§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The Lord ABERDARE in the Chair.]
§ The LORD CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare)
May I draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that there are three documents in front of the Committee: the Marshalled List, a separate sheet which contains Amendments Nos. 19A to 19D in Schedule 1, a manuscript Amendment to Clause 3 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder.
§ Clause 1 [Election of representatives to the European Assembly]:
Lord BANKS moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 8, leave out ("this Act") and insert ("the Regional List System in Great Britain and the Single Transferable Vote System in Northern Treland, as laid down in this Act").
§ The noble Lord said: With the leave of the House, I should like at the same time to speak to the related Amendments. which are the manuscript Amendments and Amendments Nos. 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 24, 26 and 27.
§ These Amendments all deal with the electoral system. What the Bill provides by way of an electoral system is the firstpast-the-post system in Great Britain and the single-transferable-vote system in Northern Ireland. What the series of Amendments does is to restore the regional list system of proportional representation 792 for Great Britain as it was when the Bill was first introduced in another place, and it retains the single-transferable-vote system of proportional representation for Northern Ireland. Therefore, the only change brought about by the Amendments is that from the first-past-the-post to the regional list system in Great Britain—that is, in England, Scotland and Wales. The Amendment restores, except for Northern Ireland, the precise wording of the Government's recommendation as it originally appeared in the Bill when it was presented in another place. I emphasise that. The wording is not mine. Nor is it that of my noble friends. It is the Government's.
§ The Prime Minister, in a joint statement with my right honourable friend Mr. David Steel in March last year, declared that the Government's recommendation would be subject to a free vote in each House. These Amendments present the opportunity for a free vote in this House.
§ The arguments for a proportional representation system for direct elections to the European Parliament have been expounded in this House on many occasions. I should like briefly to summarise them. There is the danger of the distortion which might be created by using the first-past-the-post system in 78 large single-member constituencies. The first-past-the-post system distorts at the best of times, and the larger the constituency the greater is the distortion. So there is a great danger that the balance of representation as between the Labour and Conservative Parties in the European Assembly may be seriously distorted, so that the representation is greatly at variance with the actual votes cast for those two Parties. Secondly, there is the possibility—the likelihood—that there would be no representation at all for substantial minorities if their support is widely distributed throughout the country. Thus, the Liberals, for example, could poll millions of votes, yet have no seats.
§ Then there is the equal danger of over-representation for less substantial minorities if their support is concentrated. This might well be the position with regard to the Scottish Nationalists. This distortion would affect not merely the political balance among those who go from this country to represent us in the European Parliament but also the political balance 793 of the European Parliament as a whole. The other Members and the Party groups in the Parliament, might well have serious reason to be dissatisfied with us because we had altered the balance in that Assembly from what it would have been had we, like them, had a system of proportional representation ensuring that representation in the Assembly was closely related to the way in which the votes had been cast.
§ It is important to bear in mind when facing this situation that we are not electing a Government when we elect the representatives to go to the European Parliament. All the other countries would be electing their Members by proportional representation. Therefore, it does seem that the case for proportional representation for the European Parliament is overwhelming. This Amendment, and the subsequent ones related to it, provide for the regional list system of proportional representation to be used in Great Britain. What is the regional list system? It is simply that the country is divided into electoral regions which, so far as possible, follow the boundaries of the regional planning regions. There would be nine such in England with from three to 14 Members each. Scotland would have eight Members and Wales four, and both would be a region, so there would be 11 regions in all.
§ Within the regions, candidates are nominated by the Parties up to the number of seats to be filled in each regions, and Independents may stand as well. A form of ballot paper has been devised which shows the Party candidates—the candidates of the same Party—in Party groups, so that, by looking at the ballot paper, one can see all the candidates of one Party grouped together, all the candidates of another Party grouped together, and so on.
§ The elector casts his vote by marking with a cross in the familiar way opposite the name of the candidates he prefers, and this will normally be one of the candidates of the Party of his choice. The votes are then added up for each Party group and the seats allocated in proportion to the votes cast for each Party group, so that a Party group gets the number of seats which its total votes entitle it to have. The first candidate to be elected from a Party group is the candidate in that group 794 who has secured the most votes. If the Party group is entitled to a second Member, he will be the one with the second largest number of votes in that group, and so on.
§ A similar system to that used for the topping-up Members of the added Member system, which was explained earlier in the week by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, is used to carry out this allocation, and to determine the proportion due to each Party, so there is that similarity between the regional list system, which these Amendments propose, and the added Member system, which the House has adopted for the Scottish Assembly.
§ Nevertheless, the regional list system differs from the added Member system in two respects. First, under the regional list system, there are no single-Member constituencies, but we must remember that we are dealing with an election to the European Parliament and that the circumstances are very different from an election to the Scottish Assembly. Single-Member constituencies would have electorates of about 500,000 people for the European Parliament and the idea of a close personal link, as at Westminster, would not be feasible in any event. If the added Member system were used, rather than the one proposed in these Amendments, then, on the basis of two-thirds of the Members being elected in single-Member constituencies and one-third topping up, the single Member constituency would have about 750,000 electors, and with numbers of that size it makes more sense to have multi-Member regional constituencies. The added Member system may be thought to be more suitable for the Scottish Assembly and the regional list system may be thought to be more suitable for the European Assembly.
§ Under the regional list system—and this is the second difference between it and the added Member system—the electors control the order in which the candidates of a particular group are elected. Under the topping-up or list part of the added Member system they do not, as the priority on the list is determined by the Parties. But under the regional list system it is the electors and not the Parties who determine this priority. It is therefore a less rigid list system than the topping-up part of the added Member system, and Independents, too, under this system can 795 be elected if they have a great deal of support and are particularly popular. A noble Lord said on Second Reading of the Bill in this House that the regional list system amounted to very little more than Party patronage through nomination. That, as we see, is quite untrue and must be based on a misunderstanding of the system. Of course, both the regional list system and the added Member system are better for elections to Europe than the first-past-the-post system.
§ It is well known that we on these Benches prefer a third system, the single transferable vote system, and, indeed, when a year ago, I introduced into this House, while we were waiting for the Government's Bill, a Bill for elections to the European Parliament, I included in it the single transferable vote system. It is only by using that system in Northern Ireland that we can be reasonably sure that one of the three Members for Northern Ireland will be a representative of the minority community. That is why we retain the single transferable vote for Northern Ireland. A further reason is that it is very familiar there already, being used there at present in local government and having been used for elections to the Convention. But, though we prefer the single transferable vote, we accepted the added Member system for Scotland last week and we put forward the regional list system for Europe this week in the same spirit; we put it forward not only because it has, though it is not our first choice, much to commend it, as I have sought to show, but also because it is the Government's recommendation. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will be underlining the points in its favour which I have made.
§ The Home Secretary, speaking on 6th July in another place, said that the Government recommended acceptance of the regional list system to the House. He pointed out the danger of distortion, as I have done today, and, as I have done today, he explained that we should not be electing a Government in the European elections. On 21st November, Mr. Rees pointed out the advantage so far as timing was concerned if the regional list system were chosen. In regard to timing, he said that, if the regional list system were chosen, progress could be faster.796
§ The multi-Member constituencies were specified in Schedule 3 and therefore, once the Bill had received the Royal Assent, the political Parties would know the final nature of the constituencies and could begin the election of candidates immediately.
§ Some noble Lords may fear that to amend the Bill might endanger its safe passage, but I cannot believe that that could be so; there is ample time for the Government and the other place to deal with our Amendments, to get the Bill through and to complete the arrangements by early December, whichever electoral system is adopted. That would leave the six months which Lord Harris has said the Government feel should be left for the run-up to the campaign. And, now that the Prime Minister has firmly announced 7th June 1979 as the date for direct elections to the European Parliament, I cannot believe the Government will allow any unnecessary delay, and, if there is no unnecessary delay, there is plenty of time.
§ If it was right, and I believe it was, that we should ask another place to think again about proportional representation for the Scottish Assembly, then it is right that we should ask another place to think again about proportional representation for Europe. If they decide to turn down proportional representation for Europe a second time, I would say that that must be the last word on the matter so far as these first elections are concerned, but I believe that we must provide them with the opportunity for second thoughts. We must make clear what, I am sure, is the majority view of this House: that the European Election is of such a unique character as to demand a proportional system, and I hope that the Committee will support the Amendment. I beg to move.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
I had not intended to intervene so early in the debate, and perhaps our deliberations will be less lengthy than some had hoped, and indeed I had feared. It is only a short time since your Lordships last considered matters of proportional representation—only last week—and at that time, on the Scotland Bill, your Lordships dealt with an Amendment, which was ably moved 797 by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, in no mean fashion. Your Lordships could be said in those circumstances to have stated your opinion fairly emphatically in that sense. Different and rather more difficult considerations apply to this Bill, particularly when one has consideration for the situation in which your Lordships find yourselves today. Before I deal with the reasons why I hope the Committee will not agree to these particularAmendments which are enshrined in the Marshalled List—and I say that deliberately, since it appeared only at about half-past eleven or a quarter to twelve—I want to say a few words about the system of voting as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Banks.
On Second Reading of the Bill I remarked, in effect, that of all the systems of democratic elections in which there is a proportional element, the regional list system is one which I find the least attractive and the most difficult to understand. As I said on Second Reading, what is in effect being proposed is to face the electorate with almost the opposite of the position which presently obtains in our system of election. Instead of inviting the elector to choose the individual to represent him—and I bear in mind that that individual is likely to wear a Party label—under this system the elector is to be invited to hang his hat on the Party peg, and the election or otherwise of the candidate, as opposed to others on the Party list, comes in at a second or later stage. To that extent I disagree whole-heartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Banks, when he tries to make out that this is a less rigid system than some, and one which will reflect in merit the different positions of the individual candidates.
The formula for allocating seats is extremely complicated. It is to be found in the proposed Schedule 4, at about paragraph 50, on page 44 of the Marshalled List. If none of your Lordships has had time to examine this Schedule, I most heartily commend its perusal, because it will be, if the Amendment is agreed to, what we are going to foist upon the electorate. It is what we are going to ask them to understand and to apply for these elections. I had a little to do with the system when I was a Member of the European Parliament and sat in the Regional and Transport Committee. At that stage the noble Lord, Lord Thomson 798 of Monifieth, had failed to extract any money from the Commission so far as the Regional Fund was concerned, and we were therefore reduced to debating such matters as the linkage of caravans to cars, and harmonisation of that nature—matters which, I must say, affected the Italian delegation most profoundly. I used to spend some of the debates on working out different formulas for differing situations.
The system—and one is tempted to call it crazy—was invented by this gentleman, who was certainly ingenious, if not a genius. Whether he is still alive, or how long he retained his reason after thinking up his rule, I do not know. Paragraph 50(2) of Schedule 4 says that the first duty of the regional officer, after voting has taken place, is torecord the candidate vote of each candidate (including any candidate who has died) …This is the novelty of the system. Subparagraphs (4) and (5) contain the nub of the formula, and I am not going to weary your Lordships by reading them out. Suffice to say that the kernel of the whole system is to take the number of seats which a Party or group has, and add one and then divide that into the number of votes it has obtained.
A further illustration of what is being complicated is contained in sub-paragraph (6)(a), which says that in the allocation of seats under the ruleno seat shall be allocated to an individual candidate who has been proved to the satisfaction of the regional officer to have died".What is it the Liberal Party is telling us to accept? Dead men tell no tales, but they are going to lie down and have their votes counted. I am being frivolous, but the remarks are not entirely frivolous, because in effect we are being asked to write into the Bill a total list of Amendments which extend to over 50 pages in the Marshalled List. Why I read out those pieces in a light-hearted manner, I hope, was to try to illustrate that we are being asked to consider Amendments which are new as well as a system of election which is totally alien to anything which has happened in this country before.
What will be the effect of that on your Lordships' House and on the Bill? We cannot legislate in just one debate to have this system of proportional representation; 799 it cannot be done. Now that the Marshalled List has appeared, and one can see the Amendments and how they are grouped, we know that what would be entailed if the Amendment were passed would be a detailed and proper consideration of each Amendment, and no doubt that would take some days of debate. Anybody who has been following the progress of the Scotland Bill, particularly if he considers what has happened in the last two days, would not I think disagree with the proposition that if we were to accept the Amendment today we would involve ourselves in detailed consideration of a number of complex and highly intricate matters which would have to be debated.
A further point is that matters such as are contained in Schedule 4—detailed arrangements for the holding of elections—are, by their very nature, much more usually dealt with by the Secretary of State by means of order, and I hope I have the agreement of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, when I make that contention. The noble Lord, during consideration of the Bill on Second Reading, promised all-Party talks on election details—and I see the noble Lord nodding—and I would make the suggestion that this is a much more appropriate method to work out how the European elections are to be set up, than by writing these complicated provisions into a Bill such as this.
If these Amendments were approved, having gone through the ordinary processes of the House, that would have two effects. First, we would clog up our own workings. That may not matter very much, although the House already seems to have much to do within the next few weeks. We would clog up our workings while we considered a mass of detail, as I have already tried to point out. I would regard all that as totally unnecessary. Secondly, the Bill, after passing through its stages in this House, would have to go back to the other place, which has already rejected this system by a very decisive margin. Nevertheless, the Bill would have to go back, drastically amended, and the other place would then have to consider, and would be duty bound to consider, our Amendments in such detail as the time it could find allowed. It would have to provide time, 800 probably limited time, by use of a guillotine, for their consideration.
But what I regard as being much more important (and I am taking noble Lords into my confidence, I hope, when I say this, but it is obvious when one thinks of it) is that it would provide a first-class opportunity for those who wish to see the Bill fail, who wish it never to have the Royal Assent, to table a host of Amendments to our Amendments, which would have to be dealt with. So, at best, a guillotine, and the Bill would not be fatally delayed: at worst, the Bill would be bogged down, and it would run out of time.
