HL Deb 15 December 1998 vol 595 cc1307-40

8.8 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This is the sixth occasion that this Bill has been brought before this House so my place, if not in history, but at least in the Guinness Book of Records, is well secured. On every prior occasion the wishes of the elected Chamber were thwarted and they were spurned in a particular way. It was the power of the hereditary veto which won on every occasion. I do not know whether we shall see that again tonight. But even if we do, all it will mean is that the Bill will become law a good deal quicker than if we had gone through the stages of this Bill in the normal way. I suppose that that would be what some lawyers call an uncovenanted benefit.

The Bill is perfectly simple. It introduces a system of proportional representation—a manifesto commitment—using a party list system. It is worth bearing in mind therefore that it replicates the system for Northern Ireland which was introduced by the Conservative Government. It puts into the European equation the scheme already adopted in both Houses in the Scotland Act and in the Government of Wales Act. We should bear that fact in mind.

I know that your Lordships will not want me to wander about the Bill any further, because I believe that I have done so on a number of previous occasions. Indeed, there cannot be anyone in the world, let alone in your Lordships' House, who does not know and is deeply interested in the intricacies of whether or not the party list should be open, simple or closed.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said on an earlier occasion that it is different in Wales because it is only part of the electoral system. Exactly so: 20 out of 60. But which 20? If the general election results were broadly the same in the Welsh Assembly elections, it would be the very 20 seats and the only 20 seats that the Conservatives could possibly hope to get. So it is different; it is different, to the advantage of the Conservative Party in Wales. However, I am sure that that is just coincidental.

To assert that this is a principled rejection of a government Bill is humbug. It is most attractive humbug and attractively displayed, as I heard it described this morning on the "Today" programme by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; but it is still humbug. We know what the advantages of the system are: it provides and produces a proportionate outcome. It enables women, ethnic minorities and areas of particular expertise to be more fully and fairly represented. It avoids internal party candidates fighting each other as well as the opposition—the point made by Lord Bethell, which has never been answered. Let us not overlook the fact that voters in this country have never ever been asked to choose between rival candidates for the same party.

Finally, and most importantly, candidate A cannot be elected with fewer votes than candidate B in the same election. On every occasion when I trespassed on your Lordships' past patience I have made those points and no one has ever challenged any one of them on every occasion. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has certainly gone on the Scottish and Welsh theme, but he has never challenged any of my propositions.

There are 60 million people living in our country. The wishes of the Chamber elected by that country have been flouted by 700 families, or their present representatives. Mr. Hague's hereditaries—that component of our legislature which he is on record as describing as "silly"—have won so far. Mr. Hague has either directed the use of the hereditary veto or he has connived in it on five distinct occasions. That is the true struggle of principle. Is unaccountable power to triumph over elected representatives and their wishes?

I do not intend to say any more. I believe deeply and unshakeably that this continued abuse of entrenched power is a very profoundly wrong thing to do.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

8.13 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, That the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "this House declines to give the European Parliamentary Elections Bill a Second Reading on the grounds that it includes an undemocratic 'closed list' system providing for the selection of MEPs by party choice, an approach which would end the historic right of the British people to choose the candidates they wish to be elected, a step for which the House notes with great concern no mandate was sought or given at the last general election".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Perhaps I may, first, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on his stamina. I think that two Second Readings in one day is not too bad. Perhaps we can forgive him for the brevity of his speech in introducing this particular Bill. Indeed, perhaps we may also forgive him because we know that the argument in favour of a closed list as against the open list is pretty fragile and that it is much easier to have a go at your Lordships' House than it is actually to debate the issues involved in the Bill, especially the particular issue which your Lordships have felt obliged to debate with the other place.

In moving my reasoned amendment tonight, I am actually inviting noble Lords to bring the issue to a decision now. We could allow the Bill a Second Reading and in January we could go through the various stages and insert our previous amendments, if that was your Lordships' wish, in favour of the open list. Then, some time in the second part of January—but, I suspect, no later—we would get to the moment of decision. We would have to decide whether to insist on our principled stand and, if we did, the Government would have to decide whether or not to use the Parliament Act.

I am inviting your Lordships to advance that decision by a very few weeks. If noble Lords decide to support me in the Lobbies tonight and carry my amendment, the Government would have three choices. They could, of course, drop the whole idea and go back to first-past-the-post. They could come forward with a No. 2 Bill with the open list in it—a Bill to which I would be advising my noble friends to give a speedy passage. Alternatively, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said to your Lordships on 18th November, they could introduce the Bill "in the next Session", which they have done, under the procedures of the Parliament Acts".—[Official Report, 18/11/98; col. 1360.] So they could in fact use the Parliament Acts.

Indeed, nothing we can do will prevent the Government getting the Bill if they choose to do that. I make no complaint in that respect. I actually believe that, ultimately, the Commons should get their business. After considerable reflection, my view is that we should bring the matter to a head this evening. As Shakespeare said, in what I think one should describe as the Scottish play: If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly". I believe that to be the position.

I accept that the Government have a clear mandate on the generality of the Bill. I shall quote from the manifesto, which I keep near me so that I do not stray into error at any particular time. I see in that document the words: We have long supported a proportional voting system for election to the European Parliament". I am not disputing that and I do not ask your Lordships to do so. Moreover, I make no secret of the fact that I am not in favour of proportional representation. The fact that it may advantage my party at any particular time is, dare I say it, a very unprincipled argument. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, advanced it.

The latter is in fact an argument which is dear to the hearts of the Liberal Democrat Party. That party does not seem to understand that someone can actually have a principled belief in first-past-the post. I do. Its members seem to think—and they do so again this evening—that they are the only people with any right to have any principle. Indeed, I am glad to hear that they seem to agree to that. However, ironically, they appear to have modified their stand on proportional representation when it suits them. Perhaps I may remind them of what their honourable friend Mr. Allan said in the other place on 27th October: My party's position remains consistent. Our preferred option is neither a Belgian nor a Finnish model, but one closer to home—the Northern Irish model of the single transferable vote".—[Official Report, Commons, 27/10/98; col. 183.] It seems that the Liberal Democrats have set aside their principled support for the single transferable vote in favour of a closed list. In the light of the Government's manifesto commitment, I am prepared to set aside my principled support for the first-past-the-post system, though certainly not in favour of a closed list but in favour of an open list. The difference is simple, yet it is profoundly important for representative democracy.

We in this country have always voted for an individual, albeit these days the individual carries a party banner, in order to represent us in Parliament. That individual has usually been chosen—indeed, almost always—by the party membership in each constituency. However, that will change next June. We will be asked to vote, and only to vote, for a party. Who the winning candidates are to be will be decided by the party; the people, the voters, will have no say, no choice.

In contrast, in the open list system, we would vote for an individual of our choice within the party list of the party of our choice. The number of MEPs for each party would be decided from the party totals in exactly the same way, but which individuals would be elected would be decided by the people who voted for the party and not by the party high command; in other words, the people's choice and not the party's choice.

I have argued the points that the Minister put forward this evening on a number of occasions. Perhaps I may review them; for example, the Northern Irish one: "You Tories used the closed list for the Northern Ireland Forum elections". Yes, we did; but that was for the forum and for the very special circumstances of Northern Ireland where we wanted as many people represented there as possible in order to advance the peace process. It has nothing to do with the Parliament. It was very specific and done for that reason only. No one, not even the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, can imagine that the circumstances in the European elections are anything like the circumstances in Northern Ireland, or that the European Parliament would have to do the kind of job that the Northern Ireland Forum was going to be asked to do. Indeed, no one can imagine that.

Moreover, I do not have to look further than the current Prime Minister for support in my case that there is no comparison. On 21st March 1996 in the other place, Mr. Blair said: As I am sure that the Prime Minister"— at that time John Major— would agree, the solution on the election process is certainly not ideal".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/3/96; col. 499.] Given those words, I should caution the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, against pretending that the closed list is ideal; otherwise his leader might hear about this contradiction.

Next we have the proposition that some candidates may be elected with fewer votes than other candidates who are not elected. But not within the same party. That is quite important. The electorate will have no trouble with this issue. They will quite understand that a candidate in a party which does not receive as many seats may not be elected yet he may have more votes than a candidate who is elected in another party. That happens at the moment in first-past-the-post elections. I shall not weary your Lordships by quoting the seats in which the second or even the third candidate in one seat gained fewer votes than the first in another seat. The electorate do not rise up in the streets about that. We have a sophisticated electorate who understand these matters perfectly well.

