HL Deb 04 November 1998 vol 594 cc272-91

1B That this House do insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish rose to move, That this House do insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to this amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4.

This is a relatively simple issue concerning the form of proportional representation system for next year's European parliamentary elections. Let me make it clear to your Lordships at the outset that I do not dispute with the Government or the Commons the decision to change our system for the election of MEPs from a first-past-the-post system to a regional list system. That argument is over. What I dispute is the way the regional list system is to be operated.

The United Kingdom is to be divided into large regions, with between four and 11 members in each region, the average being seven or eight. Each party standing in the election will submit a list of those it wishes to put forward for election to the European Parliament. Most importantly, it will put that list forward in its order of preference; that is, in the party's order of preference. On polling day next year the electorate will be asked to vote for the party of their choice—only the party, not the candidate. On the ballot paper will appear the party list as determined by the party, and we are grateful to the Government for that. The individual voter, however, will have no way of influencing that all-important order. After the polls have closed, the total party vote will be determined for the region and a simple mathematical calculation, devised by a Belgian mathematician, Victor d'Hondt, will be used to decide how many seats each party should have. If the Conservative Party is entitled to three seats in a region, numbers one, two and three on the list will be elected. Your Lordships will see that, while it is open to the elector to decide which party to vote for, it is not open to the elector to decide on his or her preferred order within the list. Hence it is a called a closed-list system, and that is the one that the Government favour.

However, it does not have to be a closed list; it can be an open list. With the open list, as proposed in the amendments passed by your Lordships when we last considered the matter, the elector will vote for his or her party by voting for the preferred candidate on the list. There will be no party box; there will be boxes for each of the parties' candidates on the list. After the poll, the party total is achieved by totalling the votes for each of the parties' candidates, the d'Hondt divisor is used, and the number of the seats allocated to each of the parties is achieved in exactly the same way as for a closed list. But now comes the real difference. Again let us assume that the Conservative Party has gained three seats. Instead of the three winners being determined by the party, as in the closed list system, the three winners will be those three people who have achieved the highest votes from that party's electors. In other words, that is a people's choice and not a party's choice.

Your Lordships' amendment would therefore allow the European elections to proceed by proportional representation based on regional lists; but the people, the voters, the supporters at the ballot box of each of the parties, will determine who on the list would go to Brussels to represent them—the people's representatives, not the party's.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, in his elegant defence of the party's choice and not the people's choice, suggested, the last time we debated this issue, suggested that it was important that the parties should be able to fix the list, essentially so that candidates who may not, for whatever reason, receive the endorsement of that party's voters can be elected. That is not so much trusting the people as telling the people that the party knows best.

Yet even in an open list system the party machine has significant input, if that brings comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. The party will be able to decide who will be on the list and the order in which their names shall appear on the ballot paper. I suggest that both lists give enough advantages to the party's favoured sons and daughters to satisfy even the noble Lord, Lord Williams.

Your Lordships will have read the well-argued Commons reasons: The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason—Because it would result in a voting system which is undesirable". They did not burn too much midnight oil thinking up that one. Is it not interesting that the Government think that the open list is undesirable?—because, in reality, that is what this means. They are almost alone in thinking that. I pointed out on the last occasion when we discussed this issue what the Electoral Reform Society had had to say in a press release: We are all for proportional representation and we give the Government credit for having moved so quickly in introducing PR for European elections. But there is more to electoral reform than PR. We want to see voters being able to exercise more choice, and certainly not less choice, over who their MEPs will be. Such a system"— that is, the closed list— is bad for voters, bad for candidates and bad for democracy—[Official Report, 20/10/98; col. 1320.] According to the Electoral Reform Society—which in every other way is delighted with the Government—the closed list system chosen is bad for voters, bad for candidates and bad for democracy.

In order to demonstrate that this is not a Conservative-inspired idea but has a broad base of support from those people who are particularly interested in electoral reform, Charter 88 said this: We believe that voters should be able to choose between candidates of the same party. We are especially concerned that voters are not given the impression that the new voting system is being introduced for party political benefit". Perish the thought! We are concerned that if the Government insist on the use of closed lists voters may be left with the impression that the voting system has been manipulated for party political aims".—[Official Report, 20/10/98; col. 1320.]

Since the Commons discussed our amendments on these matters on 27th October and decided, in their elegant words, that the open list was undesirable, we have had the report of the Jenkins Commission, which was described by no less a person than the Prime Minister as making a well argued and powerful case for the system that it recommends. We have been over these issues a number of times, but I would like to read some of the words written by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, with regard to the list system which he proposes as the top-up part of the new system that the report recommends for the other place.

The list top-up system is very akin to the regional system that we are now looking at for the European Parliament. I will read it to your Lordships because the Commons should be allowed to consider this weighty addition to the issue. If they do not listen to me—and I do not particularly expect them to—if they are not too good at listening to your Lordships, if they do not seem to want to listen to the Electoral Reform Society or to Charter 88, they should consider what the commission set up by the Prime Minister has to say.