So we really have to face two matters when we consider this. We know now that the date of the poll has been fixed in June of next year, 1979, so that we have a target to meet. Secondly, this Government—and I made this remark on Second Reading—are to a degree living on borrowed time. If I may not be too contentious, they are trying, by means of the Finance Bill and other ways, to borrow a bit more time; but the fact remains that by all accounts time is running out, even if not under the Parliament Act. The effect of this, of course, is that if there was a General Election before this Bill received the Royal Assent, a very heavy responsibility would lie on those who had contributed to its failure, however worthy their motives may have been.
What could the Liberals achieve, or what could the sponsors of this Amendment achieve, even if they were successful, even if the Bill goes through all its stages in both Houses? I was really quite surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Banks, say, apparently quite calmly, that he expected, if all went well, that this Bill would go through all its stages by December. It is, I think, showing great faith—I am not sure what in, but great faith—to think that this Government will be sitting there in a position to promote Bills, or even to present them for the Royal Assent, in December.
§ Lord BANKS
I wonder whether the noble Earl would allow me to interrupt him on that point? I was of course including in the period of time not merely the time for the Royal Assent, but the time after that which might be necessary for 801 any Boundary Commission work, if in fact the system which was ultimately used was the first-past-the-post system.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
The noble Lord makes himself a great deal plainer now than he did before, but I hope he will agree with me that the time-scale of which we are talking is really July, not December. That is the time which will become critical.
What is it that would be achieved if this Amendment were to be agreed to and everything happened as the noble Lord, Lord Banks, would like? What it would mean is that the electorate would be saddled with a method of electing its representatives to the European Assembly which will be difficult to explain and which, however advantageous it may be electorally speaking to any particular small group on the periphery of our body politic which feels, perhaps, that it deserves more seats in the European Parliament, will have to be turned upside down again at the second election; because, doing what researches I can, I find there is no single country in the European Community which has adopted this method, as favoured, for these elections, and the probabilities are, as I say, that the whole thing will be changed again at the second election, when we have to have some sort of system which is agreeable to all.
On these occasions it is normal, I think, to have a free vote; and, of course, every noble Lord speaks for himself and votes as his own conscience and inclinations tell him. For myself, I had my share of chivvying the Government before this Bill was presented, and I think that in my gentle and courteous manner I took the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to task on a number of occasions at the dilatoriness of the Government in not presenting the Bill a great deal earlier. For myself, I am certainly not going to prejudice this Bill now. I am far too ardent a European, even if a retired Member of the European Parliament, to do anything which would cause your Lordships' House the shame of having to face up to the fact that it had been responsible for Britain once more reneging on its international or European duties. If the noble Lords on the Liberal Benches wish to divide the Committee, for myself I shall vote against this Amendment. I very much hope that 802 I can count on a number of my noble friends, and indeed noble Lords in all parts of the Committee, to accompany me into the Lobby.
§ 3.56 p.m.
Lord HOME of the HIRSEL
Only a couple of weeks ago I voted with a good deal of enthusiasm for the system of proportional representation for Scotland; and I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Banks, that a system of first-past-the-post in relation to the European elections would produce some terrible distortions for this country. You have to look back only to May of last year, when the Socialist Party were getting very small polls, to realise that. In the polls, it looked as though they would experience a catastrophe in a General Election; and the result would have been that Europe would have been full of Conservatives and some Liberal M.P.s, but practically no Socialists at all. I do not think that is a good thing. I think that, in Europe, there ought to he a fair share for the Parties, and that they should be represented particularly when serving abroad. So my instinct is strongly in favour of proportional representation so far as the European elections are concerned. But I cannot vote for this Amendment. I have come to the same conclusion as my noble friend Lord Mansfield. I think that, in the unknown political circumstances of the day, it is just too dangerous to do so. It might result in losing this Bill, and for that I could not personally be responsible.
§ Lord YOUNG of DARTINGTON
I think it would be unfortunate if no other voice at all was raised in support of the Amendment standing in the name of Lord Banks, and it would not, I believe, be a fair representation of opinion in this Committee, any more than would be an election for the European Parliament held under the first-past-the-post system. Most of the issues have been debated many times before, and no doubt people will have made up their minds one way or another before this debate was even started, let alone has come to its conclusion.
The debate can indeed be said to go back, not just some years but many decades. In 1882 W. S. Gilbert put the point—and I think it is one of the main 803 points before us—succinctly in lolanthe, when he said:That every boy and every gal, That's born into the world alive, Is either a little Liberal, Or else a little Conservative!Many Members of this Committee will be even better aware of that than I am; and, of course, if he were writing today, W. S. Gilbert would be substituting the word "Labour" for the word "Liberal". W. S. Gilbert was intending to ridicule a system which obtained in this country at that time, but what he said then seems to me to be much more apposite now in going some way, at any rate, towards ridiculing the system which is proposed in the Bill before us, which is so different from the original Bill that was presented in another place.
The case for some form of proportional representation, which has been well put by the noble Lord on the other side of the Committee. is that British opinion would not be accurately represented if the proposals in the Bill were held to. The unfortunate fact is that, if we held to a system which is so unlike that in all other European countries, it could have a most unfortunate result. No one knows exactly how it would work out under the regional list system, but it could he that the Opposition Party in a mid-term period would gather unto itself all the seats in the European Parliament—which would certainly seriously undermine in Europe the position of the British Government and would make this country look ridiculous in the eyes of other people in Europe who have decided, in their wisdom, as it seems to me, to go for a form of proportional representation.
The only reason why we would consider it is, naturally, as has been said already, because the constituencies have to he so much larger for the European Parliament, in any case. There is not only that danger but there is, perhaps, a much more real danger; that is, that there probably would he no Liberals represented in the European Parliament and also no representatives of other minorities. This could mean—and we do not know what minorities there will be in the future—that the present political balance would be, to some extent, frozen; that would be extremely unfortunate. If there is to be support 804 for Europe, it is important not only that that support should be from the major Parties but also from the minority Parties and minorities generally. It seems to me that, although there are risks—as there always would be risks in this kind of situation—in voting for the Amendment, to do so would he a demonstration of common sense by your Lordships' Committee on this occasion.
§ Lord ALPORT
One of the difficulties which in the past those in favour of proportional representation have had to face is the difficulty of making up their minds as to which kind of proportional representation they favour. It has always been on that particular rock that the efforts made by the Liberal Party and others have in the past foundered. There are, one knows, disadvantages in almost all of the various systems put forward and probably there are merits in all of them as well; but the point has been reached in the long controversy over this where this House a very short time ago made up its mind in favour of one particular form. It seems to me, therefore that it would be very unwise for us to produce for this European election a different form of proportional representation. It would be more convincing for the country at large, many people being still sceptical about the merits of the system, if we gave a vote, for a second time, in favour of one particular system.
From a rather complicated Marshalled List, I understand that there is to be proposed by a number of Peers representative of all Parties an Amendment which will enable us to repeat for the European Assembly the same kind of system as we, at any rate, favoured so far as Scotland is concerned. Therefore, I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who has put his case very well and who has now had the opportunity of showing us in detail the implications of his particular system and that of his noble friend Lord Wigoder, will withdraw his Amendment and enable us—or, at any rate, I hope, a majority of us—to support for the European Parliament what is, I think, absolutely essential; that is, proportional representation, but in a form we have already expressed our view of as being in favour of in not dissimilar circumstances a very short time ago.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
As I said in the Second Reading debate on this Bill, the electoral system to be used for elections to the European Assembly is obviously one of the major issues which arises on this Bill. This has been so in the debate today and in the Second Reading which took place in another place. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate that we should devote a major part of the Committee stage of this Bill to discussing this matter. At the same time, it is fair to point out that the electoral system is only one of the major issues which arise on this Bill. Many of those who support direct elections consider, as I do, that the very fact of the holding of direct elections to the European Assembly will strengthen immeasurably democratic control over the institutions of the European Community, and it is essential for us to bear in mind that that is the central objective so far as this piece of legislation is concerned.
The noble Lord, Lord Banks, has, I think, fully and fairly described the regional list system which he proposes instead of the simple majority system contained in the Bill before us. As the noble Lord rightly said, the Government recommended the regional list system to the House of Commons but, as he will he aware, they rejected it. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary said, when commending the regional list system for the whole of the United Kingdom, that he believed this was the most appropriate electoral system for elections to the European Assembly. For that reason, if for no other, I part company with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, who sought to criticise a particular aspect of it. But the Government, looking at the various choices before them, came to the conclusion that, of all the choices available, the regional list system was preferable.
Therefore, on the merits of the regional list system there is little or no divergence between the supporters of these Amendments and myself. It is therefore entirely reasonable that I should be asked to explain the Government's attitude today. In the rather difficult situation which a number of noble Lords have touched on, to do this I should begin by going over the background and over the progress of the Bill in another place.
806 As I mentioned when I moved the Second Reading, the White Paper published in April, 1977, outlined three possible electoral systems for use in direct elections to the European Assembly. These were the simple majority system, the regional list system and the single transferable vote system. In the light of the debates and public discussion on the White Paper, the Government came to the conclusion that the regional list system would be appropriate in the very exceptional circumstances of elections to the European Assembly. The Bill which was introduced in another place by the Government contained two alternative electoral systems to enable that House to form a judgment on the basis of a full understanding of both systems and, as I have indicated, the Government recommended to the other place that they adopt the regional list system of elections.
The Bill was given a Second Reading in another place by 381 votes to 98—a formidable majority. But it is only fair to say that the progress of the Bill was not exactly speedy. On its first day in Committee, debate on the Bill lasted over six hours; on the second day, some four hours; on the third day, over five hours; and, on the fourth day, also over five hours. By that time the Committee of the other place had reached Clause 3 of the Bill and had not discussed Clause 2 which, by a procedural device, had been leapfrogged. There were at that stage (at the time when the Government decided to introduce the guillotine) still 170 Amendments to be discussed; and, no doubt, more would have been tabled before the end of the Committee stage.
In that situation, the Government, as the House are aware, introduced a guillotine Motion which was moved on 26th January after there had been a total of 22 hours of debate on the Bill in Committee on Clauses 1 and 3 of the Bill. However, by that time, as the Committee will know, another place had reached a conclusion on the electoral system that they preferred. They considered the regional list system in principle though not in detail (a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield) and rejected the regional list system by a majority of nearly 100 votes—96 to be precise.
If the Amendments which are before us are carried, inevitably the Bill will 807 have to return to another place for further consideration. The Bill will have to wait its turn, and it may not be possible for another place to begin its consideration of Lords' Amendments for some time. When this consideration is begun, it is certain that—perfectly reasonably—the opponents of the Bill as well as the opponents of the regional list system will demand a careful, detailed consideration of the whole regional list system. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has indicated that this is a very substantial matter indeed. It covers very many pages on the list of Amendments today.
It is certainly true that it might be possible to supplement the provisions of the time-table Motion which was passed last January to limit the time taken in the Commons consideration of Lords' Amendments; but this could itself be a controversial and difficult exercise. Given the decisive nature of the Commons rejection of the regional list system when it was previously considered, it seems very likely—indeed, almost certain—that the House will reach precisely the same conclusion that it did on the previous occasion: namely, that it was not in favour of the regional list system. The size of the majority provides a formidable amount of evidence that that indeed is so. Therefore, after another place had reached its decision the Bill, after possibly fairly prolonged discussion, would come back to this House once again, possibly later in the summer, and we would then be in a position to form a final judgment in the matter.
I make no particular complaint that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, raised the question of what he regarded as the considerable temporariness so far as the Government's present position is concerned. The noble Earl had a certain amount of fun and none of us would wish to deprive him of that. This point was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel. In fact, it is a matter for rather more senior members of the Government than myself to decide when a General Election should take place.
That reminds one of the story when in 1928 Governor Al Smith, then Governor of New York State, was approached by a young reporter on the staff of the New 808 York Times when standing on Grand Central Station in New York. The young man said to Governor Smith: "Are you going to stand as the Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States?" Governor Smith looked at the young reporter and said: "Young man, if I had chosen to do so it would not be on the platform of Grand Central Station and to you". I find myself in a remarkably similar position to the reporter on the New York Times. However, I take note of what both noble Lords said. I would make the self-evident point that if this Bill had not reached a position on the Statute Book by the time a General Election was called, manifestly the Bill would not get on the Statute Book until there was a new Parliament.
Let me now look at the alternative position and that is the situation which we would face if these and other Amendments which we are going to debate this afternoon are not pressed. In that situation, I believe that we would be in a position to get Royal Assent for this Bill in May. Otherwise I believe it certainly could be as late as July. As noble Lords will know, the United Kingdom has been subject to some criticism in the Community—indeed, as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said, also in this House—for what is alleged to have been our slowness in making provision for direct elections in the European Assembly. I do not want to comment on the merits of that particular proposition because we have gone over this ground on a large number of previous occasions. Nevertheless, the fact is that we have been catching up very significantly in recent months. If the present Bill proceeded to Royal Assent next month, as would be the position if no Amendments were carried, we would then be the fourth or, just conceivably, the fifth Member of the European Economic Community to have completed the passage of the relevant electoral legislation.
Noble Lords will have seen that at the European Heads of Government meeting at Copenhagen last weekend it was decided that the target date for the first elections to the European Assembly should be in the period between 7th and 10th June 1979. This would mean, so far as the United Kingdom was concerned, that the elections would take place on Thursday, 7th June. Of course, the final 809 date cannot be ultimately determined by the Council until all the Member States of the Community have ratified the Council's decision of September 1976. It is proposed—and this point has been touched on on a number of occasions this afternoon—that we should work towards a uniform electoral system for elections to the European Assembly. Certainly I would recognise that there will be difficulties in reaching agreement with all Member States on such a uniform system. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that the electoral system proposed in this measure is essentially of an interim nature. The House should recognise that as an extremely important point. We are not talking about the permanent future of our electoral system so far as the European Assembly is concerned; we are talking about an interim judgment on this matter. I believe that the holding of these elections is vastly more important to the future of Europe and to the United Kingdom than the electoral system adopted for what in fact would be the first set of elections.