Then there is the fact that we accepted the closed list for Wales and for Scotland. However, those Bills were about much, much more than the electoral system. They not only sought to enact clear manifesto commitments to devolve power to Scotland and to Wales; but they were also endorsed—although, in the case of Wales, just—in referendums. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, pointed out in his defence—although I suspect that it is more in mine—the Parliament in Scotland and the Assembly in Wales will have a majority of traditional first-past-the-post members. Those drawn from the closed list will be a minority. That does not mean that I was particularly happy about the systems in those Bills, but they were larger Bills and addressed much greater issues than just simply the election. I warned the Government about the system they proposed, and they turned a deaf ear. In Scotland—I know not about Wales—the Government are panicking. They are proposing to spend vast amounts of taxpayers' money to try to "educate" the population on how those votes are to work.

More importantly, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, should not have reminded me about Scotland. The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in another place published its report on 18th November. It was looking at what it called the "operation of multi-layered democracy". It looked, among other things, at the electoral system.

The committee voted on paragraph 91. Some members of the committee did not want the last sentence; others did. When it came to a vote two Labour Back Benchers—I do not know whether I insult them by calling them "Blair babes"—voted for the sentence to be removed. Four members of the committee voted for it to be retained. One of them was my honourable friend Mr. Desmond Swayne; two of the others were Labour Back Benchers, Mrs. Irene Adams and Mr. Eric Clarke. Just to cause a little bit of discomfort to the Liberal Democrats, perhaps I may add that the fourth person was Mr. Michael Moore, who I understand is the successor of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in his Borders seat. They voted in favour of retaining this sentence: We feel that an open list would be more in keeping with the principle of trusting the people and giving them the maximum choice". That was agreed not by the Tories on that committee—because, quite frankly, there are not many Tories on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs—but by the Liberal Democrat Member and by two of the Labour Members. I shall repeat that sentence so that your Lordships can appreciate that it fully backs the case that we have made about this Bill: We feel that an open list would be more in keeping with the principle of trusting the people and giving them the maximum choice". The final argument that I want to address, in order not to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is that the closed list enables a party to get a mix of candidates elected who would not be elected if it were left to the electorate. That is a funny idea of democracy. "Trust the people" is clearly an out-of-date phrase in the new Labour lexicon. It is now "the people should trust the party". Shades of 1984—the book, not the year.

Lord Eatwell

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can help me. I am puzzled by the reference in his amendment to, the historic right of the British people to choose the candidates". Can he tell me of one example in modern times of the electorate at the ballot box being able to choose between alternative candidates of the Conservative Party? In other words, can he give me one historic example of the electorate being able to choose other than from a Conservative Party closed list?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, we have discussed this before as the noble Lord would know if he had attended. The first-past-the-post system is not a "list system" in the sense that we are discussing such a system. It is a "one member, one vote, one person is elected" system. It is quite different. People can make a choice about the individual. They can decide to vote for the individual or not—as, for example, they did in Tatton.

Earl Russell

My Lords, perhaps I may assist the noble Lord. Choice between candidates of the same party was normal in the two-member constituencies which were common until 1950.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that. I knew that I could rely on him to come to my aid when it came to the history of these matters. That was not too long ago, but the two systems are profoundly different. I am amazed that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for all his brilliance, does not understand the difference between first-past-the-post single-member constituencies and regional lists which will mean a number of members being elected from the one party.

I was about to come to Scotland. The members of the Labour Party in Scotland were not consulted in any way about the European list, let alone asked to take part in any one member/one vote election. A London-dominated selection panel decided. Two sitting MEPs were placed one and two, but when it came to number three—also likely to be elected—the other two sitting Labour MEPs suffered the drop; down they went to numbers five and seven. It served them right, I suppose, because they are Old Labour and they were not on message. In at number three came Kathleen Walker Shaw. "Who is she?", I hear your Lordships ask. "Who is she?", we Scots asked. "Who is she?" the Labour Party in Scotland asked. She turned out to be a GMB union official who works in Brussels. Was she Scottish? A good question. "Yes", she said, "I am Scottish; I was born in Aberdeen". Unfortunately for the young lady, along comes a by-election in the SNP-held Euro-seat of North East Scotland caused by the death of Alan MacCartney, who took the seat from Labour at the previous Euro-election. Kathleen Walker Shaw was parachuted in from London without as much as a "by your leave". But why not? She was born in Aberdeen, was she not? She was third on the list. Along comes a nasty newspaper and obtains her birth certificate. Her place of birth? Not Aberdeen; but Stafford. Poor Miss Walker Shaw is challenged. "It is all a misunderstanding", she said, "I was born in Stafford, but I was conceived in Aberdeen". Can your Lordships imagine the 'phone call? "I am having some difficulty, Mummy. I claimed that I was born in Aberdeen to give me a Scottish connection and they have rumbled it. Where was I conceived? Would that be helpful?" I ask your Lordships to imagine yourselves making that call.

Of course, the electorate gave a resounding thumbs-down to this mysterious, unknown lady who did not even know where she was born. The by-election, which was billed to be a two-horse race between Labour and the SNP, turned out to be a disastrous humiliation for Labour. The people dumped their imposed candidate into third place behind the Scottish Conservative candidate, Struan Stevenson. After that experience, I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, still thinks that the party knows best.

On a number of occasions, I have drawn your Lordships' attention to the opinion of Labour Members in another place—not their Whipped opinions in the voting Lobbies, but their expressed opinions in debate. Every time this Bill was debated in another place, for every Blair babe dragooned into speaking in support, two or three more Labour Back Benchers came forward to condemn the closed list. Jack Straw defended it in a kind of a way. I am not surprised it was "in a kind of a way" because in 1985, in an article in The Times headed "What's so fair about PR?", this is what he had to say about the list system: Where PR is based on a list system with votes effectively cast for a Party and the winning candidates taken, pro rata, from each party's list, power passes from the individual constituency party to those who draw up the list". That is exactly the point.

I agree with Jack Straw. I invite your Lordships to agree and to say to the Government, "We believe it should be the people's choice who represents us in Brussels not the party's choice. If you want this fundamentally undemocratic system, use the Parliament Act, and may there be lots more Kathleen Walker Shaws to haunt you". I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion That the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "this House declines to give the European Parliamentary Elections Bill a Second Reading on the grounds that it includes an undemocratic "closed list" system providing for the selection of MEPs by party choice, an approach which would end the historic right of the British people to choose the candidates they wish to be elected, a step for which the House notes with great concern no mandate was sought or given at the last general election".—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

8.30 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I think we all admire the inexhaustible capacity of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, to make an endless series of ingenious speeches on this issue. It is almost exactly 13 months since I last opened my mouth in your Lordships' House. That is partly because I was rather occupied for much of the time with the commission on the voting system for another place. But it was also the case that I rather firmly believe that when one gives up a leadership one should not be hanging around constantly jogging, or trying to jog, the arm of one's successor. One should let him get on with the job. I must say that I think the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, has got on with the job magnificently and has shown great skill, wisdom and authority in this House.

There is a good deal of discussion at the moment about the need for declarations of interest. I hope I may take the opportunity to declare a non-interest. To my total amazement, I read in the Sunday Times that I was lobbying hard to be made chairman of the Royal Commission on the second stage of the reform of this House. My Lords, I heaved a great sigh of relief when I completed my work on electoral reform at the end of October. The idea that at my age, or indeed at any rational age, I should be looking for another commission within six weeks is frankly farcical. The difficulty with a total perversion of the truth in a Sunday newspaper is that one cannot correct it for seven days—seven days when falsehood has seven league boots and the truth can only limp along slowly behind it. So perhaps your Lordships will permit me to take a minute or so to set the record straight. So far from seeking that job, I would not accept it if, improbably, it were offered. But it is extraordinary what statements, without any foundation, or any subsequent evidence of shame on the part of the authors, one reads in relatively serious papers.

The Bill has had a remarkably tangled history. This applies particularly to the specific issue raised in the very unusual wrecking Second Reading amendment that has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on behalf of the Opposition. I must tell your Lordships that I am in favour of open lists. With the unanimous support of my commission, I recommended them for Westminster, and I take the same view about elections for the European Parliament. In that respect I am no different from other members of my party except that I have had to spend a lot of time studying the different open or semi-open systems applied in some other countries and in trying to see what are their effects.

My main conclusion is that in practice they make remarkably little difference. I very much doubt whether more than one, or at most two, of the 87 Euro-seats would end up in the hands of a different individual if open lists rather than closed lists had been preferred. Nevertheless, I believe that the Government would have been wise to do so on at least two grounds. First, the right to freedom of choice is important even if not all that many people choose to exercise it. Secondly, excessive power for party machines is deeply unpopular. That was perhaps the clearest single message which we received from our consultative hearings around the country. So I regret that this Government in the Commons were so stiff-necked on this issue.

