustrate the point about voter choice? The system proposed by the other place would give voters the ability to make that choice, which the Government's proposals would deny them.

Mr. Linton

That illustrates the point very well, but can Conservative Members explain what would happen if Conservative voters returned to the European Parliament only pro-European Conservative MEPs? Those MEPs would stand on their own manifesto as pro-Europeans and pro-single currency, but we understand that the Conservative party manifesto puts off a single currency until the election after the election after next. On whose manifesto would those MEPs be elected—their own, or the party's? As soon as Conservative Members introduced that dog's breakfast of a system, they would have not only serious problems with different campaigns for Europhile and Europhobe candidates, but a complete lack of clarity about who those people would represent and on whose manifesto they were elected. It would be in the interests of the whole House if Opposition Front Benchers admitted that they supported the amendment, of which they know little, for opportunistic reasons. If it were enacted, it would damage their party more than any other.

Mr. Lansley

The debate is becoming positively surreal on the Government Benches: we have arrived at a point at which the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) is trying to protect the Conservative party from internal divisions and debate over Europe. I had thought that the opposite was precisely the Government's objective, on all occasions.

The hon. Member for Battersea does that because—as distinct from his speech on Monday night—he did not want to explain his own preference. That preference was clearly stated on Monday: he favoured an open list.

Mr. Linton

The Belgian list.

Mr. Lansley

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to converse with his Front Benchers about why they did not adopt a Belgian list. Of course, that was not the Conservative party's proposal; we have been clear all the way about through the fact that we would prefer the election to be fought under the first-past-the-post system.

The Government said in their manifesto that they wanted a proportional representation system. The Liberal Democrats support such a system—they want the Belgian system, as does the hon. Member for Battersea—and the overwhelming majority of Labour Members who have spoken want a PR system and an open list. The Belgian system is available to them; why have the Government said no? They have said no for one reason: they want a closed list. Why do they want a closed list? They want to dictate who is elected as a Labour Member of the European Parliament. They do not want the electorate to choose, and they do not even want Labour party supporters to choose; they want to choose themselves.

As was rightly said in the other place, a choice has to be made between the electorate and the selectorate—the selectorate of the Millbank tower panels, which have chosen the lists for the Labour party. That is the decision that has to be made. The Lords returning the Bill to this place, amended on each occasion, is far from being an affront to democracy; they have done so in pursuance of democracy, because they seek to defend voter choice.

I have read the debates in the Lords, and hon. Members will know that I have attended the debates in the Chamber on each occasion. It is perfectly clear that, on each occasion, the Lords have not been dragooned into going in this direction by the Conservatives. Cross-Bench peers have overwhelmingly chosen to send those amendments back to this House, and the decisions have been made on the balance of the argument. Each time, they have been fed by the simple fact that, in debates in this House, Members of the governing party have been unwilling to support their Front Benchers.

That is what gave the Lords the impetus to send the Bill back amended, and they have been challenging the Government to have the honesty to follow the line of argument that is supported by Labour Members.

From the corner of my eye, I see that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) wants me to give way.

Mr. Allan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I have been listening to his case with interest. I have much sympathy with what he says about voter choice, but does he agree with two propositions? The first is that the proposed closed-list system is no worse than the first-past-the-post system, which also presents candidates selected by a small number of party members. The second is that the logic of his position must inevitably lead him to suggest that in a Westminster election he should be selected by the entire electorate and should put himself forward with other Conservative candidates, rather than rely on a small selectorate of party members.

Mr. Lansley

Two propositions were put, but they are essentially one. I do not accept either, because the constituency link—this would be true for the European Parliament—on the basis of one member, one seat is wholly to be preferred.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May I check this point with the hon. Gentleman, so that people outside the House are clear about what is argued? Is he agreeing with Lord Bethell, who said that, under the Tory proposals, ballot papers would

"carry 50 or more names"

and that an individual elector would have to pick names out of the 50 and tick them off? Is that what he proposes?

Mr. Lansley

No. The hon. Gentleman is wrong on that, first, because the Bill specifies that, under the regulations that are to be made, a party cannot present more candidates than there are places up for election. Secondly, as I read the Bill, it is perfectly possible for the Government to specify that a party should present its candidates, not in an alphabetical or an arbitrary list, but in a list of that party's preference. It is therefore perfectly possible for the electorate to be presented with a party's preferences, but the voters would be able to choose from within that list and not be bound to accept the preference of the party apparatchiks.