Paragraph 138 says this: Under a reform system it is crucial that the voters' right to express their view of individual candidates should be at least maintained and preferably enhanced. First past the post does retain the right, theoretical in most cases but occasionally practical as the last election showed, to get rid of a deeply distasteful candidate even in a nominally safe seat". I suspect it is talking about Tatton. It would be a count against a new system if any candidate, by gaining party machine endorsement for being at the head of a list, were to achieve a position of effective immunity from the preference of the electorate. This is the essence of the case for open as opposed to closed lists for Top-up members". It is also the essence of the case for the open as opposed to the closed list in the regional list system proposed for Europe.

In paragraph 139, the report states: Nevertheless it remains essential that the elector should have two rights; first, to bolt the party ticket completely with his or her second vote, in other words to vote for a candidate of one party for the constituency and then to cast his or her vote in a different direction for the Top-up representative or representatives". This is particularly applicable to the system proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and also used for the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly. Without this right"— the right to vote differently— the new system would not fulfil the objective of freeing the voter from the prison of having to suffer an unwanted candidate for the constituency in order to get a desired government. Second, however, it is equally desirable"— and this is the real point— that the voter should be able to discriminate between the candidate put forward for the list by the party for which he or she wishes to cast the second vote. Only if this is so does the Commission feel that it will have sufficiently discharged its third requirement of providing for an extension of voters' choice".

There is no voters' choice beyond choosing the party in the system proposed for the European parliament. We should take this opportunity of enlarging that voters' choice and moving to the open list. In the light of the Jenkins Commission report, which has come to hand since the 27th October, I invite your Lordships to invite the other place to think again. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

3.15 p.m.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he tell us whether it is the view of the official Opposition that they support the Jenkins Commission report?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, we have been over all the ground of PR before. I did not bother to say it, but the noble Lord knows that on each previous occasion I have made it perfectly clear that we prefer first-past-the-post.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, I have studied the debate in the House of Commons very carefully. I think we at least owe that to our colleagues in the Commons, who have unhappily disagreed with our amendments. I have studied very carefully what the Home Secretary had to say to see whether I could discern there an additional reason or argument which we have not previously met and which might justify us changing our minds. I genuinely regret to say that I could find no such new argument of the case.

Self-evidently, it is surely better to have an open system and not to give so much extra power to the party managers. It is no longer the electors choosing their MP or MEP; it is a selectorate of a small, anonymous group of party officials; a selectorate which decides who are to be the MEPs of the future. It really is not good enough. It does not conform to the standards of democracy which we expect from the British parliament.

We have discussed the Finnish system before. I looked particularly again at that. It is very difficult, quite frankly, to find any reason at all why the electorate should not be given a list of candidates and be entirely free to choose from it. There is no disadvantage to that system, although there is one possible anomaly.

Let us imagine a seven member regional list and a situation in which the fourth successful candidate has slightly fewer votes than the fourth unsuccessful candidate in the party which has been allocated one seat fewer because of the proportional system. It is difficult to express this situation as clearly as one would like, but it is just possible that because of the allocation under the proportional system a party's last successful member could have fewer votes than the last unsuccessful candidate in the party that had been allocated one seat fewer. However, if that is an anomaly, it is one that arises straight out of the proportional system. Anyone who approves of the regional system and of PR would not object to that. So no serious objection could possibly be sustained on the basis of a remotely possible anomaly.

There are two other considerations that have weighed heavily with me in deciding my continued resistance to what is being proposed. One is how this House voted last time. I asked the Library to look at the composition of the vote and, being a good party man, I looked carefully to see whether the majority was not composed of perhaps ultra-critical Conservative Peers. I was reassured on that point because the analysis showed clearly that the whole of the majority—the extra 25 votes in favour of the amendment in the 165 to 140 result—was accounted for by Cross-Bench Peers. The Cross-Benchers voted overwhelmingly in favour of the rejection of the Government's proposal. That is important because, while I hope and believe that noble Lords who are members of the two main political parties are able on many occasions to consider matters dispassionately, Cross-Benchers have a special role in this respect. They are above suspicion. If the Cross-Benchers had not voted, the Government would have got their way. But they voted and the Government did not get their way.

I have a third and final point. Article 190 of the Treaty of Rome calls for elections to the European Parliament by a uniform procedure. That uniform procedure has not been put into place, largely, I suspect, because the British system has been, as it were, so distant from the practices of our Continental neighbours. If we were to go forward now with a list system of this kind I am quite sure that there would be an amendment to the treaty introducing and enacting a uniform procedure. Why does that matter? It matters because it blocks off any possibility that, if experience shows this system to be a real disaster, we could change it. We could not. We could change it only by a unanimous vote in the Council of Ministers. That is not on, and we know it.

Therefore, for those three reasons, I strongly urge the House, despite the difficulties of the Upper House having to, as it were, impose itself upon the Commons, to vote against the change that has been proposed. We would still be doing our duty. We are well within our year. If the Commons cannot bring themselves to consider the matter yet again, with the additional material supplied by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, which was quoted to us, we will probably have to accept the inevitable. But I hope that they will consider the matter again and I shall certainly therefore vote against the change that has been proposed.

