HL Deb 18 November 1998 vol 594 cc1341-62

7.29 p.m.

Returned from the Commons with their disagreement to the Lords amendments insisted on, with their amendment in lieu not insisted on but with a further amendment proposed in lieu thereof.

Lord Carter

My Lords, this is more fun than farming at the moment! I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure for 15 minutes until 7.45 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.29 to 7.45 p.m.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, on this occasion I beg to move that the Commons amendment be considered forthwith.

Moved, That the Commons amendment be considered forthwith.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


[The page and line refer to HL Bill 88 as first printed for the Lords]


Clause 1, page 2, line 1, leave out ("a registered party, or").

2 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.").

3 Page 2, line 15, at end insert— ("(5A) After the allocation of seats to the parties, the order of candidates in each list shall be such that the candidates are ranked in terms of the votes each received, with the candidate with the highest number of votes appearing first. (5B) If two or more candidates have the same number of votes, their order on the list shall be determined by lot.").

4 Page 2, line 18, at end insert (", following the rearrangement required under subsections (5A) and (5B)").


4C After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—


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

  1. (a) to review, in accordance with subsection (2), the operation of the system of election provided for by section 3 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 as substituted by section 1 of this Act, and
  2. (b) to make a report to the Secretary of State within six months from the day of appointment.

(2) The review shall consider, in particular, how the ability of electors to vote for particular persons on a party's list of candidates might affect the results of an election.

(3) The Secretary of State shall carry out his duty under subsection (1) within one month from the date of the first general election to the European Parliament which takes place after the coming into force of section 1.

(4) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of any report received under subsection (1)(b) before each House of Parliament.").


The Commons insist on their disagreement to Lords Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, do not insist on their Amendment No. 4C in lieu thereof to which the Lords have disagreed, but propose the following amendment in lieu of the Lords amendments—

4L After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—


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

  1. (a) to review, in accordance with subsection (2), the operation of the system of election provided for by section 3 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 as substituted by section 1 of this Act, and
  2. (b) to make a report to the Secretary of State within six months from the day of appointment.

(2) The review shall consider, in particular, how the ability of electors to vote for particular persons on a party's list of candidates might affect the results of an election.

(3) The Secretary of State shall carry out his duty under subsection (1) within one month from the date of the first general election to the European Parliament which takes place after the coming into force of section 1.

(4) Before making an appointment under subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall consult such persons appearing to him to be interested as he thinks appropriate.

(5) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of any report received under subsection (1)(b) before each House of Parliament.").

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do insist on their Amendments Nos. 1 to 4 to which the Commons have disagreed and do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 4L in lieu thereof.

I feel a little bit like the Home Secretary, who said in the other place a few hours ago "I find myself back at the Dispatch Box on this issue". He made exactly the type of speech that we have come to expect—full of intervention in debate and full of humour—which left me, as always, with the distinct impression that his heart was not really in it and that if he never heard about proportional representation again, it would be too soon. He said that his major contribution was to make Victor d'Hondt famous. I think I can claim to have shared in that. Like him, I hope that this will help people with their Trivial Pursuits at Christmas. That is the one thing that I was left with from the Home Secretary's contribution.

Looking at the amendment now sent to us from the other place, it hardly moves us on a millimetre. Of course I welcome the review; I asked for it earlier in the Bill. I was dismissed out of hand. What has changed? A review does not address the issue before us. Do we use a closed list or an open list for PR in the European elections? I have made the argument for an open list and few, if any, voices have been raised in support of the closed list, either in your Lordships' House or in the other place.

Today, a few more brave souls from the Labour Benches were pushed into service—by the Whips, I have no doubt—but a few more brave souls braved the Whips and expressed their opposition to the closed list. So while the number of those who voice their approval of the closed list grows, it does not grow at half the pace of the number voicing their disapproval.

There are really no new arguments, but I have to look at the two or three that have been made. The first one—and we heard it very heavily down the corridor and in the briefing all day—is that hereditary Peers have no right to have an opinion on this. In the Navy I think they call it "Putting up a smokescreen". Many of your Lordships—hereditary Peers, life Peers and the great majority of the Cross-Benchers—having listened to the argument—have voted consistently in favour of the open list.