The Home Secretary made an absurd point about perverse results and someone from one party being elected although he had fewer votes than someone from another party. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is accurate statistically, but he will not recognise that it is directly the result of proportionality. He has argued in debate after debate that, primarily, people vote on the basis of party—yes, indeed. In a proportional system, that means that people will be elected from that party's list first, rather than elected from another party's list.

What the Home Secretary will not accept—he should listen to this—is that, even within a preference for party, voters may have a preference between individual candidates. That is what it comes down to. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) said—this is true for the electoral system in this country that we are used to—that voters want to be able to choose an individual candidate. That is what the Home Secretary sets out to deny.

6.30 pm
Mrs. Laing

It has been fascinating to listen yet again to a debate on the complexities and anomalies of proportional representation systems, as set out by the Home Secretary and other Labour Members, in particular the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton). Again, the Home Secretary has advanced excellent arguments for keeping first past the post, although he will not welcome my saying that, and will not admit to it. He knows that he has lost the argument, so he blames our constitutional system, which allows members in another place to revise what we have discussed in this place—our well-trusted and long-standing constitutional system.

We have heard much about closed lists, open lists and individuals. In Epping Forest, we are individuals. I was elected as a Conservative candidate, but I have, unusually, a bit of support from some non-Conservatives. Therefore, it is a pleasure to put forward the view of a party that has no representation in the House.

Labour Members have argued that opposition to the clause is confined mostly to hereditary members of another place. That is not true. Our position on these Benches is supported by a wide range of fair-minded people who believe in and seek to defend democracy: for example, the Epping Forest Democratic Left. The secretary of that august organisation, a Mr. Peter Relph, has written an excellent letter to the West Essex Gazette, an excellent publication, which is known, if not to all hon. Members, certainly to the Home Secretary and to me.

Mr. Peter Relph has written to the editor of my local paper: Dear Sir Our Member of Parliament"— I will leave out the flattering bits— is to be congratulated on her work with the Electoral Reform Society and other democrats including the majority of the House of Lords who seek to ensure that the new voting procedures for the European Elections to be held next May … will be open, fair and democratic. He goes on to pay tribute to the Home Secretary, who, as he has acknowledged, was once Mr. Relph's next-door neighbour, or something close to it; I will also leave out the flattering bits about the Home Secretary.

Mr. Relph goes on to say: The 'closed' list is one of candidates hand selected by an unelected cabal meeting in smoke filled rooms who will ensure that independent minded 'socialist' … personalities … will never be on the ballot paper. I did not expect to find myself in such agreement with Mr. Relph and the Epping Forest Democratic Left. I do not agree with all that they say, but I respect their right to say it.

Conservative Members have been wondering of what the Home Secretary and his Government are afraid. We have concluded that it is of free thinkers in his party.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

On free thinking, will the hon. Lady clarify this matter? Will the Conservative party allow its candidates, who I understand you have placed in order of preference, to produce individual literature to put their case before the voters, or will you insist that all literature for the European elections will be under the Conservative party banner, with the list of candidates in the order that you wish the electorate to vote for them?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. Perhaps I should just say to the hon. Lady that that has nothing to do with me at all.

Mrs. Laing

I hope that the situation that the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) has described will not be necessary, because I have every hope and confidence that we will fight the European elections next May under a first-past-the-post system.

From the evidence that we have heard tonight, it is obvious that no one who defends democracy can possibly support a system that gives more power to political parties by taking that power away from the people.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

The Home Secretary would have better spent his time concentrating on the arguments, rather than drawing attention to the forefathers of their Lordships. Irrespective of whether their Lordships were appointed or achieved their peerage by birth, they were not genetically conditioned to vote against the Government. They found themselves in that Division Lobby on the strength of the arguments and not for any other reason. He would have done better to dwell on those arguments.

As I have pointed out before, I have certain base motives for wishing to support the Government on the amendment. I have never believed that the European Parliament was a Parliament at all. To hamper that assembly with an awful electoral system and to let all the frogs that are in the bog hatch out would suit me very well, but representative democracy is more important.

This afternoon, the Prime Minister drew attention several times to the fact that that dreadful voting system is shared by some of our European partners. That is not surprising. Their electoral systems arose after the advent of political parties—political parties organised the people—whereas our system predates the organisation of political parties.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Swayne

I am enjoined to be brief.

We have that rather idiosyncratic system of representative democracy. We have the technology now to do away with representative democracy, to have pure democracy, and to let every voter decide on every issue, yet we persist with a deliberative assembly, where Members representing their constituents make decisions.