That being so, I deliberately did not vote in the first couple of stages in the game of ping-pong, but I decisively changed my attitude after that, for three reasons. First, it is a ludicrously narrow issue on which to have one of the biggest and longest running Lords-Commons clashes for decades. Secondly, closed lists are a minor evil. But to lose the Bill and to go on with the old distorted and totally isolating from the rest of Europe system of voting for the European Parliament would be a major evil. The legislative process is essentially based on not allowing the best to be the enemy of the good. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there is the fact that it is simply impossible to take seriously the sudden passion of the Conservative Party for open lists. I have long been in favour of them. I am not aware that the Conservative Party has been. On the Scotland Bill and the Government of Wales Bill, it did not seriously engage. Even at the beginning of this Bill the Conservative Party did not give the issue much priority. It has been a late flowering passion of opportunism. Well, a little opportunism has to be acceptable—it very frequently exists—but it ought to be wise opportunism. When I look at the present state of the Opposition, I am not sure that it has been that.

There is one further point on the Bill itself. I find it impossible to give any constitutional credence to the argument that the Bill is not entitled to what can be called manifesto protection. As I understand it, the argument goes like this. It is admitted that the Labour Party announced in its manifesto that it would introduce proportional representation for the European Parliament but it did not specify whether it should be by closed or open lists. It is argued that, therefore, the House is perfectly entitled to impose its will over that of the Commons on the shape of the Bill. If that central proposition is seriously advanced, it makes nonsense of the Salisbury rules, of the Addison doctrine and of every other convention which has grown up to civilise relations between the two Houses of Parliament.

Of course details of Bills are not specified in manifestos. They never are. But if that is to entitle the Leader of the Opposition, whether he be right or wrong, to dictate the shape of any Bill and to say to the Government, "You can have the Bill but you can only have it in my shape", and in the shape which has been rejected, rightly or wrongly, by the considered will of the majority in the Commons, five, six or seven times now, that is, in my view, a very revolutionary doctrine.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is apparently to blood himself this evening in a cavalry charge. In literally a few weeks it will be one hundred years since Omdurman, when the last such charge took place, so perhaps there may be a certain appropriateness. But, before noble Lords take themselves too seriously, they might recall the deflatingly elegant words of Arthur Balfour, Tory leader at the time when Conservative Peers were last getting themselves into a great state.

In July 1911 Balfour wrote: I regard the policy which its advocates call 'fighting to the last' as essentially theatrical, although not on that account necessarily wrong. It does nothing. It can do nothing. It is not even intended to do anything except advertise the situation. Their policy may be a wise one, but there is nothing heroic about it and all military metaphors which liken the action of the fighting Peers to Leonidas at Thermopylae seem to me purely for music hall consumption. I grant that the music hall attitude of mind is too widespread to be negligible. By all means play up to it if the performance is not too expensive". Admittedly Balfour ceased to be Leader of the Conservative Party three and a half months after he wrote those deflatingly elegant words. But I suspect—although one never knows until the play is over—that he will stand in history higher than Mr. Hague.

Mr. Hague and the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will have their cavalry charge and the Government will have their Bill. I do not know whether the Conservative leadership thinks it will he a humiliation for the Government to have to get their Bill under the Parliament Acts. It will be only the fourth time that procedure has been used. But when one recollects what was the last occasion on which the Parliament Act was used—and by a Conservative Government—which was to force through the ridiculous, unwanted and inoperative War Crimes Bill, it hardly lies in the mouth of that party to talk about humiliation.

8.41 p.m.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, when we debated this matter last on 18th November, I made the plea that it was wrong for this unelected House to oppose the will of the elected Chamber, the House of Commons, on five occasions—other than on matters of high constitutional principle. I do not think that the Bill falls into that category.

In the few weeks since we last debated the matter, I have visited my former constituency of Croydon on three occasions. On each occasion, I asked a group of old friends who was the MEP. Several of them thought that I was the MEP. The majority of them—and there are sophisticated people in Croydon, as your Lordships will expect—did not have a clue. They have no idea. That is rather bad luck on Mr. James Moorhouse, who has been an assiduous MEP. The truth is that few people know who are their MEPs.

I listened, in common with the Minister, to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on "Today" this morning. He was asked why his party under Mr. John Major had imposed a closed list system on Ulster but was against it for Europe. The noble Lord replied that the Ulster Assembly was a forum, not a parliament. In my submission, the European Assembly is much more a forum than a parliament in the sense that we understand a parliament here at Westminster. After all, in European elections we are not electing a government. Furthermore, MEPs sit in their parliament by parties, not countries. The European Parliament is much more a forum. Given that so few of the electorate know the names of their MEPs, I have reached the conclusion—rather like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—that I have perhaps changed my mind on this particular issue and that there is quite a good case for electing MEPs on the closed list system.

The closed list system will give the Conservative Party increased representation, whereas under the open list system, that party is likely to achieve few seats—and none at all in Scotland, Wales and the north of England.

Tonight we have a dilemma. If the Government lose in the Lobbies, the closed list system will survive under the Parliament Acts—which might suit them very well. If the Government win in the lobbies, there may follow delay and possible confusion. Nevertheless, as a former Speaker of the House of Commons, I cannot support what may be expedient rather than what is right.

I repeat that we play a dangerous game if we oppose the will of the elected House of Commons for the sixth time. The Bill is not a matter of high constitutional principle and in effectively voting for the Parliament Act, we seriously devalue that coinage. I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill tonight and hope that others will do likewise.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, on previous occasions noble Lords have criticised the closed list system and expressed their preference for the open list. I agree with them and therefore with my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.

There has also been criticism that this House sent the Bill back to the other place five times in the last Session. It has been said that this, the second Chamber, must eventually give way to the will of the Commons, which will prevail in the end. I remind the House of an episode of ping-pong when that did not happen because this House was proved to be right and the Labour government of the day had to accept that was so.

On that occasion, the second Chamber successfully protected the rights of citizens. I recall the episode well because I was dealing from the Opposition Front Bench with the Aircraft and Shipbuilders Industries Bill. That Bill to nationalise those industries fell because the House of Lords persisted in rejecting Commons amendments to restore shiprepairing, a service industry that Lords amendments had taken out of the Bill. The main reason for that ping-pong and the insistence of this House was that only 12 shiprepairing firms out of about 100 throughout the country had been selected for nationalisation, using criteria that had not been uniformly applied. That part of the Bill, the Lords contended, was not appropriate in a public Bill and should receive the special treatment applicable to a hybrid Bill, enabling citizens to make their case in person, with their lawyers, to a Committee of Parliament. In the Commons, the option of referring the matter to the examiners to consider hybridity had been ruled out because the government of the day procured the suspension of standing orders with their large majority in a Division.

When the Government reintroduced the Bill in the following Session, clearly intending the use of the Parliament Acts, the Bill was first sent to the examiners impartial lawyers and parliamentary clerks. Their findings proved the Lords to be right. The Bill was declared hybrid before it had gone to either House in that Session. Then the Government withdrew the Bill. The part of a hybrid Bill deemed not to be public legislation is not subject to the Parliament Acts. Another reason must have been that the Government would have had to cope with the lengthy procedure required for a hybrid Bill.

The Government decided to accept the Lords amendments. They offered a deal to the Conservatives through the usual channels: if the Lords amendments were made and shiprepairing excluded, would the Official Opposition allow the Bill to proceed through Parliament without further hindrance? The answer was "yes". A new Bill excluding shiprepairing was introduced and accepted by both Houses. There was no further argument about the nationalisation, which had been in Labour's election manifesto. Shiprepairing had disappeared from the Bill and the rights of individuals personally to present cases in Parliament had been successfully protected by the second Chamber. That protection of rights was achieved by the ping-pong procedure. In that case, the Commons came back three times and the Lords twice before the parliamentary Session ended and the Bill died. If necessary, we might have batted that Bill back five times in 1977. That would have been justified by the later events and the complete vindication of the Lords' objections to that Bill.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, it is quite clear this evening that the main issue is the right of the country to have the votes of the democratic Chamber of Parliament count. That has been expressed far better by other speakers than I can express it myself. However, I speak tonight because in the earlier, seemingly interminable, debates that we had—they were frequently repetitive—we heard constantly the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that this Bill is not supported on the Government Back Benches in principle or in detail. I rise to tell him quite clearly that I support both the principle of the Bill and its detail.

To have heard some noble Lords fulminate against closed lists, one could momentarily imagine that they were a unique device that would put the United Kingdom at odds with the civilised world and with the democratic community. Yet some 70 per cent. of the people of Europe who vote by proportional representation are represented by Members of the European Parliament, who are elected from closed lists.