Lord Carter

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I think it is important to correct him on one fact. The Commons will not get the chance to think again. They will either have to produce an amendment in lieu or we lose the Bill.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shore, for his indulgence. Further to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, I hope the House has it clearly in mind that it would be open to another place to amend our amendment. Therefore, this need not necessarily be the end of the matter.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am awfully sorry but I think we have to get this absolutely correct. The Commons have to amend the amendment if we send it back. If they insist on it again, we lose the Bill. I was just correcting what my noble friend said. He said that the Commons had the chance to think again and to insist on it again. They cannot insist on it again. They have to produce an amendment in lieu.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, when this matter came before your Lordships' House before, I voted in favour of the open list system. I voted in favour of this amendment. I did so against the three-line Whip of my party but I did so in the knowledge that I was voting in the way that I had urged everyone else to vote and to argue since I joined my party in 1949 and the way that my party thinks the thing should be. The Commons have sent this back to us again. We sent it to them with the request that they think again. One might charitably suggest that they have possibly thought again, although there is not much sign of it. They have sent it back to us. At this moment I think we have reached a stage when if we want the Bill to go forward, as I do—and as I think most of your Lordships do—we have to swallow our pride and accept the situation. I am therefore going to change my vote. However, I am not going to do it without a protest.

The protest is not for once in my life that I cast any aspersions on the motives of the Conservative Party, as I know some of my colleagues do. I do not know what its motives are and I am prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt. I protest extremely strongly about the way the Government have behaved. The Labour Party regards itself as New Labour and regards itself as having shed the bad traditions of the past. What it is putting forward now—party before people—is the old, bad tradition, the Stalinist tradition, if you like, of Islington, Lambeth and the great Labour councils of the northern cities. It should be absolutely ashamed of itself. It is not New Labour at all. It is the worst of old Labour. The only redeeming feature seems to be that some people, including the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and Ken Coates, the Member of the European Parliament, recognise the wrongness of what the Government are doing. With great regret therefore I shall vote against this amendment in the hope that the Labour Party and the Government will never go along this line again.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, one is often surprised, but never for long, at the capacity of Liberal Democrats to turn somersaults in your Lordships' House. This example will, I believe, go down as one of the most striking. Coming as one does from the groves of Academe, one is also impressed by the extraordinary political innocence of this House including members of my own party. They still appear to cherish the belief that the present Government are interested in the promotion of democracy in the sense that the voters should have some say in who represents them. We are discussing one example of their failure in this respect. However, since we have discussed it we have seen another. Here is Her Majesty's Government devoting enormous energy to parachuting into South Wales a candidate for the leadership of the Welsh assembly who clearly is not the first choice—or even a choice—of most active members of the Labour Party in Wales. One comes to a point where one wonders whether there is any need for elected institutions at all. Could not this country's policies and the people who carry them out be decided quite rapidly by Mr. Alastair Campbell or Mr. Mulgan, neither of whom has ever been elected to anything so far as I am aware? Why do we pretend that we live in a democracy when we have a government who repudiate the very idea of it?

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, the arguments for proportional representation in elections to the European Parliament are overwhelming. We believe that a delegation to the European Parliament from any country which is a member of the European Union should reflect the broad balance of the political views of the voters in that country. A first-past-the-post system totally fails to do that. Labour is now grossly over-represented in the Parliament at Strasbourg, and the Conservatives were equally grossly over-represented in some earlier elections. Our supporters have been consistently under-represented, as were those who voted for the Green Party in 1989. We therefore strongly support proportional representation for the European Parliament.

The question is: what kind of proportional representation? As we have always made clear, we prefer the single transferable vote to any form of list system. STV happens in Northern Ireland without any obvious difficulties or problems. Within the list system we prefer open to closed lists. My noble friend Lord Russell made a powerful speech at Third Reading of this Bill in support of open lists even in defiance of his party's Whip. My noble friend is not able to be here today. I am glad to be able to reassure the House that the rumours that he is bound, gagged and locked into a cupboard in the Liberal Democrat Whips' Office are untrue.

But no voting system is perfect and there are drawbacks as well as advantages in open lists as compared with closed ones. This is particularly true of the Finnish system proposed by the amendments we are debating today. The Finnish system does not allow voters to select a party list in preference to individual candidates as many no doubt would wish to do. One sees that happening in the US where many people choose to vote for the Democrat or Republican list as opposed to an individual candidate for the various offices. Indeed, the opportunity to vote for a party list as opposed to individual candidates was recommended by the Jenkins Commission. Therefore, the system proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is not that which has been recommended by the Jenkins Commission.

I shall not go into the merits of the different list systems because that is not the real issue today. I believe that I speak for almost all Members of my party both in your Lordships' House and in the other place in saying that the crucial issue is that the next European elections should be conducted under proportional representation. That is why my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley has very frankly explained to noble Lords that despite his very strong preference for the open list system he proposes to vote with the Government.