The other argument that is continuing to be put is about Northern Ireland. Yes, as I said last time—but obviously I am going to have to say it again so that the Government might perhaps listen—the closed list was used to deal with the exceptional circumstances in Northern Ireland. Is the Government saying that the same exceptional circumstances apply here? The body was a deliberative forum, set up to bring in as many parties as possible in order to have negotiations. Is that what the European Parliament is about?

Lastly, we have kept having John Major quoted back at us. But John Major made clear that the system was not ideal. As I pointed out to your Lordships a day or two ago, these were the words used by the current Prime Minister when he said on the 21st March 1996: As I am sure that the Prime Minister would agree, the solution on the election process is certainly not ideal".—[Official Report, Commons; 21/3/96; col. 499.] How then can it be ideal for Europe?

My noble friend Lord Bethell raised some points which were used in the debate in the other place earlier today. As I remember his speech, my noble friend did not approve of the closed list but he expressed some concern about the consequences of the open list. I accept, of course, that candidates in the same party will to an extent be competing against each other for the electors' attention and approval. But the d'Hondt formula means that they will also have to co-operate and increase the total vote. In that way, more of them will be elected. A balance will have to be achieved by the candidates. Dare I say that this is a problem for the parties and the candidates to resolve? It does not seem to be such an important point that the electors should be allowed no say at all over which individual on the party's list they would like to represent them in Brussels.

The other point of which we hear a good deal is about manifesto commitments. I have read out the Labour Party manifesto before on this issue. At the risk of appearing to be a devotee of Labour's manifesto, here it is again—

A noble Lord

All of it!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

No, my Lords, I do not think I will read out all of it. I think it might be too embarrassing for the Government if I read out all of it. One bit will do! It states: We have long supported a proportional voting system for election to the European Parliament". There is no mention of the system to be used. There is no mention of a closed list. Indeed, there is no mention of an open list. Therefore this Bill, if we amend it with the open list, honours in every possible way the commitment given by the Labour Party in its manifesto.

The Home Secretary this afternoon prayed in aid the grandfather of my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the Salisbury convention. Your Lordships are not breaching that convention. Noble Lords would be breaching it if they removed PR from the Bill. But noble Lords are not removing PR from the Bill; they are just saying, "Let's have an open list and not a closed list". So, in my view, the Labour Party's manifesto would be honoured just as well with my amendment as with the Government's original suggestion. Indeed, I suggest that it would be better honoured, because the open list system is a more honourable system than the closed list system.

If the Government are keen to obey their election commitment and, more importantly, to obey their pledge to the Liberal Democrat Party, they can just accept the amendment and have the open list. There is nothing wrong with it. In fact, it is in the tradition of the voting system of this country that one votes for party and for individual. I believe that your Lordships have been insisting, and I hope will continue to insist, on standing on a major constitutional principle about how our citizens actually vote. That was a point put in another place by Mr. Martin Bell, who actually knows a thing or two about individuals versus the party system. As I do not have the Hansard report, I have to hope that my memory and my writing were quick enough. He asked earlier today whether the British, as a free people, should have a right to be able to choose a candidate by name to represent them. That is a very valid point.

A closed list, however, could be more acceptable to us all if the actual choosing of the list was democratic. We and the Liberal Democrat Party, to be fair to it, have made an effort by opening up decisions to our party members; not, however, to those who vote for our party, so it is a fairly narrow "selectorate", even although we have widened it. The elector has no choice, but at least the party members have some choice. It might encourage more people to join parties. However, the problem is that the way the Government have approached the closed list shows us all how a party can deny all choice; deny choice to the people and even deny choice to its own party members.

In Wales, for example, the current MEP, David Morris, who received overwhelming support from his own constituents, has been replaced—rather, dropped down the list—by the parachuting in from the Millbank high command of Mr. Lyndon Harrison, who is an MEP over the Welsh border in Cheshire. The whole way in which the Labour Party behaves over selection brings the closed list into suspicion and disrepute. It is its obsession with control that will so damage the electoral system if we proceed with the closed list. In London it is to stop Ken Livingstone; in Wales it is to stop Rhodri Morgan; and in Scotland it is to stop Dennis Canavan. My concern is that if this were to be taken on board by other parties it would bring the whole electoral system into disrepute. The electors would find that they had no say at all on who represented them in Brussels. The people would have no choice. Only the party would have any choice at all.