Change to our electoral system is imperative. Yet the Opposition have flirted with actions in your Lordships' House which could have forced a return to first-past-the-post. That would have been one of the greatest offences to democracy, done in the name of democracy. In no other country in the European Union could a party secure 74 per cent. of the seats on the basis of 44 per cent. of the votes. Yet that is precisely what Labour did in the previous European elections: 44 per cent. of the votes secured 74 per cent. of the seats. Labour did that in 1994, and would possibly do the same in 1999 were the Opposition's flirtation with forcing a return to first-past-the-post successful. That kind of victory would be unfair, unjust, unrepresentative and undemocratic. In my opinion it is an act of great courage for a government or a party to pursue electoral justice when the short-term effect could well be electoral disadvantage.

I want briefly to mention the alternative that was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on a number of occasions. While he constantly used the word "democracy" he talked about offering electors in multi-member constituencies a single vote. If he was so concerned about full electoral choice, he should have commended the Luxembourg system where for six seats you get six votes. That is a genuine electoral choice. However, to offer in a multi-member constituency of six, eight or even 10 members one vote is really not choice. It is saying that you can have one vote and one choice but 10 people will ultimately represent you. That seems to me to be the antithesis of democracy. I hope therefore that in the interests of the rights of the democratic Chamber but also that of having a proper electoral system based on proper representation, despite the Opposition's wish for their amendment to be carried to enable them to get off the hook on which they are impaled, we shall vote against their amendment and support the Government.

8.53 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, I support the amendment which is before the House this evening. My reasons for doing so are the same as those I have deployed at every stage that we have considered this Bill previously. Those arguments have not changed. Many of them have been rehearsed again tonight. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, who joined us in the debate tonight, made a point of saying that this matter is just about the narrow issue of closed lists. It is not. It is about how politics are conducted in our country, how governments are elected and how representatives represent the voters in their constituencies. It is not about games of ping-pong or even about cavalry charges. It is a central constitutional question because if how we elect our representatives is not to be regarded as a central constitutional question, one has to ask your Lordships, what is?

I wish to mention what I think have been three red herrings which have been thrown into the debate again this evening. One has been the role of hereditary Peers. It should be pointed out to your Lordships' House that without the votes of Cross-Benchers on every occasion the Government would have achieved their business. Is the moral of that story that Cross-Benchers are also to be considered for abolition on the basis that they have frustrated the Government's business?

Secondly, one might also reasonably refer to manifesto commitments. The manifesto says nothing about closed party lists, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has reminded the House tonight. Your Lordships' House can just as reasonably vote for this amendment as vote for the Bill and be in accordance with what the Government's manifesto said to voters at the previous general election. I contrast the approach adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins—who was appointed by the Prime Minister to head an independent Commission to report to Parliament and to be backed up in due course by a referendum to be put to the entire people of this nation as to how the Westminster voting system should be structured—with the way in which we are being invited to deal with elections to the European Parliament.

Thirdly, the other red herring is the question of Northern Ireland. It is not the forum which we should consider in this context but indeed elections to the European Parliament, and indeed this very Bill, because in this Bill before your Lordships' House tonight is a provision which was laid before both Houses of Parliament in 1984, 1989 and 1994 by the then Conservative governments and in 1979 by the then Labour government to introduce for European Parliament elections the single transferable vote in multi-member seats. Therefore there are other forms of proportional representation which have been favoured by all parties in this and the other place and which in the context of the European Parliament elections should be considered again in my view.

I have four great anxieties about the way in which this Bill is being tackled. The first concerns what we might call robotic politics; namely, that by the nature of things where you have closed party lists the kinds of people who will undoubtedly come through the list system will not be the bits of grit that have to enter the oyster to bring out the pearl but people who by definition conform. They will not be dissenting voices; they will be the politically correct. That is the way in which centralised systems of politics work. The umbilical link—which we rightly regard as so important in our parliamentary system—between the voter and the person he elects will be severed.

The second point is that this measure crushes dissent and leads therefore to a more elitist form of politics. I think that is highly undesirable. Thirdly, it destroys conscience. This was a widely overlooked question during previous consideration of this Bill. About a month ago 17 academics, Bishops and Archbishops sent an open letter to the Prime Minister urging the Government to think again about the closed party list system. The reasoning behind their argument is that in this take-it-or-leave-it form of politics of closed lists it will be impossible in the future for a voter to be able to decide between different candidates on moral and ethical questions, on issues as diverse as capital punishment and abortion or the sale of arms and euthanasia. Those have always traditionally been issues which have been hotly debated in our parliamentary constituencies, and rightly so. We could take contrary views. But under this system you will be given a list of three or four and it will be a case of take it or leave it. If three take one view and one takes another, it will be impossible to distinguish between those views. When this point was put to the Government, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, wrote in a letter on 1st December, Under a closed list the voter knows exactly what he is getting—he can choose the team of candidates whose views most closely match his own. He can assess which candidates on the list are likely to he elected and make a judgment about how to vote accordingly". What you do not know, as the Home Secretary asserts, is that you will be getting a list of candidates. How to vote accordingly will be impossible. So anyone who considers the question with any degree of discernment will realise, as the recipients of the letter have done, that this is no way of addressing what I think is a fundamental question.

My last point is the effect on voters. There is already deep cynicism and alienation under our existing electoral arrangements in many parts of our country. I have mentioned to your Lordships' House before that in the city of Liverpool, where I contested seven parliamentary elections, in one recent European by-election the turnout was 11 per cent. In the city council elections last May the turnout was 22 per cent. In one local council by-election this time last year, the turnout was 6 per cent. In other words, vast numbers of people, the overwhelming majority, are already staying away from the polling booths. We should do nothing to increase the cynicism and alienation that already exist.

I say to Liberal Democrats who supported the Government because of what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, described as "the deal" which had been made between the two parties that this will also damage the cause of electoral reform. Once new systems are introduced, if it is done without proper consideration and consensus, they can be damaging to the cause, such as that of proportional representation. There are many forms of proportional representation; the closed party list system is the worst. If I am faced with the choice of the closed party list or staying with the first-past-the-post system until something better can be devised, I would stay with the first-past-the-post, and I shall vote accordingly tonight.

9.1 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I too support the amendment. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, if he attended the previous debates he must have realised that in this context we do not oppose PR. With respect to the noble Lords, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and Lord Weatherill, in practice the question simply does not arise of a lost Bill.

I ask your Lordships: to what honourable end shall noble Lords who are opposed to closed lists sit in this Chamber to nod the Bill through all its stages? Our function as guardian of the constitution has already been discharged to the ultimate degree. To what constructive purpose could we amend, or again insist, to delay the Bill?

As no accommodation may be had on this occasion to the point of deprivation of a basic tenet of the constitution as expounded by Burke—and I know the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill does not think much of it, but some other noble Lords do and I am one—noble Lords may think that without let or hindrance the will of another place should now be done by resort to the Parliament Acts, which enshrine the legitimacy of the amendment.

By supporting the amendment, this House neither defers to another place nor does it indulge in any form of confrontation. In effect we say: "Take your Bill on your own—but this is a matter of constitutional importance upon which we object in principle. We shall have none of it. This facet of the new style of government is unacceptable to us and to the people." The principle at stake transcends political affiliation. The oyster and pearl speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, put the point far better than I can.

I conclude by removing a misapprehension. The situation of disagreement between the two Houses bears no kinship with the War Crimes Bill. I was concerned in it, and it was whipped. I know, because I went into the Lobby with my noble friend Lord Denham. The objection was concerned with the prospects for a fair trial, an unprecedented assumption of extra-territorial jurisdiction and basic questions of morality. On Rhodesian sanctions, your Lordships' House was not concerned with the derogation from our unwritten constitution, of which this House stands as the sole guardian, which is the concern of this debate.

I was given four minutes and I made it in three.

9.4 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, first I join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on the extraordinary stamina he is showing today. In today's proceedings, he is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, used to be known in this House as "Marathon Man". Now it will be a marathon to see which noble Lord has the right to that title.

It is so long since we had the Second Reading of this Bill in the Chamber that not merely have noble Lords forgotten what I said, I have forgotten myself. I checked and found that I said two things: first, that I wished the Bill to become law; secondly, that I wished it to be amended. So long as those two objectives appeared to me compatible, I pursued both. When they appeared to me to become incompatible, I pursued the primary objective that the Bill should become law.

It is a matter of regret to me that it did not become law in the last Session. In the two-chamber parliament, compromise is essential. Without it, a two-chamber parliament is impossible. I have no desire to see a pantomime contest in which two groups of grown people hurl abuse at each other for refusal to compromise. So I shall merely regret the absence of compromise in the last Session.

However, as it stands now, our power to amend the Bill is nugatory. We may table and carry amendments, but the Bill is sailing under the protection of a naval escort from the Parliament Acts. That means that if there should be disagreement between the Houses it would be presented to Her Majesty bearing only those amendments which had been agreed by another place. That means we could huff and puff and amend the Bill as many times as we liked and those amendments would not be presented to Her Majesty to be made law.