Compared with the importance of deciding that the next election should be conducted by proportional representation, the question of whether there should be open or closed lists, however important, is still an issue of secondary significance. It has already been fully argued. I remind noble Lords that on 24th June the Liberal Democrats proposed and voted for an amendment to substitute open for closed lists. On that occasion the Conservative Front Bench did not support us, although a number of individual Conservative Peers did.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord does not want to mislead the House. On that occasion the Motion was for a variation of the open list system called the Belgian list system which is quite different from a properly open list system.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, of course it is a different system but it is one that in many ways is preferable because it provides the opportunity, as the Jenkins Commission recommended, for a voter who prefers to do so to vote for the party list. I suspect that a substantial majority of voters would wish to do that. As a result, although a number of individual Conservative Peers voted with us, the amendment was lost by 16 votes.

Following that vote we on these Benches reluctantly accepted the Government's decision to go for a closed list system. We therefore supported the Government in voting against these amendments both at Third Reading in your Lordships' House and in the debate on the Lords amendments in another place. But the issue in the debate today is not only about the comparative methods of voting or proportional representation itself; it is also about our constitution. The Conservative Party won quite properly a tactical victory at Third Reading. But what is it playing at by pursuing it? There are two possibilities. One is that the leadership of the Conservative Party intends to block the Bill if the Government do not give way. The second possibility is that the Front Bench is bluffing and will ultimately give way. If the first is the intention, the consequences of deadlock over the Bill will be chaos. The Parliament Act procedure could not operate in time for the 1999 European elections. We would have to go back, a mere seven months before those elections, to the old constituencies and first-past-the-post.

To frustrate the Bill would, frankly, cause a constitutional crisis. It is clear that if the Conservatives carry the Division today they will do so only by relying on the votes of hereditary Peers. To use hereditary Peers to block a government measure would be close to an abuse of the constitution. I do not believe that the public would stand for it. There are occasions when your Lordships' House should stand up to the Government. We did so in this House on the issue of fourth year tuition fees at Scottish universities in July. That was an issue where noble Lords on all sides of the House felt that there was a real and serious injustice being done to a section of the student population. The amendment was carried by a large majority and would have been passed even without the support of the hereditary Peers. An eventual compromise was reached. But the situation on this Bill is entirely different from that on the Teaching and Higher Education Bill.

It is plain that the Conservative Party does not care a fig for open lists. The motive for moving the amendment on Third Reading and insisting on it today is not to improve the Bill but to embarrass the Government. The Jenkins Report is just an excuse. Up to a point, that is a legitimate part of the political process. From time to time, we ourselves have sought to embarrass both the present Government and their predecessors. But a House to which none of us has been elected and in which many have inherited their seats cannot carry that game too far.

If the Conservative Party is serious in insisting on these amendments they risk involving what would likely be the most serious constitutional crises for decades. If they are bluffing they are wasting our time by raising once again an issue which has already been adequately debated.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who spoke from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, informed the House that the single transferable vote, was the preferred and long held option of his party. I remind the House that in Committee the Liberal Democrats were given the opportunity to vote for the single transferable vote, but voted against it.

The noble Lord also informed the House that the Liberal Democrats prefer an open list system to a closed list system. Again, they were given the opportunity to vote for an open list system on Third Reading, but voted against it.

The moral is clear. The Liberal Democrats, for all the high flown phrases they have uttered over the years about their principles, are more interested in gaining seats. I have no quarrel with that. It becomes just a bit rich when we in other parties who are often accused of being grubby politicians discover that those who claim to have wonderful principles are similarly grubby.

It is not my intention to delay the House for long. I do not intend to go over any of the systems which are possible and probable. We have been through them during the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading. The Commons' reason for disagreeing with the amendment is that it would result in an undesirable voting system. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, pointed out the irony in that. Of course, there is some truth in the Government's reason considering that we have at stake 11 seats in the south of England, 10 seats in Greater London and 10 seats in the north west. The result would be a wieldy list, as the Minister has explained during our debates.

The difficulty is that the open list which this House has proposed is far superior to the awful closed list, centrally selected list, which the Government are offering to Parliament and to the country.

I read with great interest the debates in another place on 27th October when they considered our amendment. I have known the Home Secretary for many years. I have worked with him closely and served for three years on the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. I have the greatest respect for him, for many of the pamphlets that he has written and for his work as Home Secretary. However, I am sure that my right honourable friend will not be too upset if I say that his speech of 27th October was not one of his most profound.

Indeed, one could be forgiven if, on reading the speech, one thought one detected frivolity. He made one or two awful jokes. At col. 164 of the Official Report, Commons, he informed the House that he understood that "d'Hondt" meant "dog" in Flemish and stated that we were being dogged by the d'Hondt divisors. That was one of the better jokes that he cracked on that occasion!

It is obvious from the interventions from the Labour Benches that day that there was a considerable degree of disquiet and hostility among Labour Members about the Government's proposal. Apart from Home Office Ministers, not a single Labour MP or Member of this House has spoken in favour of the Government's proposals. Indeed, every Labour MP who has spoken to me on the subject has made it clear that they are opposed not only to the closed list but to the Labour Party's method of selecting the candidates.