That principle is fundamentally undermined by the system that the Home Secretary has brought before us. If we are to be represented by true representatives and not by political parties, as the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) said the previous time that we debated this issue, we must have the ability to get rid of representatives as well as to elect them. That is why it is vital that the list, insofar as we have a list at all, remains an open list.

Mr. Clappison

This has been a good and interesting debate. We are all becoming veterans of these occasions. This is the fourth time, I think, that we have considered the Lords amendments. We have also debated the matter twice in Committee and once on Report; and we had Second Reading, of course, as well.

I think that this is the first time that more than one Labour Member has spoken in favour of a closed-list system: two out of five have done so. One of the others was indeterminate, and two were against. I know that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), is optimistic, but he can hardly claim that the motion is being carried forward on a tidal wave of acclamation.

We began with the principled and thoughtful speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie), who expressed his principled position, and made it clear that he was going to abstain in the name of democracy. He prefers to stand as an individual, rather than as a cog in a machine.

We also heard from the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). He said that the arguments were finely balanced. In the end, I think that he came down in favour of the closed list, but I notice that he did not respond to the intervention by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who asked him whether the motion would be carried on a free vote in the Labour party, if there were one. I do not think that he was able to answer that.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clappison


The hon. Member for Swansea, East said that he was not a very good Whip, but many others who have heard these debates could come to a different conclusion. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) made the point, with which I am inclined to agree, that a safe seat is only safe until one loses it. Many Conservative Members do not intend to come near that experience, but he hardly gave a ringing endorsement of the closed-list system.

I believe that this was the first occasion on which the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) had spoken in one of these debates. I do not know how many of them he has attended. In any event, he came out in favour of a closed list. He was worried about the confusion that he believed voters would experience as a result of seeing all those names on the ballot paper—a worry echoed by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present for earlier proceedings, but I seem to recollect that, early in the Committee stage, we were told that the Government intended the names of all candidates to appear on the ballot paper in any event. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is making comments from a sedentary position. I venture to ask him what will be the feelings of the voters when they look at the ballot paper before casting their votes. Will they be unable to decide who to vote for, or—if there is a closed list—will they feel angry about the fact that the names are there but they are unable to express an individual preference? I think that many voters will want to do that.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) supports the concept of an open list. We finally dragged that out of him the other evening. He was prepared to pick holes in each of the systems involved, but, as an aficionado of electoral reform, he will know that there are eight systems of open-list voting in the European Union. The Government have been willing to pick holes in each and every one of them, and to support the closed-list system that the hon. Gentleman does not support. That is the answer to the questions put by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In the hon. Gentleman's constituency, will electors be faced with a ballot paper containing between 30 and 40 names, and have to tick the names of those they support?

Mr. Clappison

The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. The names will appear on the ballot paper under the Government's proposal. Electors may feel angry about the fact that they cannot express an individual preference. The hon. Gentleman ought to wonder about what is happening in the other eight countries of the European Union, where this does not seem to have constituted an insurmountable problem. Eight countries have been able to operate an open-list system.

We have heard some very good speeches from Conservative Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) has been an assiduous attender of these debates, and has constantly warned of the danger of centralised control. Another excellent speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), who, as he pointed out, has been another assiduous attender. He rightly drew attention to the danger of dictatorial Government control.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), in a short but excellent speech, spoke up for the rights of the individual. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) made a colourful and passionate speech, in which he set out his principled view, and stood up for the rights of his constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) drew attention, quite fairly, to the wide support for the open-list system, which extends as far as the Epping Forest Popular Front.

In the Home Secretary's speech—and at Prime Minister's Question Time today, from the Liberal Democrats and, I think, from the Prime Minister at one point—we heard a suggestion that this was all being got up by the Opposition. On Radio 4's "Today" programme this morning, I heard the Home Secretary use the words "manufactured" and "synthetic" about our position. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Workington is heckling from a sedentary position. I do not know whether he was present for the Second Reading debate nearly a year ago, and it is against my better judgment to refer to what was said in the past, but we drew attention then to the defects of the closed list. We pressed the Home Secretary, and made abundantly clear our opposition to closed lists in principle.

6.45 pm

The strange thing is that the Home Secretary said then that he was prepared to listen to the arguments. He summed up the arguments on both sides. He expressed a preference for a closed list, but he said that there were arguments on both sides. He said of the possible alternative—which he later rejected— As with any other system, there are arguments both ways. The modification of what we propose in the Bill would provide some direct voter preference and may assuage the concerns even of the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham."—[Official Report, 25 November 1998; Vol. 301, c.814.]