Under those circumstances, it is true to say that our power to amend the Bill is neutered. So there is only one question which the behaviour of this House is capable of determining. That is whether the Bill becomes law in time for the European elections this June.

It is perfectly proper for this House to amend Bills about elections. For us, as for returning officers, it may be true that the onlooker sees most of the game. On the other hand, I do not think it proper for this House to come between the voters and an election. That is not as grave as this House rejecting a money Bill, but I think it should be regarded as a younger brother in the same family. After all, what we in this House do not have are elections. Any legitimacy we may possess is a reflected legitimacy granted to us on a precarious tenure by another place. So any representative strength is reflected from there. For us in effect to disrupt an election is, in my opinion, beyond the proper scope of our House.

I know that that election must take place because it is laid down in European law that it shall. But to call the effect of transforming the constituencies, reforming constituency associations, going through the selections again, and reappointing agencies, disruption is, I think, an accurate and mild statement. That, I think, would have the effect of creating chaos. As my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead reminded the House, it would reintroduce a distortion into the European Parliament as a whole. That, I think, would be a bridge too far for this House.

My objective is that the Bill should become law as quickly as possible. The question is how that should be done. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, put his speech on his Motion rather in the style in which it is done in another place. He might have attracted a bigger vote for a rather more economical Motion. In drafting Motions, it is a good rule that for every extra word one puts in one loses approximately three votes. According to that rule, the noble Lord has been positively reckless.

On the other hand, I remember a film which I saw when I was a small boy about the breaking of the sound barrier. The central proposition was that at the speed of sound the effect of the controls was reversed. When we vote on a Bill with Parliament Acts in the offing, something rather like that principle applies: if we keep the Bill alive, we kill it; and if we kill it we allow it to be resurrected. I may not be voting for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, but if it were to succeed it would not cause me profound grief.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps I may respectfully ask him an important question on the legitimacy of the amendment. Will the noble Earl accept that the amendment derives directly from the Parliament Acts?

Earl Russell

My Lords, as I understand it, the effect of the amendment is to allow the will of another place to have effect. I see no illegitimacy about that.

9.11 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, with his usual elegant series of convolutions, the noble Earl has managed to delay serious consideration of the issues before us, and not for the first time.

The argument, which has been rehearsed before—we have been reminded of that—as between closed and open lists can be taken at two levels: in relation to these precise elections for the European Parliament; and, as I have pointed out previously, as evidence of this Government's intention gradually to exert central party control over the activities of Labour candidates for any kind of assembly or parliament. It is part of an ongoing process which we have seen illustrated in Scotland. We could have seen it in Wales. We are seeing it, as it were in gorgeous Technicolor, in relation to London.

But that is only one aspect. The other is about the coming elections for the European Parliament. On that point I find myself less enthusiastic. I feel that it is merely delaying the day when we shall have to consider whether we want to elect anyone to that body. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, reminded us of the complete ignorance of the electorate about the European Parliament, and about his own MEP—no doubt a worthy person. But is it surprising when one has a body about which the things we do know are not universally to its credit? The public knows that the parliament spends vast sums of its money on building palaces for itself in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg and on parading MEPs and officials and their piles of documents in caravan from one of these centres to another. The word "nomad" used to conjure up the idea of an Arab on a camel; now it brings to mind the picture of an MEP.

In these circumstances, does it really matter? Of course I shall vote for the amendment because in principle I object to the strengthening of all party bureaucracies and at the moment in particular the bureaucracy of the Labour Party. But, however it goes, it is secondary to the question whether the European Parliament is the kind of body that we want to control the activities of the serious parts of the European institutions, in particular the Commission. I believe that that work can be done only by members of national parliaments. A great mistake was made when we resorted to any form of direct election. The sooner we get back to a direct link between these Houses of Parliament and the Commission, the sooner the latter's record of incompetence and fraud will be made manifest in ways that the European Parliament, so-called, has signally failed to do.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, I believe that at least this measure will have earned a small footnote in the record of contemporary history, in part because of the apparent paradox that a non-elected Chamber has done its utmost to introduce genuine democracy into an elected European Parliament and at the same time the elected House has done its utmost to introduce a system that is authoritarian and hands power to parties rather than electors. That in itself deserves a footnote, but there are other features that we need to explore even at this late hour.

The question one asks—it arose at once from the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—is what is the real wish of the House of Commons in this matter? Is the settled purpose, as he claimed it to be, based on the fact that it has been there five times, and now a sixth time, with large majorities in every case? I have had a look at whatever evidence is available on this matter. The only time that the House of Commons had a genuine opportunity to vote on the election system of the European Parliament was under the prime ministership of my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff. I am always glad to sit next to him. My noble friend put to the House of Commons on a free vote whether we should have this particular kind of proportional representation. The House voted it down on a free vote and it was not proceeded with. Therefore, we have the system that we use today. I point out that the system voted down was based on an open regional list. My noble friend, with his usual wisdom, put that before the House of Commons and it was voted down. not because it was an open list but because the House did not want proportional representation in the first place. That provides a little bit of interesting history.

What has happened since then? Has the House had an opportunity to change its mind? No. It has been a Three-line Whip throughout, yet we know that there has been no real shift of opinion in the Labour Party, certainly not among Labour Members of Parliament. No document emanating from the Labour Party can be pointed to anywhere that gives authority to a closed list system. There are plenty of documents which say that we must now have proportional representation but none says that it must be a closed list. We know that an open list is the policy of the Liberal Democrats and is supported, as I understand it, by the Conservative Party. So where is that great majority in the House of Commons in favour of a closed list system?

Then what do we find? There is the sheer embarrassment to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred, that in the midst of this really taut issue, as it now is, Labour Members on the Scottish Select Committee, on 18th November, deliberately put in words to say that they prefer the open list to a closed list and that that is a better reflection of our commitment to democracy in this country. My goodness, it is quite a story, is it not? It does not quite reflect the view of a settled will of the House of Commons as claimed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins.

There are two major questions which we must ask. First, why have the Government persisted in this extraordinary way by coming back five or six times to put forward this particular system? I shall not go into detail on the merits of the matter. We know very well that it is better indeed for the electors to have the right to choose or vote for the people whom they wish to have as their representatives. Of course they prefer that to giving that power to the party.

Who is the party? We know about that because we have been helped by noble Lords who have spoken against this measure. They have told us that the MEPs will be chosen by a committee of 11 wise men: six are members of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party; two are nominees of that National Executive Committee; and three are regional officers of the party. Goodness me, that really is power, is it not, in the hands of the party leadership? That is unacceptable.

If I thought that those 11 men consisted of people of the reputation and integrity of my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn or of my good friend the Home Secretary, if I thought that the 11 were adjudicators of that quality, I should be tempted—I will not say that I should wholly go along with it—to go along with the measure. But the 11 men are not people of that reputation or quality. They are 11 party officials of mixed quality and ability who put the party first, as they are expected to do. Frankly, I do not believe that we should give them that power. We are right to resist it.

What other arguments are left? Perhaps I may refer once again to my noble friend Lord Callaghan. He put the point with more force than anyone else that there is that anomaly in the open list system in which it is possible for someone to become a member who has won fewer votes than someone who has won more votes but who does not become elected. But the reason for that is the PR system. It arises naturally under proportional representation.

During the short interval that we have had between the last occasion on which we debated this matter and now, I took the trouble to contact the Finnish Embassy. Finland operates an open list system. I put it to the Finnish Ministers, there in a wholly open way. I said to them, "What is your experience? Do you find that, when someone is elected as an MEP to the European Parliament from Finland who has won fewer votes than a member of another party who is not then elected, that is acceptable? Is there a great fuss and a row?". "Not a bit", they said. "We accept it as being perfectly natural and normal and something that must arise out of the proportional representation system which we in our country support and have no intention whatever of changing it". So much for the anomaly.

What is left? First, the closed list system is in operation in Europe. Seventy per cent. of the member states operate it in the European Parliament. While we have many things to learn from our continental neighbours, and I mean that quite genuinely, we really must not set them up as being superior in experience and wisdom in the matter of the practice of democracy; they are not so. Perhaps I may give examples of what I mean. The great problem for our democratic comrades across the Channel is that the system has resulted in a gap and gulf between the elected representatives and their own people. There is what they call a classe politique; something separate and apart from the people they are supposed to represent. It arises out of the PR system and the closed list.

Perhaps I may give one illustration. On 3rd May, just after that great meeting of the European Council during the British Presidency when the 11 Euroland members were declared, the German Bundestag had before it the proposition that it should join the single currency. The same day an opinion poll taken in Germany showed that the majority of the German people—not for the first time—were not in favour of the single currency. Yet that very day the German Bundestag voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining it. Are we surprised that the gap exists between representatives and people in continental Europe?