Your Lordships are not alone when it comes to thinking, as we have done, that the open list is hugely superior to the closed list. In an amusing article in the Daily Express today, Mr. Andrew Marr said this: To our left, crusted hereditary Tory aristocratic relics, reeking of pipe-tobacco, brandy and Reaction. To the right"— do not laugh too soon, I say to the Government Back Benches— our sleek, modern People's Government, composed of smiling touchy-feely types who care—really care—what we think. The issue: Democracy!". He goes on to say: But here is something truly strange. This time it is the crusted reactionaries, not Labour, who are on the right side, defending democracy". The Daily Mail said: This clash between the peers and the self-proclaimed party of the people could not be more rich in political irony. For, even while their Lordships are being caricatured by Labour as dodos who have too long outlived extinction, it is they who are championing the true interests of a modern electorate by dramatising this governing party's most dictatorial tendency". Lastly, The Times, which heads its leader:

"LET THE PEOPLE CHOOSE The Government should abandon closed list elections". The leader goes on to say: The debate is not about the hereditary principle, as they suggest, but whether people's choice should be replaced by parties' choice"— I am deeply grateful to The Times' editorial for picking up the phrase I used first, but it is the truth— In this case, the unelected peers are protecting the power of the electorate". My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do insist on their Amendments Nos. 1 to 4 to which the Commons have disagreed and do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 4L in lieu thereof.—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, I have little to add to what has already been said. I am as happy as other noble Lords that this long and unnecessary debate—unnecessary in many different ways—is at last coming to an end. I have nothing at all to say additional to what has been said about the merits of the argument. It is self-evidently preferable to have an open system. Goodness me, it is part of the Liberal Democrat Party's official policy, yet it is constantly voting to vote it down. I know that there is great unhappiness in my own party about what is being proposed.

We heard some very impressive speeches yesterday. I refer in particular to the speech of my noble friend my former leader, whose words always reinforce my natural tendency towards conformity—when allied to the leader of the Labour Peers it is a formidable combination. When I listened to what he said I felt that he really did deserve a reply. I do not mean a reply in any hostile or personal sense but a reply on the very heart of the matter. He put it to me, and not just to me but to other former MPs, "What right have you to oppose the will of the House of Commons? Have you that right?" I thought about it a great deal overnight because it would not be proper, frankly, to do other than to give the closest attention to what so experienced and admirable a man as my former party leader had to say. I think I have the answer. If I did not think I had the answer, I would join my colleagues tonight. But I have an answer, and I shall give it, and I think the House will understand why I shall persist yet again in voting against what the Government are proposing.

The crucial question is: what right? The answer is straightforward. It is self-evident that we have not breached the Salisbury convention. There is a special obligation that when a particular proposal is written into a manifesto it shall be treated with great care and tenderness and accepted by the House. But that is not so here. It is the principle of proportional representation that is part of the manifesto, not the method—so much so that the Home Secretary himself was not able to make a recommendation on Second Reading because he wanted to examine the various possibilities.

That is not the main answer to the question. The main answer is that I have the right to oppose this because Parliament has given it to me. In the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 limited power is entrusted to the House of Lords. That power is to revise, amend and turn down particular proposals within the limit of those Acts. As noble Lords know better than I, the limit is a one-year period. That period will lapse very shortly. Thereafter, if the Commons persist in what I regard as folly it will have its way. But up to that moment we have the right to turn down proposals that we believe to be grievously mistaken. That is the answer to my noble friend. With great regret, I shall adhere to my original intention.

8 p.m.

Lord Garel-Jones

My Lords, when noble Lords debated this matter yesterday my noble friend Lord Tebbit spoke disparagingly of party apparatchiks. We live in a time when "outing" is all the rage, so perhaps noble Lords will not be too shocked if I confess to being an apparatchik. No doubt after such a heinous confession I shall receive letters of sympathy from many of your Lordships, perhaps even a written note from Mr. Jeremy Paxman.