Why, we ask now, are the Government so keen to nail their colours to the mast of the closed list? They said then that they at least had an open mind, and were prepared to listen to representations. As we know, no representations were forthcoming in favour of the closed list. If the Home Secretary had wanted to adopt the Belgian list system, at least he would have been able to make the Liberal Democrats feel happy. The Liberal Democrats have been in favour of an open list, but have not been prepared to vote for it.

Mr. Allan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clappison

No. Time is short. I know what the hon. Gentleman wants to say, and I have already responded to his point. He should read the report of our last debate. That is another advantage of debating this matter on so many occasions.

We maintained our opposition to the closed-list system throughout the Committee, and on Report. In Committee, we said—commenting on what the Home Secretary had said—that we thought the situation remained as unsatisfactory as it was on Second Reading. We believe that a closed list system is a bad system. That one word that has been used to describe it is degrading. That is appropriate. It will not get our support in any circumstances."—[Official Report, 26 February 1998; Vol. 307, c. 524.] That continues to be our position, which we have maintained throughout our proceedings. We are against the closed list, and maintain a principled opposition to it. There is nothing manufactured or synthetic about our views.

What I suggest is manufactured and synthetic is the rage that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have sought to whip up about hereditary peers. Who can blame hereditary peers, or any other peers, for taking the view they took? Cross Benchers have always voted against the closed list by an overwhelming majority, and many other groups and individuals have made representations against it, including the Electoral Reform Society and Charter 88.

This is a rotten system. We agree strongly with the views expressed by Lord Shore of Stepney, who clarified the issue when he said: The issue is about the open list against the closed list. It is about an open democratic list against a closed party management list. It is about accountability to the electorate, to the voters, against accountability to a party committee—what we are now officially informed is a joint panel of regional representatives and members of the party's ruling National Executive Committee. It is indeed—I repeat the words I used on the previous occasion—the electorate versus the selectorate."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 November 1998; Vol. 594, c. 851.]

That is the issue that remains at the end of all these debates: the right of an individual voter to make a choice, and the opportunity for an MEP to make his case before his constituents and win the support of his electors, whether they are in a constituency or a region. It is about the opportunity for an MEP to represent the interests of his constituency, or his region, rather than the diktat of central party control.

We think that the system imposed by the Government is riddled with opportunities for cronyism and centralised party control. It is the system that is the most favourable to the bosses in the larger parties in any country in Europe. The Prime Minister has said that other countries in Europe use a closed list. That is true: some use it, but on a national rather than a regional system. The system that the Government are inflicting on us is more centralised and more party-controlled than any other system in Europe. It is bad for voters, bad for individual MEPs and bad for democracy in this country. We have said that we will not support it, and we maintain that position. There is a principle at stake, and we will adhere to it.

Mr. George Howarth

We are now debating Lords amendments to the Bill for the fifth time. I believe that the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) has taken part in four of the debates. I must tell him that my affection for him grows in inverse proportion to my comprehension of what he can possibly be talking about.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and his colleagues maintain the pretence that the other place is simply carrying out its proper function as a revising Chamber. Those who continue to advance that argument are either naive—and I venture to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is not—or disingenuous. The continuing obstruction of the Bill—as Lord Williams of Mostyn made clear yesterday, as did Lord Callaghan: I was at the Bar of the House of Lords, and heard his speech—has gone beyond any legitimate function for a second Chamber. Let us make no mistake: the Lords are now involved in a highly party political game, although I suspect that many of them only dimly perceive it.

Conservative Members—most prominently, both today and in previous debates, the hon. Members for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) and for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed)—would like to create the impression that Labour Members have been dragooned into supporting the Government on the issue. Any Government—the current Government no less than any of our recent predecessors—will defend legislation by using the whipping system, especially when, as in this case, they are delivering a manifesto promise. I make no apology for that.

Conservative Members like to present themselves as a happy band of amiable idealists, motivated simply by sincere constitutional concern. However, they have defended to the last ditch—or perhaps to the next-to-last ditch—the principle of a voting system that could allow the election of a candidate receiving fewer votes than those attracted by the most popular candidate.

In a speech to the House, on 3 March 1845, Disraeli said: The Conservative Government has always been an organised hypocrisy. Now, 150 years later, we know that a Conservative Opposition also can be an organised hypocrisy.