Therefore, let me sum up. There is no difference in principle whatever between the movers of these Amendments and the Government. Indeed, it would be absurd to suggest there was because my right honourable friend the Home Secretary commended precisely these proposals to the House of Commons when the Bill was in Committee stage there. Nor do I in any way doubt that there is a majority, as a general question of principle, in favour of proportional representation. As the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, pointed out, there was a significant majority so far as the Scotland Bill was concerned. The point which I am putting to the House is this. We are not discussing here simply a question of the principle of what our electoral system should be so far as this particular measure is concerned. What we are discussing is whether we are going to get this measure, as I believe most Members of this House want, on the Statute Book as speedily as possible. I believe that if we are in a position to avoid amending this Bill, this measure will receive the Royal Assent within a few weeks. It seems to me that the case for doing that is overwhelming.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Lord WIGODER
Your Lordships' House has now reached a truly extra 810 ordinary position. We are debating in this Committee stage the European Assembly Elections Bill, in which the method of election is a crucial factor. Not one single voice from any part of your Lordships' House has supported the method of election enshrined in the Bill that your Lordships' House is now being asked to pass. There has been nothing but criticism from all parts of the House of the first-past-the-post system as enshrined in this Bill—not one voice raised in favour of it.
§ Baroness ELLES
The noble Lord may be referring to the Committee stage now, but several Members of your Lordships' House supported the first-past-the-post system in previous debates.
§ Lord WIGODER
In that case I shall have to be a little careful about my next observation. I was going to say it is hardly surprising that there are in this Chamber very few people who are so besotted by the lust for power for their own political Party that they prefer the first-past-the-post system to a system of fair representation. I do not propose, therefore, to go into the merits of the question of fair voting, of proportional representation, in the course of this debate, because I venture to think that an overwhelming majority of your Lordships would accept that for a consultative Assembly of such crucial importance to the future of Europe as the European Assembly will be, it is essential that all the main strands of political opinion should be fairly represented. I do not believe that is a proposition that will find very much dissent.
The problems that have been posed this afternoon by way of propositions regarding the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Banks come under two headings. First, it is said that perhaps there is another method of proportional representation—the added Member system—which may be rather more effective; in other words, there is a dispute as to the method of proportional representation. Secondly, there is the logistic argument which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, to the effect that it may imperil the passage of the Bill if we pursue this matter any further.
I should like to deal with those two objections. First, as to the method of 811 proportional representation, may I say to the noble Lords, Lord Chelwood, Lord Alport and others, who I know are waiting to support an Amendment on the additional Member system, that it would be a tragedy if we were to lose the opportunity of having a fair system of elections to the European Assembly because of disagreement among ourselves as to which may be the marginally better system of proportional representation.
I accept that criticisms can be made of each system: there may be marginal advantages in one and marginal disadvantages in another. It is perhaps unfortunate that we cannot vote this afternoon on the single transferable vote as being the method of proportional representation we might prefer; but that cannot be done and we have to abide by the position in which we are now debating the regional list system. We shall later, if that is defeated, go on to debate the additional Member system. I venture to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and to those who support him, that the differences between us are far less than the matters we have in common, as against those who wish to support the first-past-thepost system in this Bill.
Therefore, the logic of this is that those who wish, with the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, to support the additional Member system should first of all support us on a Division on this regional list system. If this is not successful, we will most certainly support the noble Lord and his colleagues if there is a Division on the alternative system which he chooses to put forward. What is important, surely, is that there should be a system of fair voting; and the details in the difference as between the two systems proposed in these Amendments fade into insignificance against the monstrous inequity that might be perpetrated by having the present system in this Bill—the one that so far has found no single supporter this afternoon. That is all that I wanted to say on the objection which is being raised to the regional list system.
The other matters I want to analyse for a moment are the logistic arguments as to what would happen if this Amendment is carried. The position at the moment is this: the Report stage is due 812 in your Lordships' House—I hope I am not revealing any secrets by indicating this—on 27th April, and I believe it is hoped that Third Reading will take place during the first week in May. It will follow therefore that if this Amendment on the regional list system is carried, the Bill can be sent back to the other place within the first week in May. The position will then be this: time will have to be found—
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
Before the noble Lord goes on, I do not know whether he was listening to my remarks, but I said that we would have to go through each of these Schedules line by line. Is the noble Lord saying that were this Amendment to be passed he would not recommend that course to this Chamber?
§ Lord WIGODER
I think we shall find that there is such a vast margin of time available that, even if I were to be deterred, which I am not, by the noble Earl's threat to go through these Amendments line by line, there would still be abundant time to deal with this matter. If this Amendment in its present form goes back to the other place in the first week of May, or indeed in the first week of June or July—I do not think it matters very much —the other place will then have to come to a conclusion on this Amendment No. 1, in other words, to insert:('the Regional List System in Great Britain and the Single Transferable Vote system in Northern Ireland, as laid down in this Act.')".The other place can either accept that Amendment or reject it. If they reject it, then the whole of the rest of the Amendments automatically fall and no further debate of any sort will be necessary. The only question arises as to what happens if the other place accepts the Amendment.
Perhaps 1 should say that if they reject it, certainly we on these Benches—I think I can give this as an undertaking—would not seek to persist any further in the Amendment. So that if the other place were to reject this Amendment when it goes back to them, that would be the end of the matter; the Bill would receive the Royal Assent and nothing would be lost. On the other hand, if the other place were to decide to change their original view and accept the first Amendment on the regional list system for Great Britain and 813 the single transferable vote system for Northern Ireland, they would then be committed to the regional list system and to going through the various provisions, as the noble Earl indicated, line by line.
The great virtue of the regional list system, in terms of a timetable, is that it does not require any investigation at all by the Boundary Commissioners. Indeed, the Home Secretary made it clear in the other place—and I shall now quote from a Written Answer, which is therefore perhaps even more of a considered answer than an oral one, on 28th November 1977 at column 69, when he said:If a regional list system is adopted, it should be possible to hold elections in June 1978, provided the Bill receives Royal Assent before the Easter Recess".In other words, the Home Secretary was saying only three months would be necessary after Royal Assent, on the regional list system, before the date of elections. It follows therefore that if we have elections scheduled for next June there would be some 13 months available for the other place to consider in detail the regional list system. They would have to complete their deliberations in 10 months in order to allow a three months' period to elapse between Royal Assent and the date of the elections.
I cannot believe that with good will on all sides—and I believe there is good will on this particular issue—10 months is not far, far longer than is necessary to enable both the other place and your Lordships' House to go through the whole of this Bill once the other place has accepted in principle Amendment No. 1. If that Amendment is rejected after going through this Chamber, nothing is lost. if they accept it, there is ample time for the matter to be gone through in the greatest detail. In those circumstances, I would suggest that the timetable arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Harris—and I accept that they are being put forward entirely in good faith are quite unfounded, and that it is perfectly practicable for your Lordships to pass this series of Amendments today without in any way prejudicing the holding of elections.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he can inform me, if not other Members of this Chamber, whether he has given the true position about what happens in another 814 place to Amendments passed by your Lordships. Is it not true that the Leader of the other place has to find time, if and when time is available, for the consideration of Amendments which go back to them? And in the present choppy seas in which the Government are sailing, is it not more likely that consideration of your Lordships' Amendments to this Bill might be delayed for some considerable time? Or has the noble Lord some great undertaking or understanding with the Government that this will not happen?
§ Lord WIGODER
I have only the same recollection as many of your Lordships, that, when it is desired to do so, Amendments can be passed by your Lordships' House, considered in the other place and returned to this House within 48 hours. It has happened over and over again, within all our recollections, and frequently in the course of the last few Sessions of Parliament.
§ Baroness ELLES
Is the noble Lord suggesting that, for instance, the Amendments which are down to Schedules 1, 2, 3 and 4 and which have been proposed by his Party, will be dealt with by another place within 48 hours?
§ Lord WIGODER
Of course I am not. I am trying to make it clear that, once the other place have come to their decision on Amendment No. 1, there will, if they reject that Amendment, be no necessity for any further consideration of the matter. The rejection will then be back here within 48 hours. We shall not, of course, proceed to insist on the Amendment. That will be the end of the matter and there will he no delay, other than the 48 hours or the three or four days which are necessary. If, on the other hand, the other place accepts Amendment No. 1, there will be months and months in which they will be able to work through the rest of the Amendments in detail.
§ Baroness ELLES
I wonder whether the noble Lord would analyse his timetable a little more carefully. All the Parties with which I have been in conversation about the preparation for direct elections have informed me—and I may have been misinformed—that they will need at least six months for the selection of candidates and for the organisation within the constituencies, whether they be regional or 815 single-Member constituencies. I therefore assume that six months from June would take us up to the beginning of December, so I do not understand the calculation.
§ Lord WIGODER
I am sorry to keep on leaping up in this way. But, once Amendment No. 1 had been carried in another place, which would happen very shortly on this view of the matter, people would know at once which were the regions and there would be no difficulty about a political Party adopting its candidates. I am relieved and gratified to discover, from the noble Baroness's observations, that the Liberal Party is already far in advance of the Conservatives in the preparations for the European Assembly elections.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
May I make one point? I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for putting him in the position of moving the Government Front Bench in his direction, but may I put to him one difficulty which appears to arise from what he has said. He has put his argument very fairly but, in doing so, has rather over-simplified the timetable problems which I endeavoured to point out when I spoke.
I say that for this reason. If these Amendments are to be sent down to another place, I am afraid that there is absolutely no question of them coming back here in 48 hours. I am not sure what example the noble Lord has in mind; it may well be some piece of legislation, such as a prevention of terrorism measure, where there is widespread bipartisan agreement that the measure has to be hurried through because the security of the State is involved. But I am afraid that, with a Bill of this kind, which has already been subject to a guillotine Motion, there would undoubtedly be demands for a much more protracted discussion in another place than a simple period of 48 hours. One has to reconcile oneself to this. One has to face up to this problem.
The other place took a clear and, I think, emphatic decision against the regional list system by a majority of nearly 100 votes. I regret that they took that decision. It was not taken on the basis of the Government's advice, which asked them to support the regional list system.
816 But I know of no evidence to suggest that the other place is likely to take a contrary view, and all that would happen is that we should spend a very significant period of time indeed and still end up with something remarkably similar to the Bill as it now stands. That, I fear, is the difficulty that faces the noble Lord on this point. Iaccept entirely the merits of the proposal. It is, in fact, the Parliamentary problems to which I have endeavoured to draw attention which seem to me to create difficulties that have not altogether been met.
§ Lord WIGODER
The noble Lord will agree, will he not, that the number of votes cast in favour of proportional representation has increased, consecutively at every single vote, and that, on the last occasion, there were over 200 who voted in favour of it? The noble Lord would therefore not suggest that there is any impropriety, in referring the matter back for reconsideration, or that that a very substantial increase may not again be achieved next time, would he?
§ Lord WADE
May I make just one short point? There have, very properly, been considerable discussions about the tactical situation, but I should like to return to the general principle. I recall very well the beginning of the 1950s, when discussions took place between the Party leaders as to whether the delegation to the Council of Europe—for this was long before we had reached the situation of elections to the European Parliament; it was in the earlier days—should consist only of representatives of the Government and of the official Opposition, or whether, so far as possible, the delegation should broadly represent the political opinions in the Westminster Parliament. I am glad to say that the decision was arrived at that, so far as possible, the delegation should represent the different political opinions, and I think that all the other countries had already, or have since, reached the same decision of principle. That principle has been maintained—it is true not by elections, but by nominations —as regards membership of delegations from those early days in the European movement up to the present day.
Therefore, we are not being asked to embark upon something entirely new, whereas those who oppose this Amend 817 ment and ask for the first-past-the-post system are asking us to depart from a principle which has been observed over many years. We are being asked by the proposers of the Amendment, which I support, to maintain a policy which I think is right and one to which we ought to adhere.
§ Lord BANKS
I wonder whether I may just comment briefly on one or two of the criticisms which have been voiced during the course of our discussions on this Amendment. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said that he considered that the regional list system was difficult to understand, but I myself cannot understand why he should think that. It seems to be very simply explained. All you do is divide the country up into regions and so many Members are returned for each region. Within the regions, candidates are adopted by Parties up to the number of seats which are to be filled. The candidates are shown in Party groups on the ballot. The votes for each Party group are added up, and the Members are allocated in proportion to the votes cast. I think that that is a simple principle and easy to understand.
The noble Earl said that there was no emphasis on the individual; that the Party took priority. There, again, I would join issue with him, because the individual elector going into the polling booth is asked to select an individual and to vote for that individual—
§ Baroness ELLES
Will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? According to the regions in Schedule 3, which is Amendment No. 26, there are to be 14 candidates in the South-East region of England. This would imply that the smaller Parties would also have to put forward 14 candidates, who certainly would not be so well-known as, for example, 14 candidates of the noble Lord's Party, of the Party opposite or of my own Party. Would he think it fair that somebody who was an excellent candidate and who had 10,000 votes should, when the other 13 candidates were totally unknown, have no chance whatsoever of being elected under the system?
§ Lord BANKS
It is entirely up to the Parties to decide how many candidates they wish to put up. They might feel 818 that it was to their advantage to have a full number of candidates and that their group would get a larger vote in that way. They might feel that that would not be so, and that a smaller number of candidates would secure all the votes for their Party which were available in that area. How many candidates they put up would be a matter for local regional decision. However, the point I was making was that the individual elector did in fact put his cross against an individual on the list.
Then it was said that the formula for the allocation of seats was unsatisfactory. That formula was criticised, but it is the same formula as the one which the House approved earlier this week in connection with the added Member system. So far as this formula is concerned, there is no difference. Under the added Member system, it is applied only for the topping-up Members. Under this system, it would be applied for them all, but there is no difference in that formula—one which the House has already approved this week.