I shall add one final point. We may object to it; some people may laugh at it; some people may try to fiddle it; but we are committed at least to a referendum in this country before we join the single currency. Not one of the 11 member states which has become part of Euroland has had a referendum of its own people to give it the authority to join and to take this momentous—certainly it is that—and very dangerous decision.

So there it is. Certainly the reason the Government are pressing the legislation cannot be on merit. Why are they doing this six times? It is not on the merits of the case, so why is it? I seriously ask whether there is somewhere here a secret agenda. Is there something going on about which we have not been told? I have looked, naturally, as you would expect me to, at what was going on in continental Europe over the same period. I found three matters of genuine relevance which I believe one has almost a duty to report to the House. First, as part of the Maastricht Treaty there were changes in the clauses in the European Community treaty affecting the election of Members of the European Parliament. It changed the formula into a looser one; that it can go ahead and have a uniform system provided that members are in agreement on common principles.

The European Parliament also changed the treaty to include a clause which greatly stressed the importance and desirability of cross-frontier political parties; multi-national political parties. It then set up an institutions committee, not surprisingly, and it reported in favour of adopting a system. A long resolution was passed on 15th July 1998 before the sequence of votes took place here, the first of which was on 20th October. That was the immediate background.

If we accept the system we shall be committed to it, joining in a common European system from which we cannot withdraw. In addition, we would be committed in principle, though not under an immediate threat, to opting for a system of cross-frontier elections based upon proportionality and the cross-frontier parties: in the parties with the entitlement to additional seats—it is about additional seats amounting to 5 or 10 per cent. of the total—the cross-frontier party managers themselves can allocate who are to be the MEPs. It is not even the 11 good men of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, but a number of men, perhaps 11 or so good men, of the European socialist party and the European equivalent of the Conservative Party who will decide. That is not an attractive prospect and I can well understand why the Government would not wish to have this matter brought into the general background of our debate.

I say to my noble friend and to the House that I am amazed that in these long debates—we have had at least six—not once has a Minister in either House referred to the parallel developments occurring in the European Parliament and the European institutions. I say that with considerable emphasis, because in its resolution of 15th July 1998 it included the sentence: whereas the Government of the United Kingdom has tabled a bill in Parliament, introducing regional proportional representation for the European elections in 1999", and it goes on to make recommendations. They knew what was going on here; we did not know what was going on there. I maintain that that is a shock to me and a disgraceful development. It should never have been allowed to happen.

I conclude with a few words about the lessons to be learnt. One of them is that, in my view, this House behaved admirably. It did its duty, it stuck by its guns and it had every right to do so during the one year which the Parliament Act allows us to return measures we dislike to the House of Commons. It has no reason to be other than proud of that resolution and achievement. However, it is now a different ball game. The Parliament Act comes into effect; we have had our 12 months' delay, and moreover we are in the second Session. We cannot stop the measure. Therefore, I will not vote for the amendment, partly for constitutional reasons but also because it is now the easiest way of helping the Government to get the Bill through. It is only by passing that firm resolution that they will get the timetable which they need. Having said that, I had better sit down.

9.34 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, after that pyrotechnic display from the noble Lord, Lord Shore, what I have to say will seem a trifle flat. I hope to be brief and to curtail much of what I might have said, owing to the hour.

Twice in the previous Session I spoke on the topic of open and closed lists. In between the first and the second of those occasions, as I explained on the second occasion, I had been selected as number one on the list of prospective Conservative Euro-candidates for the European parliamentary elections in the North West of England. So that there is no doubt about the matter, I should like to explain to your Lordships that I was born in Carlisle.

I want to reiterate my comments about the closed list, which I consider to be a horrid thing. I had intended to illustrate the matter, but the noble Lord, Lord Shore, has already done so in a manner, with respect to illustrations from his party, which, if he had not been more fastidious, I think he would have described as in the manner of Tammany Hall, and the aura of the closed list is the reek of the stench of the smoke-filled rooms of that building.

In the past, I have always voted on this topic in accordance with my opinion of the merits of the closed, as opposed to the open, list. In trying to understand the nature of proportional representation, it is helpful to liken it to sin. Both of them come in a number of different forms, some of which are much more attractive than others.

The Labour Party's manifesto flags up that party's intention, were it to be elected to government, to introduce a form of proportional representation for the European parliamentary elections. However, it does not specify what that form should be. As the debate has moved on, we have ceased to debate the nuances of the merits of the closed versus the open system. We are now talking about whether or not the system that is necessary to bring proportional representation on to the statute book should be the form favoured by this Chamber or the elected Chamber.

We can—it is our duty to do so—return matters to the other place in order to question them, because we are a revising and amending Chamber. However, I am concerned that in the guise of asking the other place to think again, we actually end up by frustrating the underlying project that the other place has in mind. I fear we are moving to the very limits of our constitutional position.

If it is the purpose of politicians fundamentally to frustrate the government of the day, I believe that that should be done on the Floor of the other place. It is the nature of the European Parliament that it sits for a fixed five-year term and, therefore, it follows that in this Government's term of office there can be but one European parliamentary election. If we continually return this matter to the other place under the guise of asking the other place to think again, we could have the effect of fundamentally frustrating that project because the Government will run out of time to implement the proposals.

I believe, like Dicey, that the general rule is that the House of Lords must, in matters of legislation, ultimately give way to the House of Commons. That is one of the best-established maxims of modern constitutional ethics.

As I have already mentioned, I was chosen to be number one on the Conservative list of prospective candidates in the North West for the European Parliament. As I explained on a previous occasion, I received conflicting advice on whether to participate in the debate and the vote. On reflection, I decided to do so. However, on this occasion, although I believe that it is constitutionally correct that the Government should get their business through, I am told by informed and expert commentators on such matters that by virtue of being number one on the list, the Government getting their business through is likely to enable me to achieve something that I want; namely, to be elected to the European Parliament, so I intend not to vote. To vote for the Government is promoting my candidature and, in the particular and peculiar circumstances of this evening, to vote for the amendment has the same effect.

Before I sit down, I hope that your Lordships will allow me to conclude with some points which I believe are very relevant and can be held by all candidates and all those involved in the elections. Proportional representation is unknown political territory on the mainland of this country. The preparations for an election held under it are not straightforward and the necessary pre-election work is complicated, time-consuming and novel. All those matters have had to go on hold during this period of uncertainty. The longer we are all kept waiting, the less effective the various political parties will be in the election which is to be held in June next year which is, after all, only six months' hence.

Traditionally, European parliamentary elections have had a low turn-out. That is not only bad when looked at from the perspective of the European parliament—some noble Lords may find that an attractive proposition—but I believe that it is also bad for the political process and democracy in general. It is particularly so in a world where there is evidence of increasing disillusionment with politics. I have no doubt at all that I speak for everybody involved in those elections when I speak to and through your Lordships to Parliament as a whole and say, "Please stop playing games with this matter. Please can we have a final decision so that the uncertainty can be ended?", so that all those who are actively involved in this part of the democratic process can get on with it to the best of their abilities in the wider public interest.

9.41 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I believe it is fair to say that most noble Lords who have opposed this Bill in its present form over the past months have done so as outright opponents of PR. I readily agree with those noble Lords in maintaining that the first-past-the-post is by far the best system for general elections, given that they result in the formation of a government. And they, ideally, should not have to depend on horse trading or shifting political alliances.

However, none of those elected to the European Parliament is to be granted executive powers. I believe that was a point made in so many words by my noble friend Lord Weatherill. Therefore, PR in some form may well be appropriate for European elections.

But there are at least two things wrong with the form of PR proposed by the Government. The first is multi-member constituencies as such. One of the glories of our British tradition is that MPs take pride in working hard and conscientiously for all their constituents, no matter that the political opinions of their constituents may be the precise opposite of their own. I said our "British tradition", but the same applies to Northern Ireland as my noble friend Lord Molyneaux and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, would undoubtedly agree were they here. Unionist members are normally assiduous in attending to the day-to-day problems of their nationalist constituents, and nationalist members are equally zealous in looking after their unionist constituents.

The proponents of the multi-member constituency argue that only a Conservative can effectively look after the mundane interests of Conservative voters; only a Liberal Democrat can look after Liberal Democrats and so forth. That is surely a counsel of despair, alien to our traditions.

The second thing wrong with the method proposed is the closed list. So far what has not been pointed out is that the closed list system is much more attuned to the late 19th century than to the late 20th century, and still less to the 21st century. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, implied, it reeks of Tammany Hall, when bewildered, semi-literate men arriving in a strange country after an arduous ocean crossing, were told, "Forget about individuals and names. Vote the straight Democrat ticket year in and year out and the ward bosses will guarantee to wangle you a job and accommodation". Nowadays, partly thanks to radio and television, we have an informed, even streetwise electorate and accordingly most of them are not content to vote the straight party line unthinkingly. They want to be able to fine tune, so to speak, their selection by putting at the top of their list, for example, an anti-abortion Labour candidate, a Conservative who hates grammar schools, a Liberal Democrat Euro-sceptic—yes, such creatures do exist—or even an individual, irrespective of party, whom they happen to like and admire as an individual.