Opposition Front Benchers simply will not admit that many of their own Back Benchers, in both the House and another place, concede privately not only that they are unhappy about events but that they are afraid to voice those concerns—[Laughter.] Conservative Members laugh. Several Conservative Members have conceded privately to me, and to others, that they are afraid of letting the Euro-sceptic genie out of the bottle. That is what they are afraid of.

We are witnessing an organised hypocrisy in sharp focus, combining the forces of the unelected and the unelectable, who are pitting themselves against the House of Commons and the Government, to try to defeat nothing more than a sensible piece of democratic modernisation.

Today, for the fifth time, the House will by an overwhelming majority reject the Lords amendments. I ask the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and other Conservative Members by what right they and the hereditary peers in the other place combine to defy—

Mr. Lansley

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

I shall not give way; I was in the middle of a sentence.

By what right do they and hereditary peers combine to defy the will of a democratically elected House of Commons? There is no such right, save their own squalid attempts—for political purposes; they are not issues of great principle—to thwart the Bill and this place.

Mr. Lansley

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Let us see them for what they truly are: a creaking and pathetic relic of another age. They are fooling no one. On this Bill, Conservative Members have proved themselves to be out of time, out of place and out of office. It is now abundantly clear that they will stay so for a very long time.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 326, Noes 133.