A comment was made about adding in the votes of a candidate who has died. If a candidate dies between the time of the votes being cast and the time of the votes being counted, it is only right that his vote should be added in if one wishes to get the total of all the votes which have been cast in that particular Election for that particular Party. Then it was said that the regional list system is totally alien and entirely new. Of course it is new, but it is not totally alien. The elector still goes into the polling booth and records an "X" vote for the candidate of his choice, exactly as he does at present. So I do not think that he would find anything particularly alien about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Alport, said that because we had selected the added Member system for Scotland we should stick by it for Europe. Certainly there are arguments for the added Member system for Europe. However, I think that we have to realise that the circumstances are different, as I suggested earlier, and for the reasons which I gave earlier there are grounds for saying that the regional list system, which bears some similarity to the added Member system, is the more suitable and more appropriate system for the European elections.
819 A great deal of the discussion has turned on the question of timing. I do not want to go into that matter any further; it was very fully and ably dealt with by my noble friend Lord Wigoder. He made it clear that there are very good grounds for believing that if this Committee were to pass Amendment No. 1 today, it would not prevent the passage of the Bill and would not give grounds for delay. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, feels fairly convinced that the other place will take the same view of the matter. It may or it may not do so, but if the noble Lord is right in supposing that it does, then, as my noble friend Lord Wigoder showed, this matter will be determined very quickly on Amendment No. 1. There will be no need for any long and protracted debate, although, as my noble friend also pointed out, the pressure would be less if the other system were to be adopted. There would therefore be more room for a longer debate, if one were required in that case.
§ I believe that Members of the Committee as a whole feel that the proportional representation system is right. The regional list system is undoubtedly satisfactory and one to which the Government themselves have given considerable consideration. Indeed, in the first instance they presented it to the other House, so we are not throwing upon the Government machine a system to which they have given no thought. It is a system for which they are prepared.
§ I think it is appropriate that, bearing in mind the strong view that there is in this Committee, we should give the other place a chance to have second thoughts. Because I take that view and because my view is shared by my noble friends, I feel that we must test the opinion of the Committee on this Amendment.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 68; Not-Contents, 123.821
|Airedale, L.||Douglas of Barloch, L.||Rochester, Bp.|
|Alexander of Potterhill, L.||Foot, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Gladwyn, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Amherst, E.||Grey, E.||Seear, B. [Teller.]|
|Ampthill, L.||Gridley, L.||Segal, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Hampton, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Hanworth, V.||Simon, V.|
|Aylestone, L.||Hunt, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Banks, L. [Teller.]||Killearn, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Kimberley, E.||Swansea, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Listowel, E.||Swaythling, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Tanlaw, L.|
|Blake, L.||Lovat, L.||Tevito, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Mackie of Benshire, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Brockway, L.||McNair, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Byers, L.||Murray of Gravesend, L.||Wade, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Norwich, V.||Westbury, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||O'Brien of Lothbury, L.||White, B.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Ogmore, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Platt, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Croft, L.||Radcliffe-Maud, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Cromartie, E.||Reigate, L.||Younger of Leckie, V.|
|De Ramsey, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Campbell of Croy, L.||Cudlipp, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Carrington, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Champion, L.||Daventry, V.|
|Belstead, L.||Chesham, L.||Davidson|
|Berkeley, B.||Clancarty, E.||De Freyne, L.|
|Birk, B.||Clitheroe, L.||Denham, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Clwyd, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Collison, L.||Dormer, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Drumalbyn, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Cottesloe, L.||Ebbisham, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, B.||Crathorne, L.||Eccles, V.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Ilchester, E.||Romney, E.|
|Elles, B.||Inchyra, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Jacques, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor)||Janner, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Emmet of Amberley, B.||Kilmarnock, E.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Lauderdale, E.||Sandys, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Sharples, B.|
|Fortescue, E.||Lockwood, B.||Sligo, M.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Long, V.||Spens, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Loudoun, C.||Stedman, B. [Teller.]|
|Gaitskell, L.||Lyell, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Garner, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Stone, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Mancroft, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Glendevon, L.||Mansfield, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Gordon-Walker, L.||Marley, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Swinton, E.|
|Gray, L.||Monck, V.||Tenby, V.|
|Greenway, L.||Morris, L.||Tranmired, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Trevelyan, L.|
|Hale, L.||Noel-Baker, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Northchurch, B.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hatherton, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Hawke, L.||O'Hagan, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Onslow, E.||Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]|
|Hives, L.||Pannell, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)||Willis, L.|
|Hood, V.||Pender, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Perth, E.||Wise, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Wolfenden, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Porritt, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Method of election]:
§ [Manuscript Amendment not moved.]
§ [Amendment No. 2 not moved.]
§ Lord CHELWOOD moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 2, line 3, after ("2") insert ("and Schedule (Election of Additional Representatives)").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment I ask permission to refer to consequential Amendments. Amendments to introduce the additional Member system into the Bill were tabled in another place, but unfortunately not debated owing to the fact that they were technically out of order. My noble friends—if I may be permitted to call them that—and I have tabled these Amendments to ensure that this alternative method of election could be considered in Parliament and, as can be seen, this is an all-Party proposition.
§ These Amendments seek to replace the first-past-the-post system now in the Bill 822 by the additional Member system. It is quite clear from the result of the Division on 4th April when the same subject was extensively debated in your Lordships' House in relation to the Scotland Bill, that this House is at least receptive to the need for changes in the electoral system, if only in certain selected cases. I would remind your Lordships that the vote on that occasion was two to one in favour of the additional Member system. Very strong arguments were advanced on the Scotland Bill for proportional representation, and in my belief there are even stronger arguments for its inclusion in the European Assembly Elections Bill.
§ I should like first to explain, as briefly as possible, how the additional Member system works. It is clearly described in new Schedule 2 in the Marshalled List on page 12, in paragraphs 8 to 12. Like the Bill, our proposals do not affect Northern Ireland, where three Members are due to be elected to go to the European Parliament by the single transferable vote. Under our proposition England, Scotland and Wales would be divided into 59 single-Member constituencies-50 in England, 6 in Scotland and 3 in Wales. These 59 constituencies, instead of the 78 provided for in the Bill, would be formed by grouping existing Westminster constituencies exactly as provided for in Part II of Schedule 2 to the Bill. The average size 823 of the constituency—because we suggest there should be fewer—would be about 670,000, according to my pocket calculator, instead of just over half a million as there would be if the Bill were not amended. The 59 Members would be elected in the usual way by the first-past-the-post system. The remaining 19 seats out of the total of 78 in England, Scotland and Wales, would be distributed to Parties, which we define in paragraph 19 of Part III of the new Schedule, which is on page 14 of the Marshalled List, the Parties nominating in order of preference the additional Members they would like to see elected.
§ Each voter would have two votes on a single divided ballot paper. In the first vote he would vote for a constituency Member on the first-past-the-post system; in the second vote he would express his preference for a Party. The total Party votes would then be counted in each of the three regions, England, Scotland and Wales, and any Party winning more than 5 per cent. of the total Party votes cast in that region would become eligible for additional seats. We have thought it right to put in a 5 per cent. threshold to eliminate Parties or splinter groups with insignificant electoral support and we have thought it right to treat the regions separately, to give the additional Members some regional ties and responsibilities and to avoid to some extent the remoteness of a national list.
§ Finally, the calculation of additional seats made by dividing the total Party votes in each region by the number of constituency seats won by that Party (if any) plus one seat, the Party with the highest average—the system in practice is sometimes known as the "highest average formula "—takes the first additional seat, which goes to the candidate at the top of that Party's list, unless he has already been elected as a constituency Member, and the calculation is repeated until all additional seats have been allocated. It may sound a little complicated. I have done my best to explain it as briefly and simply as I can. In fact I think it is quite simple and it is based on a system which has been tried for more than 30 years in West Germany, which incidentally a Labour Government did a lot to help to design.824
§ What are the advantages of the additional Member system? First, the result reflects far more closely the wishes of the voters than the first-past-the-post system. A Party winning few constituency seats, or even none, but with 5 per cent. or more of the total Party votes in one of the three regions gets a roughly proportional number of seats in the final count.
§ It is not easy to transpose General Election results into a result of an election for the European Parliament using AMS, but I have tried. It is quite interesting to look at what would probably have been the result in the 1974 General Election. In that Election, using the system we recommend, the Labour Party would have won 32 seats, the Conservative Party 29 and the Liberals 15, of which 14 would have been additional Member seats and only one first-past-the-post. It is also interesting to note in this calculation that the variation between the percentage of votes for each of the three Parties and the percentage of seats gained by them is not more than 1 per cent. in any of the three instances where the three major Parties are concerned.
§ It is even more interesting to look at what would have happened two years later when there was a large swing against the Government in a series of by-elections. It is, of course, very unlikely indeed that such a swing would be reflected in a General Election; I think we all know that. None the less, taking the worst case is interesting. The result at that time, had the by-elections been reflected in a General Election, would have been that the Conservative Party would have won 65 out of 78 seats, the Labour Party five out of 78, and the Liberal Party no seats at all I do not think that would have been a very satisfactory result. It is in fact an example of the gross distortion that can result from first-past-the-post, to which reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, earlier, in the debate on the previous Amendment. But using the additional Member system in the same calculation, with this big swing against the Government, the result would probably have been that instead of 65 seats the Conservatives would have had 48, instead of five seats the Labour Party would have had 16, and instead of no seat at all the Liberal Party would have had eight. I confess that that is not fully 825 proportional, but it is none the less a great deal fairer, as noble Lords will quickly see, than the wildly distorted result under the first-past-the-post system. The result would in fact have been fully proportional had I used a slightly different calculation, such as has been suggested for Scotland; for instance, one-third of the Members being additional Members instead of one-quarter, as proposed in our Amendment.
§ Another advantage, as we see it, is that the additional Member system gives a reasonable chance for independents to win seats; I wish that it gave a better one. Thirdly, I believe it preserves single Member constituencies, which we all, I think, rightly value, while giving proportional representation to Parties and ensuring that significant minorities are not excluded. In other words, it marries the two systems, and in some ways I think gets the best of both worlds. Fourthly, it is very easy to understand and equally easy to administer. Lastly, it would pave the way for subsequent direct elections, to which reference was made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
§ Bearing in mind that in the countries of all our eight Community partners some form of proportional representation is going to be used for the elections in June of next year, is it not very important indeed that Britain should speak with authority based on some experience, at any rate, if not then, when agreement has to be sought on a uniform system for the next round of elections, as is required by the Treaty? May I add as a rider that, although in our Amendments we have specified 19 additional Members, about one-quarter of the total, AMS is a theme with many variations, of which our proposals are only one. It could easily be changed as consequential Amendments are discussed.
I realise that a few noble Lords dislike the whole concept of proportional representation—that was made clear during the debate on the Scotland Bill—and they would regard its inclusion in this Bill, as was said then, as the thin end of the wedge. I believe—and this I think is an important point—that this is the opposite of the truth; and I say that because I think that a blatantly unfair result in an election to the European Parliament, which could come about, would only increase the demand for
electoral reform in the country, a demand which is already a strong one, and is, I think, growing. Familiar first-past-the-post certainly is, and this has been the main argument for it; not, I think, a very good one. Is it perhaps a case where familiarity really has bred some contempt! It appears to many people as far too crude and blunt an instrument to satisfy voters, especially moderate middle-of-the-roaders, who regard themselves not as a silent majority but as a silenced majority. Political stability in this country depends very heavily on such people. Perhaps Disraeli had these thoughts in mind—who knows?—when he described represensative government as
that fatal drollery".
§ After direct elections the influence of the European Parliament is bound to increase, as indeed it must if the Community is to become more democratic. Greater power, I am sure, will follow greater influence. How essential it is that additional powers should be given only to a European Parliament that genuinely reflects the views not only of other Community members, as it will, but of the United Kingdom too. Scepticism and apathy are deadly enemies of democracy. They are likely to be accentuated by very large constituencies, and, as yet, too little understanding of what the election is all about. So it is surely crucial to choose a system in which voters can have real confidence.
§ I mean no disrespect to another place, where I spent almost 30 happy years, when I assert that your Lordships' House sometimes reflects public opinion much more accurately. Our open minds about the whole subject of proportional representation is only one example of this, to which the Economist drew attention last week. I strongly recommend to your Lordships these Amendments, which would transform a disappointing Bill with a serious flaw in it, in our view, into one much more worthy of its historic importance. I beg to move.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
I rise to support the Amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood. I feel, however, that the stuffing has gone out of the debate. With all the flexible arrangements that we are supposed to have in your Lordships' House, I would think 827 we would do better to have the main debate on whether the electoral system now in the Bill should stay there, and not have two debates on alternative systems to replace it. The main issue is really whether the electoral system in the Bill should remain there. Considerations of time and circumstance weigh heavily upon a decision to change it rather than upon the choice of alternatives to replace it.
One of the curiosities of the present Parliamentary situation is that what the Liberal Party want, and what the Government said they wanted, is apparently unobtainable. I think that there are some miracles that your Lordships' House cannot perform, and I do not think your Lordships' House can give the Government what they wanted and what the Liberal Party wanted when the House of Commons denied it by such an overwhelming majority. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out that on a free vote the electoral system in the Bill was confirmed. If we were deciding on an electoral system for the European Assembly which was irrevocable, or almost irrevocable, there would be very strong reasons for making a stand. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, stressed that this is not the finality of the matter. Perhaps the most overwhelming arguments in favour of a system of proportional representation for elections to the European Assembly are that other countries have it; the aim is to have a uniform system throughout the Community, and, whatever we do about our own home electoral system, we are expected to conform, with the maximum degree of agreement, with a universal system for the European Parliament.
The case for not delaying the Bill is very strong. There are circumstances in which we must remember that we, in your Lordships' House, are part of the composite institution of Parliament. Parliament as a whole must deliver. It is the burden upon Parliament as a whole that determines whether we can perform our task successfully and function in the best interests of the country and of our relations with other nations. The burdens on Parliament this Session are extremely heavy. Moreover, we have already taken a decision on the Scotland Bill which we consider to be of great importance, because we decided something that could not be changed so easily, or is likely 828 to be changed so soon, as in the case of the European Assembly. Therefore, we took a stand on that issue and I supported the change. However, to add this problem to the difficult problem which another place has already—having regard to the decisive vote taken on the main issue in another place—is overdoing it, and we must make a choice about our present priorities.