When my noble friend Lord Tebbit held very high positions with verve and skill in my party I did not find him notably squeamish in availing himself of whatever skills those of my profession had to offer. I am content that my noble friends on the Front Bench have tweaked the Government on this issue and have won the argument. My noble friend Lord Mackay made a bravura speech yesterday and followed it with another this evening. My inclination is against PR. As to open or closed lists, while there are arguments on both sides I remain a first-past-the-post man. But I do not believe that PR with open or closed lists constitutes a crime against humanity or a mortal assault on the democratic process.

Today's debate is no longer about the narrow issue before us. I make three brief points. When I was in the other place I had a number of dealings with the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, who may be described as an arch apparatchik. The noble Lord does not enjoy the affection and esteem on those Benches that he deserves but among those of us who are apparatchiks he is an important figure. I see the noble Lord in his place. On one occasion the Government in which I had the privilege to serve under my noble friend Lady Thatcher had a Bill in progress through the House of Commons. We were in danger of losing that Bill because of the loquacity of a Labour Member. After a brief discussion with the noble Lord he went into the House of Commons and arranged for an intervention. When the Labour Member of Parliament took his place the following conversation took place. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks: "Shut up!" The Labour Member of Parliament: "But, Michael, it's a bad Bill". The noble Lord, Lord Cocks: "Of course it's a bad Bill. We have a Tory Government and all their Bills are bad. Shut up!".

Just so, my Lords. This is a bad measure. My Front Bench was right to raise it and I am pleased that it has won the argument. But the Government must have their business. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, I suggest to my noble friends that it is time to shut up.

Secondly, I am a new Member of your Lordships' House. I am proud to be here. In my short time here I have been amply reinforced in my view that a wise, responsible Second Chamber is an essential brick in our democratic edifice. The Government have plans as yet undefined to reform your Lordships' House. I have not yet despaired of the hope that my noble friend Lord Cranborne will be able to steer us through to a settlement that will provide Parliament with a revising Chamber that serves our country as well as your Lordships' House has and does. Denial of the Government's business today will damage that prospect and provide ammunition to those whose motives and intentions towards your Lordships' House are entirely partisan.

I ask myself: what are the motives of the Shadow Cabinet in inviting us to vote against the Government yet again? I hope that your Lordships will understand if I spare myself the embarrassment of speculating upon them. I believe that these matters are best discussed indoors. Suffice it to say that at this stage they can hardly be related to the relative merits of the issue that is before us. Even in the short term for us on this side of the House it is heads we lose; tails we do not win.

In conclusion, if the Government are defeated tonight I believe that it will be a defeat for your Lordships' House. It will also be a defeat for my party. Politics is about being grown up. Your Lordships' House is not a sixth-form debating chamber but a grown up, integral and influential part of the parliamentary process. Its place and high reputation are based not only on the high quality of debates in your Lordships' House but on the instinct that your Lordships have shown for knowing to what point the elected Chamber can be pushed. I respectfully submit to your Lordships that that point has been reached.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, I have not spoken before in this debate but I feel impelled to do so this evening. I am pleased to do so after the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones. I make much the same points. I shall be brief. I am passionately against the closed list system. I voted against it the first time around. I abstained on the second occasion because I hoped that the Government would think again. However, on subsequent occasions I have voted in the Government Lobby. As a former Speaker of the House of Commons I think it is wrong that this House should seek to frustrate the will of the elected House. We would have been wise to have accepted the offer of consultation for a different system of election after these European elections have taken place.

We were not greatly helped yesterday by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when he said that this was not in fact a Labour Bill but that it was "our" Bill. That did not help this House at all. Nevertheless, like the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, I was a Whip for some 12 years and I know something about parliamentary tactics; I can see a trap when it is being set for us. I believe that that is what has happened in these subsequent debates.