Division No. 379] [6.53 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Berry Roger
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Best, Harold
Ainger, Nick Betts, Clive
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Blackman, Liz
Allan, Richard Blears, Ms Hazel
Allen, Graham Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Badley, Keith (Withington)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Bradshaw, Ben
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Brake, Tom
Atherton, Ms Candy Brand, Dr Peter
Atkins, Charlotte Brinton, Mrs Helen
Austin, John Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Baker, Norman Browne, Desmond
Ballard, Jackie Burden, Richard
Banks, Tony Burgon, Colin
Barron, Kevin Burstow, Paul
Bayley, Hugh Butler, Mrs Christine
Beard, Nigel Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Coborn, Richard
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Benton, Joe Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Bermingham, Gerald Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Godman, Dr Norman A
Campbell-Savours, Dale Godsiff, Roger
Caplin, Ivor Goggins, Paul
Caton, Martin Golding, Mrs Llin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Chaytor, David Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Chidgey, David Grocott, Bruce
Church, Ms Judith Grogan, John
Clapham, Michael Gunnell, John
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hain, Peter
Clark, Dr Lynda Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
(Edinburgh Pentlands) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hancock, Mike
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hanson, David
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Harmon, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Healey, John
Clelland, David Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Clwyd, Ann Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Coaker, Vernon Hepburn, Stephen
Coffey, Ms Ann Hesford, Stephen
Cohen, Harry Hinchliffe, David
Coleman, Iain Hodge, Ms Margaret
Colman, Tony Home Robertson, John
Cooper, Yvette Hood, Jimmy
Corbett, Robin Hoon, Geoffrey
Cotter, Brian Hope, Phil
Cousins, Jim Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cox, Tom Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Crausby, David Howells, Dr Kim
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hoyle, Lindsay
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
(Copeland) Humble, Mrs Joan
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hurst, Alan
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Hutton, John
Dafis, Cynog Illsley, Eric
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Ingram, Adam
Darvill, Keith Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jamieson, David
Davidson, Ian Jenkins, Brian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Johnson, Miss Melanie
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Denham, John Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dismore, Andrew Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dobbin, Jim Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Donohoe, Brian H Keeble, Ms Sally
Dowd, Jim Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Drew, David Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Drown, Ms Julia Keetch, Paul
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kelly, Ms Ruth
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kemp, Fraser
Edwards, Huw Khabra, Piara S
Efford, Clive Kidney, David
Ellman, Mrs Louise Kilfoyle, Peter
Fearn, Ronnie King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Fisher, Mark King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Kingham, Ms Tess
Fitzsimons, Lorna Kirkwood, Archy
Flint, Caroline Kumar, Dr Ashok
Flynn, Paul Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Follett, Barbara Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Laxton, Bob
Foster, Don (Bath) Leslie, Christopher
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Levitt, Tom
Foulkes, George Linton, Martin
Fyfe, Maria Livsey, Richard
Galloway, George Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gapes, Mike Lock, David
Gardiner, Barry McAvoy, Thomas
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McCabe, Steve
Gerrard, Neil McCafferty, Ms Chris
Gibson, Dr Ian Macdonald, Calum
McGuire, Mrs Anne Sarwar, Mohammad
McIsaac, Shona Sawford, Phil
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Sedgemore, Brian
Mackinlay, Andrew Shaw, Jonathan
McLeish, Henry Sheerman, Barry
McNamara, Kevin Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McNulty, Tony Shipley, Ms Debra
MacShane, Denis Short, Rt Hon Clare
Mactaggart, Fiona Singh, Marsha
McWalter, Tony Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McWilliam, John Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Smith, Miss Geraldine
Mallaber, Judy (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Snape, Peter
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Soley, Clive
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Southworth, Ms Helen
Martlew, Eric Squire, Ms Rachel
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Meale, Alan Steinberg, Gerry
Merron, Gillian Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Milburn, Alan Stinchcombe, Paul
Moffatt, Laura Stoate, Dr Howard
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Morley, Elliot Stringer, Graham
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Mudie, George Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mullin, Chris Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen) (Dewsbury)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Oaten, Mark Taylor, David (NW Leics)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Olner, Bill Temple-Morris, peter
O'Neill, Martin Timms, Stephen
Öpik, Lembit Tonge, Dr Jenny
Organ, Mrs Diana Touhig, Don
Osborne, Ms Sandra Trickett, Jon
Palmer, Dr Nick Truswell, Paul
Pearson, Ian Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pendry, Tom Turner, Dr Desmond(Kemptown)
Perham, Ms Linda Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pickthall, Colin Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pike, Peter L Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Plaskitt, James Tyler, Paul
Pollard, Kerry Vaz, Keith
Pope, Greg Wallace, James
Pound, Stephen Ward, Ms Claire
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Wareing, Robert N
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Watts, David
Primarolo, Dawn Webb, Steve
Prosser, Gwyn White, Brian
Purchase, Ken Whitehead, Dr Alan
Quin, Ms Joyce Wicks, Malcolm
Quinn, Lawrie Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Radice, Giles (Swansea W)
Rapson, Syd Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Raynsford, Nick Willis, Phil
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Rooker, Jeff Woolas, Phil
Rooney, Terry Worthington, Tony
Rowlands, Ted Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Roy, Frank Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Ruane, Chris Wyatt, Derek
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Tellers for the Ayes:
Ryan, Ms Joan Mr. Keith Hill and
Salter, Martin Jane Kennedy.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surry) Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Amess, David Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Baldry, Tony Lindington, David
Beggs, Roy Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Bercow, John Loughton, Tim
Beresford, Sir Paul Luff, Peter
Blunt, Crispin McCartney, Robert (N Down)
Boswell, Tim MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Mackay, Rt Hon Andrew
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Maclean, Rt Hon David
Brady, Graham McLoughlin, Patrick
Brazier, Julian Madel, Sir David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Maginnis, Ken
Browning, Mrs Angela Malins, Humfrey
Burns, Simon Maples, John
Butterfill, John Mates, Michael
Chapman, Sir Sydney May, Mrs Theresa
(Chipping Barnet) Moss, Malcolm
Chope, Christopher Nicholls, Patrick
Clappison, James Norman, Archie
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Page, Richard
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Paisley, Rev Ian
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth Pickles, Eric
(Rushcliffe) Prior, David
Collins, Tim Redwood, Rt Hon John
Cormack, Sir Patrick Robathan, Andrew
Cran, James Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Duncan Smith, Iain Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Ruffley, David
Evans, Nigel St Aubyn, Nick
Fabricant, Michael Sayeed, Jonathan
Flight, Howard Shepherd, Richard
Forsythe, Clifford Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Soames, Nicholas
Fraser, Christopher Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Gale, Roger Spicer, Sir Michael
Garnier, Edward Spring, Richard
Gibb, Nick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Gill, Christopher Steen, Anthony
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Streeter, Gary
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Swayne, Desmond
Gray, James Syms, Robert
Green, Damian Tapsell, Sir Peter
Greenway, John Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Grieve, Dominic Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hague, Rt Hon William Tredinnick, David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Trend, Michael
Hammond, Philip Tyrie, Andrew
Hawkins, Nick Viggers, Peter
Heald, Oliver Walter, Robert
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Wardle, Charles
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Wells, Bowen
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Whitney, Sir Raymond
Hunter, Andrew Whittingdale, John
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Jenkin, Bernard Willetts, David
Key, Robert Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Woodward, Shaun
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Yeo, Tim
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew Tellers for the Noes:
Leigh, Edward Mr. Stephen Day and
Letwin, Oliver Mr. Nigel Waterson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment in lieu of the Lords amendments agreed to.