The main aim is to achieve the principle and a system of direct elections, to make the European Assembly more representative and to add to the authority behind what few powers it has. The European Assembly is, to some extent, like your Lordships' House. It has limited powers. However, at present—and this applies to both the European Assembly and your Lordships' House—it lacks the authority to use those powers. So, frequently we shrink from using the powers that we have because we are afraid that we are not legitimate enough to use them without challenge from elsewhere. The Bill will undoubtedly add to the authority of the European Assembly when it is accompanied by direct elections elsewhere.
Had I taken part in the debate that took place earlier, I would have said that there is every reason for amending the Bill except that of commonsense. Those of us of firm principle on these matters—and, modestly, I claim to be one—must be realistic enough and have enough—dare I use the word?—"statesmanship", to say that that is how the situation looks at present in the general conspectus of Parliamentary work and the obligations of the nation.
Speaking for myself, it is very difficult indeed to go further in this debate without dwelling to some extent upon the principle of proportional representation for elections generally. Different considerations arise. I have asked myself: Why was the change in the Bill to a system of proportional representation so strongly opposed in another place? I think that to some extent it was due to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, referred to as the "thin end of the wedge complex". Whatever may be the arguments in favour of proportional representation for elections to the European Parliament, a number of Members of another place did not want it because they believed that 829 when once established there would be a precedent for its extension more generally to our own system of domestic elections. They swallowed Northern Ireland because Northern Ireland was such a grievous example of how a first-past-the-post system wrecked the unity of the Province. They had to concede that minority representation was indispensable to any convention that was to be held. We are, indeed, providing separately for Northern Ireland in the Bill. I call that the "thin-end-of-the-wedge syndrome".
I shall not detain the House for much longer, but I believe that even when the European Assembly has a system of proportional representation—and that is bound to come—we may still be fighting the battle for proportional representation for elections to our own Parliament and our own local authorities. That battle will depend largely, not so much on convincing people that there are preferable alternatives, as on the demonstration, manifestly to be seen, that our existing system is breaking down. That is what I believe will bring about a change of attitude towards the electoral system.
Our system of aggressive, mobilising and competitive politics is continuing a division politically, industrially and socially which is deeply harmful to the spirit and unity of the country—a spirit which is so badly needed to see us through the years to come. I have borrowed a phrase from the Reith Lectures to which I listened earlier—what is needed in this country is a new fraternity in the face of the perils confronting us economically in the world today. Those perils are so formidable that if we are not blinded by the sparkle of the oil we must feel gravely doubtful whether this country will survive as an economic and industrial nation in the world of tomorrow. In my view, nothing that maintains the divisive nature of our society should be tolerated a moment longer than necessary.
A system of proportional representation for domestic elections would help to cement the nation and bring it to where it must be if it is to function at all; namely, very much in the centre. At present, under our system of mobilising, competitive politics the two main Parties begin with noises of extremism, or radical policies with either revolutionary or reactionary tendencies. Those are the 830 issues that are put to the electorate. When one of the Parties becomes the Government and the other the Opposition they are gradually pushed into the centre. We have seen that happen over the past 10 years time after time. Despite all that, it is happening now, and that is what will happen again, if, when we have an election, the country supports the two-Party system at all. It may decide that what it has seen in the past few months is not a bad way of achieving consensus politics and it may find a way of continuing that. But that remains to be seen. However, I think that we must help the European Assembly to get proportional representation. Then, those of us who support the change in this country must devote all our energies to convincing the British people that a similar change is necessary here.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, I rise to support the Amendment tabled in my name; in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and so eloquently defended by him; in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, who I do not think is present; and in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby—though from his remarks I rather gather that his name has crept on to the Amendment by mistake. It seems that he does not now propose to press the Amendment and on the whole is rather against it. However, I leave that rather unfortunate state of affairs where it is.
I must begin with a slight apology. During the Second Reading debate I said that, although I believed that the AM system was probably the best—perhaps even better than the regional list system—I did not propose to move an Amendment urging it because I was informed that I would not have very much support in this Committee, and that there was not the slightest chance of getting it passed in another place, if it got that far. I have changed my view on that since I have been told that the facts are not exactly as they were represented to me. In any case, I was encouraged by the tremendous vote in favour of PR for Scotland on the identical system—namely, the AM system—which we passed the other day.
As I understand it, there is a considerable majority of this Committee in favour of 831 PR even for this country and a vast majority of Members of this House who favour some kind of proportional representation for direct elections to the European Parliament. I think that that is undeniable. Nevertheless, as we know, the House of Commons has rejected PR in the form suggested to it. I have always maintained that the first-past-the-post system for application to Europe would be a total disaster, if only for the reason so often given by other noble Lords; that is, that it would have a most deplorable effect on the working of the directly-elected European Assembly.
There is no doubt that, if, as is very likely, there was a great discrepancy in the vote in this country, we might have a system in which the Party which had an enormous majority of the British membership of the Assembly nevertheless, after a period of months, became a minority Party in this country. Therefore, for five years a considerable minority in this country would have an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament, which would upset the entire balance of its resolutions passed. It would thus gravely affect the whole influence of this Parliament in the Community—which we hope would be considerable—even though it would not necessarily have any formal additional powers.
It is quite deplorable that the first-past-the-post decision was taken in another place for reasons which, I regret to say, were directly connected with Party political considerations and even with purely personal ones. If PR is ever adopted in this country, some Members of the other place would undoubtedly think that they would lose their seats. Therefore, many of them voted against PR for Europe because, by analogy, they thought that it might be applied in this country, and, if so, would be against their own interests. It was almost as easy as that. However, the House of Commons has taken this decision and we have just rejected the Amendment of my noble friends Lord Banks and Lord Wigoder urging the substitution of the regional list system for the first-past-the-post system.
Although a great many noble Lords are in favour of some kind of PR—indeed, a number of your Lordships would, in principle, be in favour of the regional 832 list system—I think that many noble Lords rejected it because of the quite powerful arguments put forward by the Government, and, indeed, by noble Lords on Opposition Benches, over the timetable. My noble friend Lord Wigoder has dealt with that point and I shall not elaborate on it. Nevertheless, Amendment No. 1 in favour of the regional list system is water under the bridge; it is a pity, but there it is.
However, we can still approve the Amendment standing in my name and in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, in favour of the additional Members system. Apart from the advantages—which have already been urged in its favour by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and indeed also by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in relation to Scotland the other day—there is another very considerable argument. If we have only 60 constituencies which would be directly-elected under the first-past-the-post system—which, I gather, is part of the AM system—we would get larger constituencies which would have one Member to represent each of them in the ordinary way, in the first-past-the-post way. We would then have 18 or 20 Members who would not represent any constituency, but who, nevertheless, would bring the Party balance to bear in the general representation. Those 18 or 20 Members would, therefore, have much more time to devote themselves purely to European matters in Strasbourg or elsewhere, and they could return here and make speeches if they wished. However, they would have no definite constituency obligations; they would be free to devote themselves more to European matters, which might he in the general interest. That is an additional argument to those already given by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood.
Again, there is the consideration—which, after all, is not immaterial—that this system, or something very like it, has operated in Germany for a great many years with the greatest success. No one can say that the German system is undemocratic, unrepresentative or does not work well; it works extremely well. Why it should be thought that it would not work well for elections to the European Parliament, I cannot conceive. There is no logical argument against it. One can pick 833 occasional holes in it perhaps, but they can easily be dealt with, and there is no reason to suppose that they could not be dealt with in Committee, if it is approved in principle.
The timetable argument in respect of the additional Members system is not a good one to use against its adoption. Let us suppose that the Bill returns to the other place with this Amendment agreed to. The principle, of course, would be adopted; then the Commissioners could be appointed fairly soon to delineate the 60-odd constitutencies that would be necessary. I do not think that it would lead to enormous debate on detail in the other place. If necessary, the Government could apply the guillotine. At any rate, it would be a new idea.
The advantage of putting this case before the House of Commons is that it does not ask them to eat their words or to approve something which they have disapproved by an enormous majority. It simply says, "We, in this House, believe for the reasons given, that in principle, proportional representation is necessary. That being so, surely you recognise that we are not asking you to reverse first-past-the-post. We only ask that we have first-past-the-post for a reduced number of constituencies. But let it be made more democratic, certainly more representative, by the adoption of a system whereby a few additional Members are appointed in accordance with the votes cast in the country, which is perfectly democratic". We are not therefore asking the House of Commons to eat their words. We are saying, "First-past-the-post, Yes; but for goodness sake, make it more democratic and representative".
Is it not possible that some Members of the other place might revise their view on that argument? Might not even some of the members of the official Opposition, who are Europeans—there are a great many of them—who voted against the original list system, be attracted to this particular system? Why should they not be? If they were, would the Government really oppose it? Would the Government say, "No, it is a regional list, and what we put forward then and what we are putting forward now we will not change at all"? Why should not the Government change their view and say that the additional Member system is 834 a good one? What is the argument against it? Have they got an argument against it? We have not heard it. I do not believe they have.
From what I have said you may realise that what I feel is necessary is that this House, which believes in proportional representation, should have the courage of its convictions and demonstrate in its favour for direct elections to the European Assembly in the same way as it demonstrated in favour of proportional representation for the additional Member system in respect of Scotland. if it did that, it might have a good effect on the country as a whole. It would show that this House, at any rate, is democratically-minded and in favour of a good representative system for the direct elections to the European Parliament. It is not inconceivable that, if we passed it in this House today, it might be accepted in the House of Commons tomorrow. Anyhow, it is with stressing that sentiment that I would ask your Lordships—and I am sure it is Lord Chelwood's intention to divide on this issue—to show your devotion to proportional representation today.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord BLAKE
I should like to support what has been said by my noble friend Lord Chelwood and by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. I had some responsibility, as chairman of the Commission on Electoral Reform—the Hansard Society's Commission—for introducing the additional Member system. Although, as noble Lords have said, it has been a familiar system in Germany for 30 years, I think that this was the first occasion on which it drew much attention in this country.
I do not want to go into any detail about it. It has been clearly and well explained by my noble friend Lord Chelwood, and it was explained when the Committee discussed a similar Amendment to the Scotland Bill. It has certain advantages over an original list system, although I certainly was prepared to vote for that system (and did so just now on the Amendment that was lost) because I would regard almost any proportional system, whatever it might be, as preferable to the first-past-the-post system for European elections.
There is no defence at all for the first-past-the-post system in terms of the 835 European Assembly. There are quite powerful arguments for it in terms of Westminster; there are rather less powerful arguments for Edinburgh. I think it is wrong for both, but I see the case on both sides there. But for a European Assembly, which is a purely consultative body which does not have to make or sustain a Government, the stock argument for the first-past-the-post system simply does not apply. It is entirely irrelevant.
The great argument that is normally used for the first-past-the-post system is that it makes possible firm government with a clear majority. There may he different opinions about the desirability of this, or the effectiveness of the system even in those terms, but those are at least arguments. I cannot see any arguments in favour of the first-past-the-post system for a European Assembly which is purely consultative. Surely what is wanted there is a body which is representative of all shades of opinion. The one thing which no one in their senses has ever argued in favour of the first-past-the-post system is that it is representative of minorities at all fairly in any rational sense of the use of that adverb—or, if it is, it is only by accident and rarely.
I am in favour of the additional Member system because it has certain advantages over other forms of proportional representation. In particular it preserves the constituency Member link. This is a matter to which much importance was attached in the discussions on this question in another place when the regional list system was being discussed. Unfortunately the additional Member system was not raised in another place. It did not come up. I share Lord Gladwyn's view that this is a matter which is new. This could be rationally reconsidered in another place. It is not asking them to eat their words, in the sense in which I suppose you might say the passing of an original list Amendment might be said to do. There is a great deal to be said for the additional Member system. I am not convinced, though I realise that powerful arguments have been used that way, that the effect of carrying this Amendment would be to lose the Bill, or to have the various alarming consequences which various noble Lords have suggested. I hope that this Amendment will be pressed to a Division, and carried.
Lord A LPORT
I wish to make a short contribution. I shall not detain the Committee for longer than is necessary. I was much struck by the point that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, made when he said that the stuffing had gone out of this debate, partly as a result of the fact that so many of the issues were in principle discussed on the last Amendment. He then indicated that we should show some statesmanship in not pursuing the proposals which are before the Committee at the present moment, in view, no doubt, of the serious forecast that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, made as to the possible consequences if we substantially amended the Bill.
It is, of course, one of those occasions when statesmanship is identified w ith expediency. What we are being asked to do is not to pursue an Amendment in the interests of proportional representation in relation to this Bill under the threat that the House of Commons will not pass any legislation in order to provide election to the European Parliament by the middle of next year. What I assume that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is saying on behalf of the Government—although, as I understand it, the Prime Minister has given an undertaking to his colleagues in Europe that there will be elections to the European Parliament by the time agreed next summer—is that they are not able, and indeed not prepared, to take the action which would be necessary in order to ensure that, even though this Amendment was pressed to a Division and carried in this House and went back to the House of Commons, it was debated and if necessary reversed in the House of Commons, so that it came back to this House in time for it to become law in sufficient time to enable us to carry out the electoral processes by the middle of next year.
If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I find the threat which has been developed during his speech, and referred to by others during this debate, that this is what will happen if we succeed in persuading the Committee that our point of view is a correct one, is something which is surprising from a Government already committed to direct elections to the European Parliament in the middle of next year. Of course we know the reason for this, and 1 hope 1 am not doing an injustice to anyone; the reason is that 837 in the House of Commons the leadership of both the main Parties is against proportional representation. Having so far as the Scottish Bill is concerned had to concede that at any rate the House of Lords is in favour of proportional representation in respect of Scotland, here is a good opportunity to prevent proportional representation from being extended further to the European Parliament. At any rate, it has half a chance of being extended further—as a result of a vote in this House. That is understandable.