In trying to defend the closed list system, the Government argue that it is necessary in order to ensure the election of women and members of ethnic minorities—the implication being that, left to their own devices, Labour voters would be reluctant to vote for individuals in those categories. Is not that assumption insulting to Labour voters? The Government also argue that France and Germany operate closed list systems; indeed, they do. However, France and Germany are the two most élitist nations in Europe. Except when the mob are allowed to take over briefly—as happens from time to time—France is run by "les énarques", while the political class in Germany is so contemptuous of the German man-in-the-street that it refused to consult him over abolition of his beloved deutschmark (he would certainly have voted against abolition had he been given the opportunity). So France and Germany are not very happy examples.

This is one of those rare occasions when the broadsheets, the tabloids and most of the public are as one in declaring that, for today's educated electorate, the closed list system will not do. The stance taken by your Lordships' House in October and November, which was the right one, cannot suddenly become the wrong one in December. The general public would, understandably, regard such a volte-face as totally unprincipled. Accordingly, I contend that all noble Lords who oppose the closed list system should support the amendment this evening.

9.46 p.m.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, it is always fascinating that the further one goes away from Westminster in a southerly or an easterly direction, the greater the respect and the enthusiasm for our political and parliamentary institutions. In fact, spending much of my time now in central and eastern Europe, I would go as far as to say that we enjoy very considerable respect. People there look at us with some amusement as they see us seeking to destroy the very institutions upon which democracy is based. They say to me, "Watch out for the closed list; watch out for the party".

In the Ukraine the other day, a closed list was defined to me as, effectively, "life Peers" and the open list as, effectively, "hereditary Peers". The open list of hereditary Peers was obviously far more open because you could see what was coming a long way off. The insults that we throw around about each other are wrong. Some of us on this side of the House feel that we are here by accident of birth or even conception; indeed, I was conceived on the beach at Ocho Rios in Jamaica. I happen to be a Peer because of the accident of birth and have never had the privilege of having a vote because my father died young. I feel that it is not a matter of trying to justify one type of Peer rather than the other. We are both illegitimate and, if I had my way, we should all stand for election.

What worries me is a certain moral dishonesty in the socialist world. The noble Lord, Lord Shore, reminded us that it was in December 1977 that we had the defeat on proportional representation. However, I should like to return to 1st January 1973 when we joined the EEC. I seem to remember that that wonderful Labour Party, with which I co-operate very much on the Council of Europe, decided that the European Parliament was totally undemocratic and refused to send a delegation to it. Therefore, our own delegation, which was desperately short of funds, had to turn to a rather humble couple of people called the Treasurers of the Conservative Group for Europe. We had to go out and raise commercial money from companies, some of which, I note, give donations today to the Labour Party. But, at that time, they had to fund our delegation.

Moreover, two-and-a-half years later the people said, "We are in the European Union [or the EEC] and of course we should participate in the Parliament", but the Labour Party still refused to send anyone. Indeed, it sent people there only after a referendum—and that was two years later.

There is a certain dishonesty about that, but what worries me more today is what my East European friends are saying about the closed list and the party. I suppose we could say, as I was once told, that a communist is a socialist in a hurry. I believe that that goes back to 1926. But, in trying to change things in the way that we are now doing, we should not think just of Europe as it is today; we should think of what Europe will be in the future. We should think of the countries that will join. Where does Europe stop? Where does it end? We should think of the painful process taking place in some of those countries where political power still remains in the hands of the party; where there are still closed lists; where closed committees of 12 appoint people, but only the 13th has the vote—and nobody knows who he is or how long he will remain; where people are not disenfranchised but deselected or possibly disappointed. I do not like closed lists and I do not like the possibility, however remote, that we may see the return of the creeping paralysis of socialism.

9.50 p.m.

Lord McNally

My Lords, as we move towards our 11 o'clock Vote I realise that 25 minutes is not very long to deal with all the issues that have been raised in this debate. It is very strange, coming round this course for the sixth time; it is not long since we discussed it previously. Since then I have felt as though like I have been in an episode of "House of Cards", with all the plots, skulduggery and deals which have been going on.

It is amazing to think how well the present incumbents of the Conservative Front Bench have done out of all this. The present Leader of the Conservatives was of course Chief Whip on the previous occasion. On that occasion he replaced the parliamentary traditions of Burke and Locke by the machinations of Burke and Hare.

I said last time that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was an unambitious Scot. I say to the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Benches that I now revise my opinion. I now see him as one of those gangsters in those Hollywood B-movies where the number two in the organisation was the real power behind the throne, who kept some innocent dupe—who was usually shot in the last reel—to carry the can for him.

We have had a merry canter round. The noble Lord, Lord Shore, as always, was magnificent. I enjoyed that speech the first time I heard it more than 30 years ago. It will go down well when he addresses it where it should be addressed—a Labour Party Conference—when the Labour Party decides how it wants to select its members for the European Parliament. It is not a speech which is particularly relevant to what is before this House tonight.

Two themes are before the House tonight. The first concerns the merits of closed and open lists. Two points have been best made. First, we should stop this parliamentary pantomime, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said, and allow these elections to proceed. Secondly, we should recognise that there are demerits in the open list system, not least that it causes competition and rivalry between party nominees rather than presenting a party case to the electorate.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has not responded to the point that a general election presents short lists of one, chosen by precisely those same party machines—Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour—as will choose in the European elections. It really is double-talk to pretend that this is something new. These are proposals that have been passed in other legislation and that align us with many other parts of Europe. But most of all, as far as we on these Benches are concerned, they will produce by far the fairest Euro-elections that have yet been held. They will give all parties a chance to be properly represented; they will bring party representation—for Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats—to parts of the country that have been denied it by the unfair first-past-the-post system.

I do not want to delay the House. I see the serried ranks of the Conservative Benches, probably the death rattle of the ancien regime. There they are, once again about to defy the elected House. It is an abuse of power. It is a vote too far. We will not join them this evening. We will rely, we believe rightly, on the other place to have its will. The House should proceed, I hope fairly soon, to that decision.

9.55 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney made an important speech. He accused us of being party to a conspiracy and suggested that I had never mentioned it in the past. He is right. I was on the telephone to King Herod only last weekend and he and I have agreed on a massacre of the innocents, directed from Brussels.

Quite a good deal of humbug is still washing about. Every former MP in this House was elected on a closed list of one. All Life Peers got here by the determination and nomination of a party machine, one way or the other. As it happens, if one criticises the present Government, Mr. Blair is the first Prime Minister ever to say that he would give up his unrestricted, over-weaning power to nominate Members of this House. None of his predecessors had the nerve and the courage to do that.

The amendment is almost not believable. It refers to, an approach which would end the historic right of the British people to choose the candidates they wish to be elected", as in Northern Ireland, as in the new Scottish parliament and as in the new Welsh assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, says, "You cannot chide me about that because the Scotland Bill and the Government of Wales Bill were both big Bills". So I assume that his policy is, "When you have a really big issue that matters domestically, don't bother to raise these alleged questions of principle. But if you have a little Bill, then spend hour after hour examining it, dissecting it, putting it back together and kicking it all around Westminster". That is bogus; and we know it is bogus; and the sooner we recognise that, the better.

No one is able to give us any lessons about open and closed lists. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said on the first occasion—or was it the second, the third, the fourth or the fifth?—we discussed these matters that he was in charge of the choice of candidates for the Scottish Parliament. He was Lord Blackspot. He could stop them even standing—Lord Blackspot of Ardbrecknish, I beg the noble Lord's pardon. What happened after that with the English Conservative Party, such as it was? It would not even allow the late Nicholas Budgen, who was in fact the grit in the oyster, to stand at all, or Mr. Winston Churchill.

So let us not have any more humbug. The truth is that the principle is as I have always contended it to be. Is it legitimate to continue to assert unelected, unaccountable power against the elected Chamber? On that principle there is no dispute capable. We stand on the principle. I am sorry to say it but those who are playing this ping-pong are deeply flawed and deeply and irremediably wrong.