I wish to make it clear that I do not intend to pursue that issue at this stage because this House can do nothing about the Labour Party's method of selecting its candidates. However, I must say that I thought at times the Home Secretary was a little cynical about the measures he was proposing. I doubt whether his heart was entirely in it. In an amazing reply to an intervention at col. 172, he stated: With an open list, it would be possible for someone to be elected who did not have the unanimous support of the politburo of the Conservative party, the Labour party or the Liberal Democrat party".—[Official Report, Commons, 27/10/98; col. 172.] His choice of the word "politburo" was significant on that occasion. I believe that it should be taken as a warning to all Members of the Labour Party that the principle of one member one vote for the selection of candidates, for which we struggled for many years, may now be under threat from people within the party who perhaps are not satisfied with the quality of candidates which one member one vote tends to produce. The party apparatchiks are anxious to control the system. They are anxious to choose the candidates and ensure that only those who reflect the official line at all times will be elected.

At Third Reading, when I voted for the amendment, I asked rhetorically whether this is a revising Chamber. I went on to say: An argument is being presented in relation to one aspect of the Bill. It is not an instruction to the House of Commons that it has to accept anything from the House of Lords; it is an opportunity for it to have second thoughts about this particular aspect".—[Official Report, 20/10/98; col. 1322.] The Commons has considered the matter again—or at least the Home Secretary has considered the matter again—and has declined to accept the amendment. That is their absolute right. As someone who served for almost 24 years in the other place, in no circumstances shall I challenge the Commons' right in that respect. I fear for the future and will continue to fight for one member one vote within my party. I will not tonight vote for the Opposition amendment; I shall respect the Commons' decision. However, I must make it clear that I will not, indeed I could not, vote in the Government Lobby on this occasion.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I shall be very brief. I am a Life Peer not a hereditary Peer. My last experience of the closed vote was in the Soviet Union. There it worked admirably, in favour of the Politburo's wishes, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said. It usually had a turn out of 101 or 102 per cent. I shall be interested to see whether that is the result in this case.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, before making my few remarks I wish to point out that I have been chosen as number one in my party's list in the north-west. I am also a hereditary Peer. I wish to reiterate some remarks that I made on a previous occasion during the passage of the Bill and tell your Lordships that I have received conflicting advice as to whether I am allowed to vote. The advice I have received unequivocally from the registrar is that I am allowed to vote.

It seems to me that the issue is simple. The closed list is more illiberal than the open list. In changing the electoral system, we should move towards a liberal system rather than an illiberal system. It is right and proper for the electorate to decide, as much as it can decide in those circumstances, to vote against people like me whom the party has put at the top of the list. For that reason, it is right and proper that we should press on and say that we still feel that an open rather than a closed list system is in the best interests of the people of this country.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I shall be brief. In a sense, I should like to reply to the wholly remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, which performed the very type of somersault anticipated by my noble friend Lord Beloff.

To suggest that open and closed lists are matters of subsidiary importance when in fact they are the most important matters in this debate is a most curious contention. Secondly, to suggest that if we insist, this Bill will frustrate the will of government and in some way it must inevitably be lost is not so. As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has explained already, if this goes to another place, as I understand the procedure it is open to another place to send back a reasoned amendment.

Apparently the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has not appreciated that we have a certain function to perform; that is, to provide some measure of constitutional protection and safeguard, in this case, for the MEP electorate in Great Britain. The authority for that function, if the noble Lord cares to look it up, is to be found in paragraph 12 of the report of the review committee chaired by Lord Home of the Hirsel on the future of the House of Lords.

We are here to perform a function. I would have suggested to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that we are here to perform it beyond the confines of strict political allegiance. We are here to perform it according to our conscience. It is the people's choice against a party choice. It is as simple as that. It would be a shame if your Lordships, in those circumstances, did not treat it as a question of principle and insist upon this amendment.

We all know about the Burghers of Calais with the rope in the hand ready for the neck. As constituted, your Lordships' House has a duty to perform. If there is a Division, I shall go into the Lobby and insist.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, on Third Reading I voted for this group of amendments. I am pleasantly surprised that the Opposition are doing their duty today by seeking to insist on their amendment because it is perfectly in order and, indeed, highly desirable that they should do so. If we vote on this matter, unlike my noble friend Lord Evans, I shall vote to insist on the amendment. I shall be completely and utterly consistent because I believe that this House not only has the right, but the duty to put right legislation which it believes is wrong.

The legislation which was brought forward by new Labour and the new Labour Government—my own Government—was fundamentally flawed and completely wrong. Had it been brought forward by a Conservative government, I feel absolutely sure that it would have been resisted right up to the hilt by my Front Bench and by the Labour Party throughout.

What we do in opposition, we should do in government. That means that the Labour Government should not have thought of bringing forward such a system as this because it is undemocratic and breaks the link between the electors and the elected. That is fundamental to democracy and fundamental to the democracy of this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said that this is not a matter of pride. Of course it is not a matter of pride. It is a constitutional matter. I am not proud that I shall vote against my own Government but I believe that I have a duty to do so because they are doing something wrong.