The management of politics is a duty of the leadership, no doubt. However, I think that it would be worth while reminding the leadership that the argument, which is the main argument against proportional representation both in relation to Scotland and in relation now to this proposal with regard to Europe, is that it is the thin end of the wedge. What does that really mean? It means that the other place, and those who are opposed to proportional representation in the other place, believe that if the British people have an opportunity of exercising an electoral franchise on proportional representation in an election, they will realise that it is the fairest and most just way of ensuring that their views are properly represented in the Assembly concerned. and therefore that they will press even more strongly for the same changes to be made and applied to Parliament at Westminster. Therefore, the argument apparently is that we must not allow the people of this country to have an opportunity of exercising their franchises in this way because it may, in the end, go against the interests of the House of Commons, as opposed to being in the interests of the nation as a whole. I think that is a dangerous argument for the House of Commons to put forward.
One of these days there will be a change to proportional representation in this country. There will be a change that will apply to the House of Commons. I should have thought that the best way in which this change should take place is by gradually acclimatising, so to speak, the electors of Britain to proportional representation, first of all in Scotland, in Wales, as has already been done in Northern Ireland, and also in Europe at the same time. In that way we shall achieve a transition which will be easy, whereas in the other way there will be a sudden demand for 838 electoral reform for this country, for the Parliament at Westminster, which may cause far more dislocation to the institutions of Parliament than otherwise would have been the case.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord MONSON
A few minutes ago Lord Houghton of Sowerby spoke about cementing the country. He also spoke about why the joint Amendment would not apply to Northern Ireland. Therefore, I think that the moment has come for me to voice my disquiet—a disquiet I know to be shared by certain other noble Lords—about the differential treatment meted out to Northern Ireland by the Bill as it stands, by the Bill as it would have been amended by the Amendment which has just been defeated, and by the Bill as it may yet be amended by the Amendments that we are discussing now.
We are not alone in this disquiet. On 2nd February, this year, the Conservative Party in another place, on what was effectively a free vote, because only a one-line Whip was imposed, voted by a majority of exactly 10 to 1 to treat Northern Ireland in exactly the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom. Among those voting for this admirable principle were Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, Mr. William Whitelaw, Mr. Francis Pym, Mr. David Howell and Mr. William Van Straubenzee—both of whom had ministerial experience in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and who were therefore in a strong position to know that they were doing the right thing —and a great many other honourable Members of great experience who had obviously given the matter deep thought. I can do no better than quote the words of the Conservative Party Front Bench spokesman, speaking on 12th January, in an earlier debate on this matter. He was worried about the future of Northern Ireland and its relationship to the United Kingdom. He said:We simply cannot afford to get this wrong, to touch this nerve in the wrong way and cause this pain and harm.We believe … that the Government's proposal touches this nerve in the wrong way. We believe that it would create all over again in Northern Ireland surmise and speculation about the future attitude of this Government and the House of Commons towards Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. That would be surmise and speculation of a kind that we cannot afford".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/1/78; col. 1983.]
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
May I interrupt the noble Lord? His head is buried so deep in Hansard that I, for one, have not gathered whom it was that he was quoting. I hope that it was a Minister.
§ Lord MONSON
I am quoting from Mr. Douglas Hird, who is a Front Bench spokesman. Therefore it is in order for me to quote him.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
The problem the noble Lord has is that the noble Lord, under the Rules of the House, is allowed to quote only the words of a Minister.
§ Lord MONSON
I understand. I shall try to paraphrase the next quotation in that case.
It was not only the Conservatives who were unhappy about the proposed treatment of Northern Ireland, because an honourable Member sitting on the Labour Benches, who had been a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State in Northern Ireland at one time, expressed the opinion that one of the reasons that very little progress had been made in Northern Ireland was that there was continual emphasis that the people of Northern Ireland were different from those in the rest of the United Kingdom and must be treated differently.
The aim of the Provisional IRA is, and always has been, to separate, to divide, Northern Ireland from Great Britain institutionally—which has a bearing on what we are discussing—and hence psychologically, and hence, ultimately, constitutionally. Unfortunately, this sort of differential treatment, albeit quite unintentionally, does in a minor way go some way towards suiting the Provisionals' long-term objectives. Now uniformity will have to apply in respect of subsequent European elections throughout the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, in any case, so why stir up a hornets' nest now?
I urge noble Lords who put their names to this Amendment, if they press it to a Division and win, to consider accepting an Amendment at the next stage that will 840 extend proportional representation, on the same basis as applies in Great Britain, to Northern Ireland. Proportional representation will, after all, give the minorities a fair crack of the whip. Let us not forget that there is certainly more than one minority in Northern Ireland: there are all kinds of subtleties and gradations. This will, in the long term, help to preserve the unity of the Kingdom, an objective which every noble Lord has fervently upheld during our discussions on the Scotland Bill earlier this week.
§ Lord FRASER of KILMORACK
I had not intended to intervene in your Lordships' debate this evening. Least of all had I intended to cross swords with my noble friends, Lord Alport and Lord Blake, with whom I normally agree over a wide area. However, I must admit that I have been rather worried by some of the things that have been said in this debate. I have been a firm supporter of Britain's involvement and increasing influence in Europe over a long period. I believe that in life one must get one's priorities right. I believe that one must have a certain realism.
I have no wish to argue against proportional representation or in favour of the first-past-the-post system. Indeed, I think that there is a place for both in different Assemblies. I personally showed by my vote in the case of the debate about Scotland, and the vote the other day, that I was quite favourably disposed towards a proportional system in a subordinate Assembly, if I may put it that way, as a Scot. But I think what is important at the moment is that this Bill, which makes possible direct elections to the European Parliament, will show to our friends and allies in Europe that we in Britain are serious, that we intend that this is not merely a sort of marriage of convenience, but is actually something that we intend to make work and see that it does work increasingly well as time goes on. Therefore, I personally think that the timetable arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, were wholly convincing to me and I hoped that they would be to your Lordships' House. I would certainly oppose this Amendment if it were pressed to a Division.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I think that it would be appropriate, following that very powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Fraser, for me to answer a number of the points that have been raised in the course of this debate. Let me begin by dealing with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alport. I do not deny—indeed, I made it clear when I spoke on the last Amendment—that there is a majority in this House in favour of proportional representation. That is manifestly true. It has been indicated on a number of occasions, not least on the occasion of the Scotland Bill.
With great respect to the noble Lord, for whom I have high regard, he overstates his case when he suggests that I have made a threat of some sort concerning the House of Commons. I made no such threat. I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, what would be the position if there were to be a General Election. I may seem to speak in a rather self-interested way, but I profoundly hope there will not be an immediate appeal to the country; the Government have many important measures to put before Parliament. I simply responded to the point made by the noble Earl; manifestly, if a major Bill is going through and has not reached the Statute Book, it is obvious that it will fall, and a problem would clearly arise. This point was made much more emphatically by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, speaking with all his authority as a former Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister.
There is, therefore, no question of a threat. It is a simple question of making the sort of judgment which the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Kilmorack, just made; namely, is there really likely to be any serious prospect of another place forming a totally different view on this matter? My answer is: No, I do not think there is any such prospect. In the light of that, we must consider these time-tabling problems because they go to the very heart of this question, and I propose to deal with them rather more fully than I did on the last Amendment, for reasons which will become obvious as I do so.
I do not in any way wish to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn—who pointed out that nobody had so far spoken against the system proposed in the Amend 842 ment— that there is not an argument against it. I do not want to go into a great deal of detail about the arguments he adduced, save to mention two points of principle which would undoubtedly be taken were this to go back to the House of Commons. The first would be that one would have two different types of representative; some would be directly elected and some would come from the Party list. Next, it would give a substantial amount of power to the central Party organisation because the order in which people appear on the Party list is obviously of great importance. Those are two arguments; but there are many others which would be adduced by those who are highly critical of this proposal.
But the central argument, to which I wish to return, is that I do not believe a majority in another place would favour Amendments of this character. Undoubtedly they would consider them, possibly at significant length, but then the Bill would return here much as it is now, except that by that time we should have lost many valuable months in terms of the run-up to this crucially important series of elections.
§ Several noble Lords: No!
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
Yes, indeed. I will come to the time tabling points because, with respect to noble Lords on the Liberal Benches, they cannot be brushed aside as they tended to be when we discussed the last group of Amendments. Let me go through this point because it is absolutely essential to the decision which the Committee will have to make on this matter today.
As I indicated when I spoke to the last group of Amendments, if this Bill goes forward without amendment it will receive its Royal Assent probably some time in the middle of May. That will leave perhaps just under a year between then and nomination day for the European Assembly elections. That may at first sight appear a very substantial amount of time indeed, but in fact it is not, and for several reasons. First, a substantial, indeed a formidable, burden of work will affect a very large number of people, first of all the political Parties, then the Boundary Commission and then the potential candidates and those who will be involved in the election campaign and the 843 conduct of the elections themselves. In terms of this whole question of timing, the critical path relates to the work of the Boundary Commission in drawing up what will be the European Assembly constituencies. I am talking now on the assumption that the Bill remains in its present form. I believe it will, for the reasons I have given; namely that the House of Commons has already made a judgment on this matter and will maintain its position.
§ Baroness ELLES
Would the noble Lord agree that, even if we had the system which is at present before the Committee, there would still have to be work by the Boundary Commission, so the same argument would apply?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I take the point. The position is that, as drafted, the Bill requires the European Assembly constituencies to consist of groupings of Parliamentary constituencies. Inevitably, it will take the Boundary Commission a little time—not a formidably long time; perhaps a few weeks after Royal Assent—before they will be in a position to publish their provisional recommendations. Obviously, they have given a certain amount of thought to this since the other place took its decision against the regional list system. But following the publication of the recommendations of the Boundary Commission—and I have indicated that in my view that will take only a few weeks—time must then be allowed for the political Parties and for all the others concerned to consider the Commission's provisional recommendations and, if they wish, to make representations about them.
The Bill does not provide for the holding of any form of local inquiry, and this is very important indeed. So far as Parliamentary elections are concerned, the Boundary Commission does its work, publishes its recommendations and then there are local inquiries. But this time there will not be any local inquiries. It will be a matter for the Boundary Commission to publish its provisonal recommendations and for the political Parties and others then to make recommendations and for the Boundary Commission to come to a final judgment, and then Motions will ultimately be put before both Houses of 844 Parliament. Therefore the representations which will go to the Commission when it publishes its recommendations are matters of great importance, and obviously a fair amount of time must be given to that matter.
Some estimates have been made. A minimum of 18 weeks is an estimate which the Boundary Commission has made, and I emphasise "minimum" because it could well be that some of these groupings together of Parliamentary constituencies will give rise to a substantial amount of political debate. Consider some obvious examples; the way in which constituencies are carved out of what is in fact Greater London will be a very difficult matter in itself in which to achieve a fair degree of tranquillity so far as all the respective political Parties are concerned. There will, therefore, undoubtedly be a period for representations to the Boundary Commission, and sometimes very substantial issues indeed could be involved. That is why I believe the 18 weeks minimum which they themselves have forecast is very much a minimum.
§ Lord WIGODER
Would the Minister agree that the best estimate the Boundary Commission were able to give to the Select Committee was 18 weeks and that the word "minimum" was not used? Would he further agree with the Home Secretary, who said on 6th July, in the other place, that the advice of the Boundary Commission was that it would take 18 weeks after the passage of the Bill?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
With respect to the noble Lord, the point I am making is a simple one. Certainly the period of 18 weeks came from the Boundary Commission, when, as I indicated, they were giving their evidence to the Select Committee. We are talking about a situation here which the Boundary Commission have themselves not been confronted with in the past; namely, this truncated procedure whereby they will have to give a great deal more attention to the representations than they have ever had to do before because in the past there has always been the local inquiry where people could put their case forward before an assistant commissioner, and the Boundary Commission could have another look at the matter. Therefore, it seems to me that 18 weeks could well be a minimum, and we have to face that fact.
845 When the Boundary Commissions gave evidence they made this forecast of 18 weeks. As I have pointed out to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, who raised this matter with me, I think in correspondence, after the Second Reading of the Bill, the procedures could undoubtedly take longer if there was a very substantial volume of representations, or—and this is not, again, an unimportant point—if the work is extended because of the summer holiday season. The point is this. if the Boundary Commission is in a position to formulate its initial representations some time in the month of June, as in my view it would be in a position to do were the Bill to receive Royal Assent in the middle of May, all the recommendations would he published well before the holiday season began. But what would happen if we had to re-examine this matter in perhaps several weeks' time when the Bill comes back and then does not receive Royal Assent before, say, the middle or end of July? That in itself could be another factor which would affect the time-scale of the work of the Boundary Commission.
When the Boundary Commissions have considered the representations that are made on their provisional proposals, they will review these proposals and submit their reports with their final recommendations to the Secretary of State, and he will lay before both Houses of Parliament a draft Order in Council giving effect to the recommendations, with or without modification. But the Secretary of State himself is in this position: we are working under a truncated procedure, and he may find himself being questioned by groups of Members of Parliament who were protesting about various aspects of the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. It would be quite impossible for a Minister in that situation to brush the matter aside as being of no account; obviously he would have to consider the question. This, again, would he a delay, on this occasion between the receipt of the final report of the Boundary Commission and the presentation of the recommendations, with or without modification, to both Houses of Parliament—
§ Lord WIGODER
If the noble Lord will forgive my interrupting him, I should like to point out that the Home Secretary said in November that it should take the Boundary Commission only a couple of 846 weeks to produce its initial proposals. Did the Home Secretary not also say that the Commission could do preliminary work before Royal Assent? Is the noble Lord not rather stretching this timetable to suit his own convenience?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I fear that that is a wholly unworthy argument of the noble Lord. If he takes the trouble to read my speech tomorrow he will find that I have already made that point. In fact, he missed the point completely. I have already indicated that it would be a matter of only a few weeks before the Commission was in a position to publish its proposals. Indeed, the time-scale of May to June demonstrates that the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has missed the point altogether.