9.59 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am not entirely sure exactly how the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has advised his troops to vote on the subject of my amendment, but perhaps that will be revealed later on. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, as Lord Mackay of the Blackspot, that the Conservative Party in Scotland had an election over the weekend. Its party members were able to come along to a meeting and listen to all the people who put themselves forward as candidates. The party members decided in what order they should be on the list. I shall give way to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, if the Labour Party has done anything even vaguely resembling that.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we have actually. If one studies the way in which parliamentary candidates are chosen, one sees that is a good deal more democratic. Whatever disagreements there may be between the noble Lord and myself, I have never pretended to be the man who could say to a prospective candidate, "You may not even stand." The weekend election does not figure very highly in the annals of democratic thought.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, the Labour Party had a selection process in Scotland, to such an extent that it actually blackballed some of its own existing Members of Parliament, so I shall not take any lessons on "the black spot" from the noble Lord.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, does not the noble Lord recollect that everyone was allowed to be a candidate but that, in the nature of things, not all prospective candidates were chosen?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, Mr. Dennis Canavan was not even allowed to be a candidate, but he will probably be a Member of the Scottish Parliament.

According to all the press reports, the Labour Party decided the matter on a London-dominated group. The noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, explained exactly who was on that London-dominated group. The evidence stands on the Scottish list or any other list in this country, but particularly on the way in which those two lists were drawn up.

I thought that I would start with the Liberal Democrats, briefly. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, for coming along and indicating, as he did in his report, that he was in favour of the open list. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, wished me well. At least I think he wished me well; I was not entirely sure.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that the trouble with the open list was that people in the same party competed against each other. As I understand the argument for electoral reform, the point in favour of the single transferable vote is that people are allowed to choose between the various representatives of a party. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, had better get back on the wavelength of what the Liberal Democrat Party thinks. I know that may be difficult for him. During the speech of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, the Liberal Democrat Benches emptied, leaving the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, holding the fort. As I understand it, those noble Lords were not going out for a small dram but to decide how to vote. I am not sure from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, whether those noble Lords made up their minds or whether they have still to do so.

The argument for the open list is overwhelming. The fact that only one government Back Bencher defended it still means that the score over the piece between both Houses is that many more government Back Benchers were opposed to the closed list than in favour of it. That is simply a fact, as any study of the proceedings in another place or here will confirm.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, made the point well to the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that the closed list crushes democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, should know about that. I remind him of some of his colleagues currently in the European Parliament—Mr. Alex Smith, Mr. Hugh McMahon, Mr. Alex Falconer and Mr. Henry McGovan, who was in the last one. None of them will appear in the next European Parliament because, according to the noble Lord, Lord Shore, a group of 11 people decided that they jolly well should not.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that Mr. Alex Falconer announced that he was not even standing as a candidate?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, of course he did. According to press reports, Mr. Falconer did so because he knew that he was going to get his throat cut, so there was no point in going through the exercise.

The closed list would be much easier to defend if the Labour Party had not shown political parties in this country how the list could be manipulated in exactly the way that my noble friend Lord Selsdon pointed out was done in eastern Europe. That is why the closed list system is in such disrepute. If the closed list were arrived at by all the members of the party voting, I would not be able to make many of these debating points. However, that is not how it is happening in at least one of our great parties. Let us imagine for a minute that it was to happen that way in all three parties. That would bring our democracy into serious disrepute.

The position is perfectly clear. I am well aware that, in common with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, there are two conflicting propositions.

I know that if I maintain my principled objection and ask my noble friends to vote in order to show that we still believe the open list is preferable to the closed list, and we win—which, I suspect, given the lack of Peers on the Government Benches, that we shall—the Government will use the battering ram of the Parliament Acts to get the measure through. If the Government feel proud about using the Parliament Acts to get such a deeply un-British and undemocratic proposition through, then let them feel proud. I seek the opinion of the House.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Brougham and Vaux)

My Lords, the original Motion was, That the Bill be now read a second time; since when an amendment has been moved to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "this House declines to give the European Parliamentary Elections Bill a Second Reading on the grounds that it includes an undemocratic 'closed list' system providing for the selection of MEPs by party choice, an approach which would end the historic right of the British people to choose the candidates they wish to be elected, a step for which the House notes with great concern no mandate was sought or given at the last General Election". The Question is, That this amendment be agreed to.

10.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 167; Not-Contents, 73.

Division No. 1
Aberdare, L. Garel-Jones, L.
Addison, V. Geddes, L.
Alton of Liverpool, L. Gisborough, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Glentoran, L.
Annaly, L. Greenway, L.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.
Ashbourne, L. Haddington, E.
Astor, V. Hamilton of Dalzell, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Harding of Petherton, L.
Baker of Dorking, L. Harlech, L.
Banbury of Southam, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Bell, L. Harmsworth, L.
Beloff, L. Harris of High Cross, L.
Belstead, L. Harris of Peckham, L.
Berners, B. Hemphill, L.
Biddulph, L. Henley, L. [Teller.]
Biffen, L. Higgins, L.
Birdwood, L. Hogg, B.
Blackwell, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Blatch, B. Home, E.
Boardman, L. Howe, E.
Brentford, V. Howell of Guildford, L.
Bridgeman, V. Hunt of Wirral, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. James of Holland Park, B.
Bumham, L. [Teller.] Jenkin of Roding, L.
Buscombe, B. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Butterworth, L. Jopling, L.
Byford, B. Killearn, L.
Cadman, L. Kimball, L.
Caithness, E. Kingsland, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Kinnoull, E.
Campbell of Croy, L. Kitchener, E.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Knutsford, V.
Carnock, L. Lauderdale, E.
Carr of Hadley, L. Leigh, L.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Liverpool, E.
Chesham, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Luke, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Lyell, L.
Colwyn, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L
Courtown, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Cowdrey of Tonbridge, L. Marlesford, L.
Crickhowell, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cross, V. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Middleton, L.
Cumberlege, B. Miller of Hendon, B.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Monro of Langholm, L.
Denham, L. Monson, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Moran, L.
Derwent, L. Mountevans, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Downshire, M. Moynihan, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Elles, B. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Naseby, L.
Elton, L. Newall, L.
Feldman, L. Noel-Buxton, L.
Ferrers, E. Norrie, L.
Fookes, B. Northbrook, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Northesk, E.
Gage, V. Norton of Louth, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Nunburnholme, L.
Oxfuird, V. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Pender, L. Strathcarron, L.
Phillimore, L. Strathclyde, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L. Suffolk and Berkshire, E
Rawlings, B. Tebbit, L.
Rennell, L. Teviot, L.
Renton, L. Thatcher, B.
Renwick, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L. Tollemache, L.
Rodney, L. Torrington, V.
Romney, E. Trenchard, V.
Rotherwick, L. Trumpington, B.
Seccombe, B. Vivian, L.
Selkirk of Douglas, L. Westbury, L.
Selsdon, L. Wilcox, B.
Sharples, B. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Shaw of Northstead, L. Wise, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Wynford, L.
Skidelsky, L. Young, B.
Ahmed, L. Inchyra, L.
Alli, L. Islwyn, L.
Amos, B. Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Ashley of Stoke, L. Judd, L.
Bach, L. Kintore, E.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Lockwood, B.
Berkeley, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Blackstone, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Bramall, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Burlison, L. Monkswell, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Nicol, B.
Carrick, E. Norton, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Pitkeathley, B.
Christopher, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Davies of Coity, L. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Rea, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Ely, Bp. Richard, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Rix, L.
Gladwyn, L Sawyer, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Sheppard of Liverpool, L.
Grenfell, L. Strafford, E.
Hacking, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Hanworth, V. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hardy of Wath. L. Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Harris of Haringey, L. Tomlinson, L.
Haskel, L. Walpole, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Warner, L.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Weatherill, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Whitty, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Hoyle, L. Winston, L.
Hughes, L. Young of Old Scone, B.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, given the result of the vote, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House some questions.

The Government were defeated five times in this House in the past Session on the principle of the closed list. The House has shown again tonight, and I believe rightly, that it is unwilling to agree to the replacement of voter choice with choice by party officers. This succession of defeats is an unprecedented humiliation for the Government on a discredited policy which has been repeatedly attacked by their own Back-Benchers in another place.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House must now make the Government's intentions clear. Even at this stage will they reconsider their policy, or do they intend to use, for only the second time in 50 years, the high-handed device of the Parliament Acts to force through a shabby and undemocratic voting system into law—a system which has no place in their manifesto and which would represent the greatest restriction on the freedom of choice of electors since the Reform Act of 1832? If they take that choice, they have the power to do so, but they should use that power with shame and no shred of pride.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, I am delighted to respond to the noble Lord. Since we are reminding each other of what was said on previous occasions, perhaps I may remind him of what his predecessor, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said on the occasion of, I think, the fifth defeat on this discussion which occurred about a month ago. He said—I hope that I paraphrase him correctly but his remarks are in the Official Report—that he expected that this House would know how to behave were this issue to come before it again.

All I can say to the noble Lord tonight is that, as he knows, the Government will now send a message to the other place, and Madam Speaker, I am sure, will act upon her duty.

House adjourned at eighteen minutes past ten o'clock.