I should say also to noble Lords that this matter is just as important as, if not more important than, some of the issues on which your Lordships' House has insisted upon its amendments; for example, in the matter of education, which I supported. I remind noble Lords that the last time a constitutional issue like this was brought forward was in relation to the GLC Bill when the then Tory government sought to dismiss the GLC before it had run its course. This House then said that that was unconstitutional and was against the best interests of good government in this country. On that issue, the House of Lords insisted on its amendment; it was right to do so; and I believe that it would be right to do so again today. Because of that, although it will be a matter of great regret to me, I shall vote in the Opposition Lobby.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I should like to say a brief word as an hereditary Peer, of whom there are many present. I believe that everybody in this Chamber—life Peers, hereditary Peers, Bishops and Liberal Democrats—should vote according to their conscience. We are all here to try to do our duty to our Queen, to our country and our people. As long as we are here, we should continue to do so.

I have been very much convinced by what the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and my noble friend Lord Mackay have said. I also believe that that is what we should do. I voted yesterday with the Government because I believed that they were right. Today, I shall vote against them.

4 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, O Absalom, O Absalom, my son, how are the mighty fallen! The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, put forward as his central platform that it is the people's choice, not the party's choice. That would not by any chance have been the same noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who spoke so elegantly—I use his word—and powerfully, although not persuasively, in favour of your Lordships' present arrangements.

The words have been used, "a closed, centrally-selected list". Some of your Lordships have experience of another place. All were then elected by the grateful multitudes on a closed, centrally-selected list.

Noble Lords


Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I hear the words "no" and "nonsense". If I have to explain that we do not have a primary system of election for the Commons in this country, I am rather labouring in vain.

When I hear the words "democratic accountability" and "the people's choice, not the party's choice" in your Lordships' House, I sympathise with the late Marshal Goering who, when he heard the word "culture", felt tempted to reach for his revolver.

The fact is that we are offering a proportional system for the European elections, as we offered it in the context of the Welsh assembly and Scottish parliament elections, on the basis that the outcome will be fairer to smaller parties. That has been done quite deliberately in the context of Wales. The Conservative Party had 20 per cent. of the vote in the general election with no seats. Under the proportional system, which your Lordships have accepted and adopted for the Welsh assembly, 20 per cent. of the votes will produce 20 per cent. successful candidates in Wales. Is the Welsh system—I cannot quite remember at present—an open or closed system? As noble Lords have accepted, it is a closed system. So if I hear again the word "consistency", I sometimes raise a question in my own mind.

It is important for me to put the matter as neutrally as I can. What my noble friend Lord Carter said by way of observation about possible outcomes is correct. There is no prospect of a Commons insisting on this amendment. We are therefore coming to a crunch. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is right to that extent; and it is as well, I think—I say this respectfully—that we recognise that.

It is not right to say that this would be an unusual system. If we adopt the system the Government have proposed, which has been discussed at length on three earlier occasions, 70 per cent. of our colleagues in Europe will vote on the same system. It is wrong of course to choose selective quotations from the report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. I see the noble Lord in his place. Perhaps I may look at paragraph 95; I should not wish the quotation to be uniquely selective. The noble Lord speaks of the kind of breakfast menu one can get in certain parts of the United States. By the time the waiter has come to the end of the list, one has forgotten what was on the menu. The noble Lord states: In voting rather than in breakfast terms exasperation may discourage going to the polls at all and randomness lead to the casting of perverse or at least meaningless votes. Some people want to be able to choose between candidates of the same party, but many are interested only in voting for parties, and would not appreciate being forced into choosing between candidates of the same party about each of whom they know little". It is trite but nevertheless true and worth recalling that the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, were devoted to the Westminster system of voting, which is utterly and completely different in concept, construction and outcome from the systems that we are presently discussing. The constituencies will be very large. This amendment will not alter that. In the south-eastern region there may be as many as 40 or 50 candidates. This amendment will not alter that. It is parties in a parliamentary democracy, or in any democratic context, which bring forward candidates; and the parties want to bring forward their candidates as they wish to bring forward their slate of policies at Blackpool. The voter then has the opportunity for decision in exactly the same way as he or she has the opportunity for decision now: Do you wish the candidate; and do you wish the slate of policies? You come to your own conclusions.

It is a fact—I do not apologise for repeating it—that women and ethnic minorities are significantly disadvantaged in all areas of our national life, not least in parliamentary representation. It is a legitimate desire, I respectfully contend to your Lordships, for a party to want to put women, or people from ethnic minorities, at the top of the list: to look for people with particular expertise and offer them—I repeat the phrase "offer them"—to the voters.

The debate has ranged quite far. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff complained about people not being elected and referred to Mr. Alun Michael, an MP for Cardiff West and a Welsh speaker, and who has spent much of his political life pressing the case for Welsh devolution. I do not require any lessons on that.

We have discussed this matter. People speak about duty, and principles. Different people have different views, quite reasonably and legitimately in a diverse society, about where duty lies. People also have views which differ about the value of a democratically elected assembly as opposed to one which is not elected by anyone.