I still believe in the open list system and I hope that something may be done about it in the days to come. However, we should not forget that we are an unelected House. I believe that we would be very unwise to frustrate the will of the elected Chamber for the fifth occasion. As has been said by others, the argument has been won; that is not in doubt. But that will not be remembered in the days to come. What will be remembered is that this unelected House frustrated the will of the Commons on five occasions. We should think very carefully before we do that this evening.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the House knows my views on the substantive issues. They have not changed and I shall not repeat them. One thing has changed since I last took part in a debate on this subject on Thursday last. Then, there were seven days left before the end of the Session and now there is one. As I am addressing a completely different situation, I have the right to think through again what the consequences of my acts are likely to be.

It was never my intention to lose this Bill. It was my intention to go to the wire in the hope that it might produce some thinking and desirable compromise on the other side. It was not my intention to go beyond that. At this stage, to send a Bill back to another place would be like playing Russian roulette with only two chambers left in the revolver. That is not a new thought. If any of your Lordships would care to look at my speech of last Thursday, I made two points. One was that, although I regard the closed list as a blow to democracy, I would regard the loss of this Bill also as a blow to democracy; for we, on these Benches, are united in the conviction that if the results are out of proportion to the votes, those results are unfair no matter which party they may favour. I also said that I had taken advice. That advice was that there was time for one more round of ping-pong. We have had that round. It produced no result. The time has come to make up our minds; to do or to die.

I also took advice on the potential of the Parliament Acts. I received advice that, while in theory it might be possible that the Parliament Acts might be used in time, it was in practice extremely unlikely unless it was in the circumstance of the Bill enjoying the Opposition's consent. If that is what the Opposition intends to do at the end of the day, it might as well save its own prospective candidates a great deal of anxiety and do it now. If it is left until then, the words "prospective candidate" will painfully literally mean exactly what they say.

Therefore, we have to decide whether we want to stick to the amendment and kill the Bill or accept the Bill unamended. We do not have to decide which of those is the worst option. We may think that killing this Bill for the House would be a bridge too far—it usually is but not quite always. However, killing a Bill of which we approve in principle is, as far as I can see, two bridges too far.

I hope that in the next Session we will be very sure, before we put through any stage one, that another place is committed to the principle of a revising chamber once it has one that it recognises to be legitimate.

I shall conclude with the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, on ceasing to press an amendment against his own government, "Let them have their silly way"!

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, as have others who have yet to speak in this debate, I have attended all of the issues. I am delighted to follow the noble Lords, Lord Garel-Jones and Lord Weatherill. Together with those two, I think that I represent a "Whip round". I can claim to have served in the Whips Office in both Houses. I have served in the Whips Office for 19 of the past 25 years.

I learnt when I came up here, which was a great privilege, the conventions, agreements and understandings of this House. Until the Opposition decided to do what it has done here, one of those conventions was that it was proper, right and legitimate for this House to defeat the Government and to send its amendment to a Bill to the other place. But, it was infra-dig; it was not done. It was done to defeat the Government twice. Now, the Opposition has not only defeated the Opposition twice; it has defeated it three and four times. And it is bent on doing it for the fifth time tonight.

I have a question for the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. I have done some research but I cannot find any Bill, over the past 30 years, that has been amended by the same amendment more than twice. In fact, on only three occasions has there been an attempt to pass the same amendment to a Bill twice. My question to the noble Lord is this: will he please explain to the House what is different about this occasion? I do not refer to the context of the subject but in relation to how this House works; the understandings and the arrangements. The Whips Office is often called "the usual channels". A great deal depends on the confidence and credibility which has built up among senior parliamentarians.

If the Opposition persists, I want the noble Lord to tell the House why. If he pleads in aid that the issue is important, I remind him—unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is not in his place—that I well recall an occasion when we were debating the Railways Bill and an important issue on pensions. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, moved an amendment against his government which was carried. When it went to the other place, of course his government overturned it. When it came back here, there was a great determination on our part and on the Liberal Democrat Benches that we should seriously consider beating the government a second time. We did not do that because of the understandings of which I had been told by Chief Whips and other senior Members: that is, the right of this House to insist upon its will once, but not twice. I should like to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, tell us what is special about this occasion. We have a long life ahead of us—some of us—and we want to be in business for a great length of time.