As I have indicated, there is the period in which the Commission does its work. There is also the position of the Secretary of State. when he is asked to meet Members of Parliament and others who may be seriously dissatisfied with the work of the Boundary Commission. After that process, if modifications were proposed, a statement of reasons must be laid before Parliament so that the position is made quite clear, and Motions to approve the draft Order in Council must then be passed by Affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Undoubtedly it is difficult to give a precise timetable—indeed, it is quite impossible to do so. But in total it seems reasonable to expect that the new European Assembly constituencies could not finally be determined until six months after Royal Assent had been given to the Bill—and it could be longer.
Six months having elapsed between Royal Assent and the end of this particular procedure, it would then be necessary for the political Parties to make a start on the process of selecting candidates. A candidate cannot be selected until the boundaries of the constituency are known; that is self-evident. Somebody, I believe, said that he could do that, but I do not believe that other political Parties would find that very easy. I do not know how one would begin to assemble the selection committee if the area of the new Assembly constituency was not known. This, again, creates substantial problems.
Once again, undoubtedly some advance work can be done by the political Parties, 847 centrally and through some of their regional organisations, but the procedures for the selection of candidates cannot properly be finalised until the constituencies for European Assembly elections have been finally approved by Parliament. Bearing in mind that each European Assembly constituency will consist of, roughly, eight Westminster constituencies, the procedures for the selection of candidates will themselves be fairly complicated. In many cases they will cover very substantial areas of England.
I may hurriedly say that I am not a member of the Boundary Commission, but in giving some indication of the size of some of the constituencies, which may be of interest to the Committee, let me make one assumption, which may of course be falsified by what the Boundary Commission recommends. A new European Assembly constituency could have to cover the following Parliamentary constituencies (if the matter proceeds on this basis): Hereford, Leominster, Ludlow, Shrewsbury, Oswestry, The Wrekin, Kidderminster, and South Worcestershire. That may, or may not, be what the Boundary Commission recommends. But that is a fairly typical size of constituency for the new European Assembly—
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
This is a rather complicated argument, and I should like to continue to go through it with some care. The total area concerned is over 2,600 square miles. That gives one an indication of the sheer size of a constituency of this character. Its electorate would be in the region of half a million. In an area such as that—and here I speak from my experience of the Labour Party—it is necessary to bring together to work and to select a candidate large numbers of people who have never been involved in local contact with one another at any previous stage. I assure the Committee, on the basis of what experience I once had in matters of this kind, and the experience which the noble Lord, Lord Fraser, had in such matters, that this is in itself a very formidable undertaking. It cannot begin until the new constituencies have been determined.
848 If the Bill gets Royal Assent, this procedure should be able to start in about November, in my view. There would then be a period between November and what would then be nomination day to do all this work. But if we slipped behind and Royal Assent did not come until July—I am leaving on one side altogether the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, that the Bill might die completely for totally different reasons—we would then be in a position of not being able to do anything until at least January, or even I think into February, because of the summer holiday season, which is a very important factor, as I mentioned earlier. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, would now care to intervene.
§ Lord GLADWYN
The noble Lord is making much heavy weather about the timetable. But presumably the timetable would be much the same whether the AMS or the first-past-the-post system were adopted. It would presumably take the same amount of time. It might be even less, perhaps, with the AMS. That being so, of course it is a fact that we ought to get the Royal Assent as soon as we can. But does the noble Lord think that the Royal Assent will be notably delayed by the acceptance of AMS in this Committee? It would go to the other place, and they could accept it or reject it. If they accepted it, all the details would be worked out, the Boundary Commission would begin working and there would be no delay at all except for a few days. Why should there be all this delay, and why is there all this emphasis on delay?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I tried to deal with that point on the last Amendment, when the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, suggested that in certain circumstances there could indeed be a delay of only 48 hours or so. I tried to point out that, although that might be possible when one was talking about some piece of legislation dealing with the prevention of terrorism, or something of that sort, where there was a clear national priority to get widely agreed legislation through at great speed in the national interest, it would in fact be wholly wrong to believe that a procedure of that sort was even remotely possible as far as this piece of legislation is concerned, because this is legislation which has already required a guillotine 849 Motion in the House of Commons. Not having been a Member of that august body, but certainly having been present at a number of its proceedings, I do not believe for a moment that anybody in the House of Commons could possibly suggest a procedure of this sort on what is in fact, as far as a number of Members of another place are concerned, bitterly contested legislation. Therefore, I believe that if there were to be a delay it would be a delay of many weeks, and not of 48 hours.
Now I have put the point as far as the timetable is concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn—
§ Lord BYERS
Before the noble Lord leaves that point of the timetable, which is extremely important, I would point out that, when he says there could be a delay of several weeks, the decision on the legislative programme is in the hands of the Government. If the Government want to get the Amendment—and there is only one Amendment—through the House of Commons, they have to give it only a few hours and it can be done. It is the Government which are responsible, and not the Opposition.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I do not want to go over all the ground that I covered when speaking on the last group of Amendments, but I must say to him that that, if he will forgive me for saying so, is again unrealistic. The group of Amendments which we are now talking about concern a totally new voting system which has not been discussed in detail. It was not discussed at all in another place; I give him that point immediately. There would then, perfectly reasonably, be an insistence that before there was any suggestion of a totally new voting system being incorporated in this legislation there should be a most prolonged period for debate, and it would be very difficult, it seems to me, to refuse a fairly significant debate.
What I have to say to the noble Lord is this. He is, of course, quite right: the Government are in charge of the Parliamentary timetable. But there is already another Bill in another place, the Wales Bill, which is supported, indeed, by his honourable friends, which is itself already working under a guillotine; there is 850 already the Finance Bill; and, as far as this measure is concerned, there would be not only a major issue of principle but again the possibility of having to introduce another guillotine Motion in another place in order to control the timetable problems which would otherwise arise. Therefore, the reason why I have, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said, made rather heavy weather of the timetable argument is because it is absolutely central to the debate we are now having. I believe that we have the prospect of getting this measure on the Statute Book within a few weeks, by the middle of May, and of getting this whole Boundary Commission procedure concluded by November. In that situation, it seems to me that the case for rejecting these Amendments is very strong indeed.
I come back to the point that I made at the beginning. I have no doubt that in this Committee there is a substantial majority of Members who are in favour of proportional representation. I do not deny that for one moment. What I am saying on this occasion is that here we are discussing a measure which is going to have the most decisive significance for the whole future of Europe, and it seems to me that to put that measure in any form of jeopardy would be a very serious matter indeed.
§ 6.17 p.m.
I thought that perhaps someone was about to rise from the Front Bench, but I see they are not. I am very grateful indeed to all the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I thought that it in fact warmed up quite a lot and had quite a lot of stuffing in it. There have been some very constructive and practical speeches made. I would see no reason to ask leave to withdraw this Amendment if other things were equal. But they are not equal. Another place is, very rightly, much more equal than we are. They have already pronounced their clear verdict on proportional representation in its rather crude form of the regional list, with some passing references to the additional Member system, which we have just been debating. The answer, as we all know, was a resounding "No", with more than half the Labour Party voting against proportional representation, the regional 851 list system, in spite of the promises to the Liberal Party—and I am not at all surprised that they feel pretty sore about it.
The Amendment we have debated is something which, it is quite clear to me, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has just said, your Lordships support strongly in principle; but it would surely suffer the same fate in another place as the regional list system suffered, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has also said. I myself see very little point indeed in beating the air on this occasion. I find that argument a convincing one. But, like the noble Lord, Lord Blake, whose speech we all enjoyed enormously, particularly as he speaks from such great experience in these matters, I find it very hard to believe that passing these Amendments could possibly imperil the Bill or delay it for more than a month or so, which really would not matter. But that is what we are told. I remain only half convinced, and I feel strongly that if there was a will to get a Bill including the additional Member system on the Statute Book in ample time, a way could be found; but I do not think that such a will exists.
This is in fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has also reminded us, a bitterly contested Bill. Perhaps that is why, when I fell asleep last night with my
§ speech on my mind, I dreamt that I was just about to ask leave to withdraw this Amendment when I received a message from Mr. Michael Foot saying that Mr. Wedgwood Benn and Mr. John Silkin had volunteered as Tellers to ensure that our Amendments were agreed by another place. In the rush to volunteer, Mr. Enoch Powell, Mr. Douglas Jay, Mr. Neil Marten and three Cabinet Ministers had been slightly hurt, but were making an excellent recovery. Three-line Whips were going to be imposed, and the guillotine. But no such message has arrived, and today we face the reality.
§ That is why, sadly, I feel that I have no alternative but to ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Amendment, a course which I warned the other three sponsors I might well have to follow. We live to fight another day; and I sincerely hope and believe that this debate will at any rate arouse even wider interest in the whole subject of proportional representation, not only for the European Parliament. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No.3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 61; Not-Contents, 85.853
|Airedale, L.||Hampton, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Alport, L.||Hanworth, V.||Rochester, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Henley, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Ampthill, L.||Hunt, L.||Seear, B.|
|Amulree, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Shinwell, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Iddesleigh, E.||Simon, V.|
|Banks, L. [Teller.]||Kilmarnock, L.||Somers, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Kimberley, E.||Southwell, Bp.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. [Teller.]||Stamp, L.|
|Blake, L.||Loudoun, C.||Strathspey, L.|
|Byers, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Caccia, L.||McNair, L.||Tanlaw, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Merrivale, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Monson, L.||Thurso. V.|
|Croft, L.||Norwich, V.||Wade, L.|
|De Ramsey. L.||O'Brien of Lothbury, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Esher, V.||Ogmore, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Foot, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Garner, L.||Platt, L.||Younger of Leckie, V.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Grey, F.||Rea, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Gaitskell, B.||Phillips, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Birk, B.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Gray, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Hale, L.||Sharpies, B.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, B.||Harris of Greenwich, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Hawke, L.||Snow, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Henderson, L.||Spens, L.|
|Champion, L.||Hives, L.||Stedman, B. [Teller.]|
|Clitheroe, L.||Hood, V.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Collison, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Stone, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Jacques, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Long, V.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Lyell, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Daventry, V.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Tenby, V.|
|De Freyne, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Denham, L.||Mancroft, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Mansfield, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Dormer, L.||Marley, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Douglas of Barloch, L.||Monck, V.||Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]|
|Dowding. L.||Morris, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Elles, B.||Mottistonc, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||White, B.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Murray of Gravesend, L.||Willis, L.|
|Emmet of Amberley, B.||Northchurch, B.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Ferrers. E.||Nugent of Guildford, L. [Teller.]||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Gainford. L.||Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 4 not moved.]
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 5 to 12 not moved.]
Lord BANKS moved Amendment No. 13:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause:—
§ British subjects overseas entitled to vote in European elections
§ (".British subjects who would have been entitled to register as electors for a European election had they been resident within the United Kingdom but who are not on anyelectoral register for European elections within the United Kingdom because at the previous qualifying date they were resident in another member state of the European Communities, shall be entitled to register and to vote by post or proxy only in a European election provided that they or their spouse have previously resided in the United Kingdom and provided that they have a right of abode therein within the meaning of section 2 of the Immigration Act 1971.")
The noble Lord said
I beg to move Amendment No. 13 which seeks to give the vote in the elections to the European Assembly to British subjects living within the European Economic Communities area but living outside the United 854 Kingdom; in other words, to give the vote to all British subjects living within the area covered by the Parliament. We believe that it is right that all nationals of Member States should have a vote in the European elections wherever, within the Community, they live.
Ideally, Member States of the EEC would give a vote to EEC nationals of other countries living in their territories and eventually, one hopes, that is what will happen. In the meantime, we can enfranchise in this way those of our own nationals living elsewhere in the Community. It may be said that since they do not pay British taxes, why should they have votes? But, of course, the European Economic Community is to be maintained by its own resources—by the levies and the 1 per cent. of VAT—so that the EEC Budget will be something which is eventually independent of national Governments.
Already, of course, there are British subjects living in other Community countries who do get a vote—people in the Armed Forces, embassy staffs, the staffs of British Council offices. All these get a vote on the British register. It is estimated that if this Amendment were passed it would bring in about 200,000 people working and living in the European Economic Community but not 855 actually living in this country. They would be British subjects living overseas within the Community. The condition would be that they or their spouses had lived in this country previously and that they had a" right of abode", as defined in the Amendment—a right of abode in this country.
When evidence was given by the Home Office to the House of Commons Select Committee they indicated that it was not impossible to do this. Of course, other countries in fact do it. The Select Committee of the House of Commons recommended that all British nationals overseas should receive a vote in these elections—wherever they were living, whether in the Community or not. That, I think, would he a separate issue and would involve all elections in this country and not merely elections for Europe. The Government have said that that matter should be referred to a Speaker's Conference. I can see that there is a case for that.
But when we are considering only British residents within the EEC, then they undoubtedly come within the scope of this Bill. If it is said that a change of that kind ought to mean a reference to a Speaker's Conference, one can point to the fact that a change of a very far-reaching nature was contemplated in the electoral system without that going to a Speaker's Conference, had the other House chosen the proportional system that was originally included in the Bill. If we were to accord this vote in the way I have described, it would be an expression of our sense of the unity of the Community, and I very much hope that the Committee will look sympathetically on this Amendment.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
Will the noble Lord explain something which does not seem clear to me? Would this Amendment apply to somebody who did not have a residence or any property in this country? If so, how would the voting be handled if they did not have some base here? Is it, as in the Services, intended to apply to people who have a base in the United Kingdom?
§ Lord BANKS
It would apply, as the Amendment states, to any British nationals living in the Community—he or his wife, if a man, or she and her husband, if a 856 woman—who have previously lived within the Community and had a right of abode, so that they could come back to live here if they wanted to do so or were required to do so? Anybody in that category could apply to register, and there would be regulations indicating what they would have to do, how they should complete the application and what the necessary verification would be. This matter was examined by the Select Committee of the House of Commons and it was clear to them that it was not impossible to do this.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
If the Committee will forgive me, I want to pursue this matter because it seems unclear. So it would be necessary to have an order which would provide the regulations to the effect that people could apply to vote in such and such a constituency or region, or something like that? This particular Amendment does not make any provision for such an order to be laid.