The last word I offer is this. We asked the Commons to think again. Chaos will result if this Bill is lost. I do not put that by way of exaggeration, but by way of quotation. Mr. Robert Syms, a Member of the Conservative Party in another place said that we are coming to the end of a Session: to implement change at this stage would cause chaos and difficulty. Another place considered this matter. Whatever the intellectual, political or thematic content of their discussions is not a matter for me to comment on; others have been rather disparaging. What I say is that they were elected and we were not. When the Commons had considered these matters, it came to this conclusion after a full debate. It voted to overturn your Lordships' views by 338 to 131—an elected majority of 207.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I think that my memory does not deceive me when I say that the Government Front Bench found no supporting speaker from behind it, and had to rely—as is sometimes the case—on support from the Liberal Democrats.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, used most of the arguments he has used previously. I believed that I had countered his argument about party advantage by suggesting that even the open list system gives the party, I should have thought, sufficient advantage, even for the noble Lord. But I think his tactic about the 20 per cent. Conservative vote in Wales is a total diversion. The Welsh Conservative Party will gain the same number of seats whether it is the open or closed list. The point at issue will be whether the Welsh Conservative Party or the Conservative electorate in Wales determines who is returned from the list. That is the important point.

As regards the argument that the majority of our friends in Europe use the closed list, that may be so in terms of the number of electorate. But it is a more finely balanced issue as regards the number of countries. The Germans, the Spanish, the French, the Greeks and the Portuguese have a closed list, but Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Austria and Ireland have different systems. However, they are all systems in which the order of the names may be changed by casting personal votes.

The noble Lord, Lord Shore, encapsulated the whole issue in a phrase which I regretted that I had not thought of myself: not the electorate, but the "selectorate". That is exactly what the closed list does. It is a "selectorate". had not intended to make any reference to the speeches in another place, in part out of respect for the Home Secretary, but the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, has tempted me. Not only did I read the Home Secretary's speech, but I listened to it. He was more intent on ridiculing the PR system than in defending the closed list against the open list system. However, perhaps I may say this to the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont and Lord Goodhart. I have always made it clear that I stand four square for first-past-the-post. I have never disguised that fact. So I take badly from them the fact that they think I am doing something underhand. I have always made the position clear. However, if we are to move to a PR system—and I made clear in my original remarks that I accepted that the argument was over in that regard so far as concerns Europe—then at least we should obey the two objectives of PR which I outlined: first, proportionality; and, secondly, voter choice.

I conclude by reference to my noble friend Lord Inglewood. My noble friend has more to gain from a continuation of the closed list than any Member of your Lordships' House. He is on the closed list in the number one position in an area where the Conservative Party is guaranteed to gain three seats. My noble friend could quite simply sit back—he will not do so because he is not like that—and wait for the seat to be delivered. He does not have to do a hand's turn. I do not think it is a wise system, and nor does my noble friend. He believes the Conservative electorate in his region ought to have some say as to which of the three or four Conservative Members are returned.

My last point concerns the position between your Lordships' House and the House of Commons. As I understand it, if we send this Bill back the other place will be able to amend my amendment and return the Bill to us for our further consideration. So the cataclysmic end is not inevitable. The Government will have the option of amending. They will have another option also. They will have the option of accepting the open list and of changing next year's European elections from being a vote for one of the party's choice to a vote for one of the people's choice.

We have listened to the debate. I am going to insist and ask for your Lordships' opinion.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his usual courtesy. It is theoretically possible that an amendment might be produced. But, given the shade of difference between these two positions, what conceivable workable amendment could be produced?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, for a fee and in private I might be prepared to advise the Government. But if the Government do not have enough ingenuity to come up with an amendment, I despair for them. If they do not have enough ingenuity, they can always fall back on accepting the open list system.

4.11 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 221; Not-Contents, 145.