The other point I should like the noble Lord to deal with is the argument that if the Government have got it wrong, it is open to them to use the Parliament Act. I remind the House that in the knowledge of many people here the Parliament Act has been used only once; that is, on the War Crimes Bill in 1990. Is the noble Lord telling us that this issue is on a par with the contents of the War Crimes Bill? I say to noble Lords on the Cross-Benches, who have listened carefully to these debates, that my noble friend Lord Callaghan said that it was of a different level; and it is. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, to answer the question: why should the Government be pleaded with to bring in and use the Parliament Act?

The final point I wish the noble Lord to answer is this. Constant reference has been made to the need or ability of the Government to treat seriously the views of this House and to bring forward a compromise, or amendments. Every time the Bill has returned to the Commons an attempt has been made by the Government to move slowly to the centre. Will the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, tell the House how often he has suggested a compromise or made a conciliating move?

The House is faced with a simple proposition. The issue is important. But more important is the manner in which we conduct our affairs. I believe that the Government are entitled to seek their will over the House of Lords on this occasion. I hope that they will prevail tonight.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, possible answers to the questions asked may be that we are dealing with a quite exceptional issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, reminded us, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has told us in so many words that this is not a government Bill. It is a Bill from the Liberal Democrat Party; and the conventions which have been quoted relate to government Bills.

That is quite important because it is part of the effort by the Liberal Democrats. Since last week there has been a new announcement of further collaboration. We know what they wish to gain. They wish to get Mr. Ashdown into the Cabinet. They wish to have proportional representation for Westminster. And in order to gain that they will sacrifice any principle, even the principle of having at least an open list. Therefore we are in a very different position.

It may be argued that all this is shadow boxing because we know perfectly well that the Labour Party will not give any of the sweeties that the Liberal Democrats expect as a result of their kowtowing to the Government over and over again. In fact the Liberal Democrat Party reminds me nowadays of a lady of doubtful virtue who is willing to sell her services for a promissory note on a failing bank.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney. I believe that he put the position correctly and concisely as to the rights of this House and why the House is entitled to exercise those rights. There is no need for me to elaborate further on that.

However, I wish to make one further point. We are in our difficulty tonight, as my noble friend Lord Evans of Parkside has pointed out, because of the leisurely pace at which the Bill has gone through the Houses of Parliament. That is why we are in this position. Indeed, I can understand the embarrassment that will be caused to all parties: they had selected their candidates before the Bill had completed its passage through Parliament. In other words, they took this House for granted. I do not believe that in a democratic and proper parliamentary system one can afford to take either House for granted. But that is what has been done and I think that the Government may now regret it.

I shall certainly, regretfully, vote again in the Lobby with the Conservatives. Nevertheless, I shall do so because I think that the system which is being proposed, as I have said so many times before, is not a good system. It is not consistent with what I believe is a democratic system; and it takes away the relationship between the elector and the elected. I believe that that is entirely bad for our democratic system.

In conclusion, I believe that the electorate generally—this was demonstrated by a poll on BBC2 this morning—understand what the issue is about. They do not like closed lists. If the House of Lords throws the provision out tonight the people will be on their side.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Mackay on again exposing the damaging effect of the closed list system which the Government seem determined to foist upon this country. There is no case for saying that this is an open and shut matter about closed lists or open lists. However, a good 70 per cent. of right belongs to the open list system.

However, having supported my noble friend on many occasions, I have come to the conclusion that if we do as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, advises, we are in danger this evening of doing what the English cricket team do so often: grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. We may not succeed in fulfilling the promise that came from the early achievements of my noble friend Lord Mackay. I have seen the issue grow like Topsy. It started as a technical matter about the number of boxes on a ballot paper; and whether there should be the name of a party or just the name of candidates. But over the past few days it has become a debate about the rights of your Lordships, about whether candidates should be allowed to carry on their achievements, and about the practicalities of reselecting new candidates after tens of thousands of people were involved in the previous process. It has become a matter of arrangements between the Liberal Democrat Party and the Labour Party. It has become an issue of many colours.

I must therefore finally conclude that I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Garel-Jones and Lord Weatherill, and vote with those who want the Bill to proceed within the next 24 hours.