§ Lord BANKS
No, but there is power within the Bill to issue regulations which could cover this question. The question of any double voting, attempted fraud or matters of that kind could be dealt with by means of regulations, and the regulations would have to lay down the means of application, title, form and so on, which are not included in this Amendment which deals with the principle.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLES
If I may say a few words on this Amendment, I ought to declare an interest, having a son who works in the Commission in Brussels and who will be affected if this Amendment is not accepted. There are three matters to consider in relation to the Amendment. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for having raised this as a matter of principle. The three issues we have to consider are: first, is the principle acceptable that the franchise for European elections should be extended to include British residents in other European Community Member States? Secondly, does the Amendment itself, as it stands, deal adequately and fully with these matters which fall to be considered if the principle is accepted? Thirdly, if it were to be accepted, what would the consequences be for the holding of the elections?
There is no doubt from former debates both here and in the other place, and from 857 evidence from individuals affected by this Amendment, that thousands of British citizens resident in the Community have a cause for grievance. Many of them are concerned actively in working for the benefit of the United Kingdom, both in governmental organisations and business, and will be deprived of a vote in the election, the outcome of which may directly affect their interests. Everybody agrees that this is so. But it is a question of asking oneself: Why should British subjects be excluded from one type of election and included for another? I believe that we should have—and the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has already referred to this—a Speaker's Conference that would consider this matter not only for the elections to the European Assembly but also for General Elections for this country, as indeed other Member States manage to provide.
All the other major Member States of the Community manage to make arrangements in one form or another for their citizens to take part in General Elections when they are abroad. I understand on good authority that they have made arrangements for them to do so in the European elections. Here again we will be the only major country of the Community which excludes the rights of our citizens abroad in the Community to vote. Again, we are the only country which, in any case, gives the right to aliens, citizens of the Irish Republic resident in the United Kingdom to take, part in General Elections, and, as I understand it, who will be taking part in the Community elections. So one must sometimes ask oneself: Why is it that a pensioner in Penzance is going to be allowed to vote in a European election, but a pensioner in Provence will be deprived of this right? This is something which undoubtedly the Government or a future Government will have to look at when we come to consider uniform procedure after this current election.
I do not want to delay the Committee; we have gone through a great many matters of principle during this afternoon in Committee. While supporting the principle of the Amendment, it is not drafted in a way that could possibly he acceptable, first, because of the very wide categories of people who are included, which are certainly not in accordance with the Home Office memorandum which was included in the third report. 858 Of course there are many matters, such as the safeguarding of the procedures like double voting, declarations of identity, how the vote will be taken, whether it will be through embassies or consulates, or whether it will be done by proxy or postal vote from the United Kingdom, which will have to be looked into. They of course are not covered by this Amendment. As on previous Amendments put forward to the Committee, I believe that the overriding consideration is to get this Bill through as quickly as possible. So although I support the principle of it, I cannot support the Amendment.
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY
I shall be very brief, if I may. It is purely coincidental, but I found a speech that I made three years ago about these unfortunate disenfranchised people over the referendum. Then the figure was given as 150,000. My noble friend Lord Banks now says that it is 200,000. If my memory serves me right, they were called "Lotus eaters". I still think that, having been disenfranchised over the referendum, they should no longer be disenfranchised over the European Parliament.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I should like to deal with the speeches which have been made on this Amendment; but, before doing so, perhaps I may deal with one point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, on the previous Amendment. He and I are involved from time to time in discussions in this House on a wide range of measures. We generally agree that we do our best to give a factually accurate statement when we do so. He challenged me on my statement about the Boundary Commission mentioning a minimum of 18 weeks. If he looks at the Second Report of the Select Committee on Direct Elections to the European Parliament, volume 2, he will find in paragraph 13:The English Commission estimate that their recommendations could be presented in a minimum of 18 weeks".The noble Lord challenged me on that, but I am sure he will accept that I did not in any way misinterpret what had been said.
§ Lord WIGODER
I entirely accept that and I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said. It was my own fault for relying 859 on the interpretation put upon it by the Home Secretary!
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
I am much obliged. The question of the franchise is obviously a central feature in any electoral Bill. The question of who is to elect the representatives of the people of the United Kingdom in the European Assembly is one which it is right to discuss in this Chamber. Certainly the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, is one of considerable importance and I would not wish to minimise its significance. It is also right that this Chamber should take a special interest in the rights of minorities, such as citizens of this country who live and work in the European Community and to whom the noble Lord referred. I certainly do not in any way under-estimate the strong feelings of those involved. I appreciate that those who have chosen to live and work in the European Community wish to have the franchise extended to them. That applies especially to those who work in Brussels, as does the son of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, or in the other centres of the bodies of the European Community.
British civil servants, diplomatic personnel and Servicemen may, of course, vote by proxy or in person as Service voters. So as far as they are concerned there is no problem; but they are the only categories to whom the normal criterion of residence in a constituency in the United Kingdom on the qualifying date does not apply. I appreciate that there are feelings of injustice about this system, and indeed they have been mentioned to me by a number of those who are involved.
The proposal before your Lordships today would extend the franchise to all eligible United Kingdom citizens resident in the Community. It is not restricted to those who are there by virtue of occupation or employment, and still less to those who are employed by the Communities themselves. It extends to all who live and work there. The Select Committee on Direct Elections in another place paid a great deal of attention to this point. They concluded that the franchise could be extended to cover all citizens resident abroad without having an impact on the procedure at our Westminster elections. The Select Committee then discussed this matter and made their recommendation. 860 They did, of course, go further than the Amendment, which is a very important consideration when one comes to this question of possible injustice.
They recommended an extension of the franchise to all United Kingdom subjects resident abroad, and not simply, as this Amendment does, to those resident in the European Communities. They were conscious of the anomalies that would be created if, for instance, an international civil servant resident in Brussels had the vote in our elections for representatives, but one resident in Geneva—which is after all a focal point of activity for a very large number of international organisations—did not.
The proposal before your Lordships today, therefore, does create some difficulties of principle on which no clear consensus has so far emerged. It would certainly involve radical change in our electoral laws, which have always been based on residence. In our judgment, it would not be appropriate to make major changes of this kind solely for the purpose of assembly elections. At the very least, a more detailed study than the Select Committee were able to undertake needs to be undertaken as regards the principles and practicalities of extending the franchise abroad for assembly elections and for all other elections as a consequence of that.
It may help the Committee if I set out briefly some of the practical difficulties that would arise. They were referred to in the Home Office memorandum of evidence on this subject that was presented to the Committee. I do not claim that they are insuperable objections, but they are certainly matters of some substance which, given the fairly limited amount of time we are talking about, would raise some quite formidable problems if we were now to introduce them before the elections which are due next year.
First, there is the question of attestation and of validity of the vote. I assume that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has it in mind that the citizens affected by this Amendment would have their names entered on a supplement to the normal electoral register, having satisfied the electoral registration officer for the area in which they were previously residing that they fulfilled the qualifications he has laid down. 861 At some stage they would have to satisfy someone of their bona fides: that is clear. There would have to be some guarantee of the validity of an application which might come in from abroad.
A scheme involving British diplomatic posts would, of course, be one answer to the problem; but that would impose a very significant new burden on the Diplomatic Service when, as we know, Foreign and Commonwealth manpower and expenditure are under the most intense pressure. Nor could diplomatic staff serving overseas be expected to treat lightly an exercise which required posts to validate or attest a declarant's citizenship and right of abode. The Select Committee of another place which went into this matter stated therefore that the statutory declaration should be attested by an appropriate official under the law of the host country and should be verified by the applicant employee. There is no provision for this in the particular Amendment which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, but I assume he has some such form of procedure in mind. But, in a matter of this importance, is this a sufficiently tight safeguard? Certainly there may be some of your Lordships who feel that in a matter of this importance the electoral registration officer should not be put into the exceptionally difficult situation that could arise of attesting both the validity of the application and, in some cases, the validity of the official overseas who has attested it.
Secondly, there is the substantial extension of postal and proxy voting which an Amendment on these lines would involve. Obviously, there is always the risk of abuse when it is not the voter himself who votes or if he votes by post rather than in person. We must be quite sure that we have taken full account of the dimensions of this problem, and I do not think at the moment that we have the opportunity of doing so.
The Bill which is presently before your Lordships does not seek to initiate any major changes in our electoral law. It simply seeks to apply the existing and tried provisions to the new elections. The Government do not believe that changes of the magnitude proposed in the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, should be made in isolation and without due thought to the practicalities 862 and to the effect on our electoral system. I have suggested what some of these practical difficulties are, and certainly we intend that the unresolved issues should be considered by the next Speaker's Conference on Electoral Law. For the reasons I have given, and especially in view of the vote in another place, I hope that noble Lords will accept that it would not be right to press the matter today.
I repeal that I accept that there is a feeling of injustice about this whole situation. I have indicated that the Speaker's Conference is one way of resolving what is a difficult problem, to some extent of principle but far more in terms of the practicalities of the situation. I do not believe that all the feelings of injustice would be removed were this Amendment to be carried, for the reason that I gave a few moments ago. For perfectly understandable reasons, the noble Lord has chosen to give the franchise to people who are living in one group of countries, but in no other. You would have the vote if you lived in Brussels, but you would not have it if you lived in New York, or, as I indicated, in Geneva, or in Oslo. It seems to me that there would undoubtedly be some pleasure among some of those who would be enfranchised, but there would also be a deep sense of injustice among those who were not included, who would take the view that it was a most arbitrary way in which Parliament had chosen to act, by simply selecting people who were living in Member States of the Community.
Lastly, in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, may I say that I do not propose to go at any great length into the matters which we have already been discussing; namely, the timetabling problems of this Bill. But I would put this to the Committee. This is an important matter and I do not in any way underestimate that. But it seems to me that, given the fact that what we have been discussing today is an interim measure so far as the electoral procedures are concerned; given the fact that it was an obligation to move to some degree of uniformity in the future, it would be better to leave this matter as it is, with my assurance that it will be considered by the next Speaker's Conference, and not to return this matter to another place with all the consequences which could flow from that.
§ Lord BANKS
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and my noble friend Lord Kimberley for the support which they have given to the principle which lies behind this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, has stressed the importance of the matter and I am glad that he has, and, in particular, that he has referred to the feeling of injustice, which undoubtedly there is. I should like to say that it seems to me that the situation within the EEC, and the situation so far as British subjects throughout the world are concerned, are completely separate issues, because, when we are dealing with British subjects living in the EEC, we are dealing with people within the sphere of the Parliament which is being elected. That is a new feature and that is why it is so important to pay attention to this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that qualifications have always been based on residence, but residence exists here. There is residence within the area which the Parliament covers. That is the problem which has to he faced.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for outlining all the problems and the difficulties. I must confess that I was not unaware of these. But I feel, as he seemed to feel, that these difficulties and problems must be tackled and that this is a matter which cannot be left, so that every time an election comes up we have to raise it again, as it has now been raised over the referendum and over these first elections. I very much hope that the Speaker's Conference, or whatever is required, will take place in time to make certain that this matter is dealt with before the second round of EEC elections. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Nugent of Guildford)
I have no notice of any noble Lord wishing to raise anything on the remaining clauses. Therefore, unless any noble Lord wishes to do so, I shall put the Motion, That Clauses 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 stand part, together.
Remaining clauses agreed to.
Schedule I [Simple majority system (for Great Britain) with STV (for Northern Ireland)]:
864 [Amendments Nos. 14 to 19 not moved.]
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES
I have notice from the noble Lord, Lord Gray, that he is not moving Amendments Nos. 19A, 19B, 19C and 19D.
[Amendments Nos. 19A to 19D anti 20 to 24 not moved.]
§ On Question, Whether Schedule 1 shall be the first Schedule to the Bill?
I am very conscious of the lateness of the hour and the importance of the issues that have been discussed this afternoon, as compared with the point which I should now like to mention, and to which the Amendments which I did not move were addressed. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is familiar with the arguments which I advanced yesterday, in respect of a purely identical matter in the Scotland Bill. I am sure also that he will be familiar with the reception accorded to my arguments by his noble and learned friend Lord McCluskey. I think that it would be inappropriate at this hour to rehearse again all the arguments which I deployed then, so perhaps I may just ask two questions of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich.
First, can he tell me whether, in the event that the Bill is not amended to cater for this comparatively minor point, subparagraph (3) of Schedule I, on page 6, line 4 and thereafter, can be used to ensure that those who have to prepare the registers and everything else are aware of the difficulties that appear to be inherent in the way in which Peers have been enfranchised, and can have their attention directed to taking steps to do what it is the Government really intend? May I also ask him, since in one context he has referred to this as an interim measure, whether he can say now that, if one day a new Bill or something similar is brought forward, this may be put right?
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I am sure that all of your Lordships will be grateful to my noble friend for his constant vigilance, from his special position on the Back Benches behind me, where he maintains a close watch for all the minor absurdities and errors which, from time to time, 865 inevitably creep into legislation. Turning his thoughts from licensed premises, he has been paying particular attention to the peculiarities of provisions for Members of your Lordships' House in the forthcoming series of elections which current legislation is bringing forward.
As my noble friend explained, in the interests of time he did not move his Amendments, and if the complicated questions that he has raised are not ones which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is able to answer today, I am sure we shall all understand that it might be better for them to be dealt with at a later stage in the progress of this Bill. Nevertheless, it is most useful that we have had our minds focussed on this problem, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will be able to give to my noble friend Lord Gray a similarly friendly answer to that which his noble and learned friend was able to give to him yesterday.
Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
After as long a debate as we have had, I am certainly in the mood to give friendly answers to almost anybody. I will gladly look into the point raised by the noble Lord and will communicate with him before the next stage of the Bill.
§ Schedule 1 agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 25 to 28 not moved.]
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.