Division No. 1
Aberdare, L. Cadman, L.
Ailsa, M. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Aldington, L. Carnarvon, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Carr of Hadley, L.
Alexander of Weedon, L. Carrick, E.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Chadlington, L.
Ampthill, L. Charteris of Amisfield, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Chesham, L.
Annaly, L. Clanwilliam, E.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Clarke of Kempston, L.
Arran, E. Clifford of Chudleigh, L.
Ashbourne, L. Cockfield. L.
Astor of Hever, L. Coleridge. L.
Attlee, E. Cope of Berkeley, L.
Baker of Dorking, L. Craig of Radley, L.
Balfour, E. Craigavon, V.
Banbury of Southam, L. Cranborne, V.
Barber of Tewkesbury, L. Crickhowell, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Cross, V.
Bell, L. Cuckney, L.
Beloff, L. Cumberlege, B.
Belstead, L. Darcy de Knayth, B.
Berners, B. Dartmouth, E.
Bethell, L. Davidson, V.
Biddulph, L. De Freyne, L.
Biffen, L. Denbigh, E.
Birdwood, L. Denham, L.
Blatch, B. Denton of Wakefield, B.
Boardman, L. Dixon-Smith, L.
Bowness, L. Downshire, M.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Dundee, E.
Braine of Wheatley, L. Ellenborough, L.
Brentford, V. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Bridges, L. Elton, L.
Brigstocke, B. Exmouth, V.
Bristol, Bp. Feldman, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Forbes, L.
Bruntisfield, L. Gage, V.
Burns, L. Gainford, L.
Buscombe, B. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Butterworth, L. Geddes, L.
Byford, B. [Teller.] Gibson, L.
Byron, L. Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.
Gisborough, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Gladwyn, L. Moyne, L.
Glenarthur, L. Munster, E.
Glentoran, L. Newall, L.
Hambro, L. Newton of Braintree, L.
Hanningfield, L. Norrie, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Northbourne, L.
Harmsworth, L. Northesk, E.
Harris of Peckham, L. Norton, L.
Harrowby, E. Norton of Louth, L.
Hayhoe, L. Nunburnholme, L.
Hayter, L. O'Cathain, B.
Henley, L. Onslow of Woking, L.
Holderness, L. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
HolmPatrick, L. Oxfuird, V.
Hood, V. Palmer, L.
Hooper, B. Palumbo, L.
Hothfield, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Howe, E. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Howe of Aberavon, L. Pender, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Ilchester, E. Phillimore, L.
Inglewood, L. Pike, B.
Iveagh, E. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Jeger, B. Platt of Writtle, B.
Jellicoe, E. Rankeillour, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Jopling, L. Reay, L.
Kelvedon, L. Rees, L.
Keyes, L. Renton, L.
Kimball, L. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Kingsland, L. Rotherwick, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Rowallan, L.
Kinnoull, E. Saatchi, L.
Kintore, E. St Davids, V.
Kitchener, E. Sandwich, E.
Knight of Collingtree, B. Savile, L.
Knollys, V. Seccombe, B.
Laing of Dunphail, L. Selborne, E.
Lamont of Lerwick, L. Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Lauderdale, E. Sempill, L.
Shannon, E.
Lawrence, L. Sharples, B.
Layton, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Limerick, E. Shore of Stepney, L.
Liverpool, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E. Slim, V.
Long, V. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Lucas, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Luke, L. Strange, B.
Lyell, L. Strathcarron, L.
McConnell, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Sudeley, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L. Swinfen, L.
Merrivale, L. Teviot, L.
Mersey, V. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Middleton, L. Thurlow, L.
Miller of Hendon, B. Trefgarne, L.
Molyneaux of Killead, L. Trenchard, V.
Monk Bretton, L. Trumpington, B.
Monson, L. Vivian, L.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L. Waddington, L.
Monteagle of Brandon, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Warnock, B.
Moran, L. Wilcox, B.
Mountevans, L. Wynford, L.
Acton, L. Amos, B.
Addington, L. Annan, L.
Ahmed, L. Archer of Sandwell, L.
Alli, L. Ashley of Stoke, L.
Avebury, L. Kirkwood, L.
Bach, L. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Barnett, L. Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Lockwood, B.
Bath, M. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Longford, E.
Berkeley, L. Ludford, B.
Blackstone, B. Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
Borrie, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Bragg, L. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Brookman, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. McNair, L.
Burlison, L. Maddock, B.
Calverley, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Christopher, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Molloy, L.
Clement-Jones, L. Monkswell, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Montague of Oxford, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
David, B. Morris of Manchester, L.
Davies, L. Newby, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Nicol, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Northfield, L.
Desai, L. Ogmore, L.
Dholakia, L. Parry, L.
Donoughue, L. Paul, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Perry of Walton, L.
Dubs, L. Peston, L.
Evans of Watford, L. Pitkeathley, B.
Ezra, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Puttnam, L.
Falkland, V. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Razzall, L.
Fitt, L. Redesdale, L.
Gallacher, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Geraint, L. Richard, L.
Gilbert, L. Rochester, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Goodhart, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Goudie, B. Sawyer, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Serota, B.
Grantchester, L. Sewel, L.
Grenfell, L. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Grey, E. Shepherd, L.
Hacking, L. Simon, V.
Hampton, L. Simon of Highbury, L.
Hamwee, B. Strabolgi, L.
Hardie, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Hardy of Wath, L. Taverne, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Harris of Haringey, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Haskel, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Hayman, B. Thornton, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Thurso, V.
Hollick, L. Tordoff, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Hooson, L. Uddin, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Varley, L.
Hoyle, L. Warner, L.
Hughes, L. Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Whitty, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Wigoder, L.
Jacobs, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Janner of Braunstone, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.] Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Winston, L.
Judd, L. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.


4.23 p.m.

2 Clause 1, page 2, line 2, at end insert— ("(2A) Each candidate shall declare that he is either—

  1. (a) the candidate of a party (and shall name that party); or
  2. (b) an independent candidate.
(2B) There shall be added together the number of votes given for each party's candidates in each electoral region. (2C) The number arrived at under subsection (2B) shall be the number of votes for the party for the purposes of this Act.").

The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason—

2A Because it would result in a voting system which is undesirable.