Lord McNally

My Lords, there is no doubt that over the past 24 hours we have heard some good speeches and some great speeches, from both sides and with great personal commitment. If it helps the noble Lord Lord Beloff, and the Cross-Benches, let me say at once that I am under no illusion that this is a government Bill fulfilling a government manifesto commitment.

Despite making a speech in a bearpit at present, the point about the debate has been its good humour. In many cases that has been due in no small measure to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. I have grown very fond of him over the last three years. The noble Lord is a parliamentary bruiser whose skills we all appreciate, but this amiable and unambitious Scot has, I am afraid, fallen victim to some more sinister forces. It is clear that the Conservative high command saw in this relatively minor and technical piece of legislation the confluence of three deep prejudices—Euroscepticism, hostility to proportional representation and hostility to reform of this House.

Our debates in recent weeks have exposed how bogus is that sudden hostility to lists, which have been accepted by your Lordships in other legislation. The open list system is itself not without flaws. The freedom of the open list compares with the freedom to dine at the Ritz. In an electorate of 8 million people, only the rich and famous would benefit. The political reality is that to have the freedom that the times require from an open list system would need American-style primaries and American-scale individual promotion to obtain the required name recognition. As the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said yesterday, that is indeed the Jeffrey Archer amendment.

Why else in the last couple of years have we been striving to put party names on ballot papers and register the names of parties? As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, was honest enough to admit, the vast majority of people vote for parties. An open list system, about which he was equally honest, would take away campaigning between parties, their manifestos and messages and replace them with battles between personalities.

The new synthetic enthusiasm for European parliamentary democracy has been entirely absent from our debates every four years, for the quarter of a century that successive governments have ignored treaty obligations to send to Strasbourg British contingents that have been the very perversion of democracy. Let us not forget that if we lose the Bill, we would revert to first-past-the-post. We would revert to a system that totally distorts British political representation in Strasbourg, which has been elected by closed lists of one.

Your Lordships will remember the musical "Salad Days" and the great song with the lyrics These are not our happiest days But our happiest days so far. This may not be the fairest system of voting for Europe but it is certainly the fairest system so far. It will send to Strasbourg MEPs roughly in proportion to the number of votes cast. It will give a geographical spread of representation, with Labour Members from the west country, Liberal Democrats from the Midlands and Conservatives from the north east.

Noble Lords


Lord McNally

I do not understand why Conservative Members are so hostile to stopping 20 per cent. of the people having their representation in the European Parliament. That will create a different kind of regional politician. I ask noble Lords to think this through. One cannot have in an electorate of 8 million people the relationship between an MP and his constituency that is so dear to existing and former Members of Parliament. As the system develops, and develops in Wales and Scotland, we will see a different kind of political relationship—but a democratic one nevertheless and one that will have an important part to play.

I say to members of the Government Front Bench that if they blink now, they will embolden those who oppose constitutional reform across the board. Stop them here, and the Government will save themselves a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

I have listened to wise counsel and to what has been done in the past few days, with people mouthing commitments to democracy. I entered politics with a profound belief in democracy, which I retain. I have listened to speeches about the responsibilities of this House. The responsibility of this House must stop short of defying the elected Chamber. That is an essential part of our parliamentary democracy, which has been fought for over the centuries. That is on the line tonight. I urge Conservative Members to think again, and I ask noble Lords on these Benches and all who believe in parliamentary democracy to be with us in the Lobby tonight.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, everyone here tonight knows the genuine regard that I have for this place, which grows—as for all of us—from year to year. I say "everyone here tonight"—even those noble Lords whom I have never seen before.

Noble Lords

Name them!

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I cannot name them because I do not know their names.

It is only fair that I should put the Government's view, I hope not brutally but plainly, right at the outset. This is the end of our road. Prorogation is upon us. If the Government are again defeated tonight, the Bill will fail. The Government will therefore have failed to secure safe passage for a manifesto commitment.

Noble Lords


Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, one of the agreeable things about this place is that one is always allowed to finish a sentence.

The Government will have failed—your Lordships will not like this—because of the clout of the hereditary vote. The other place was elected. We were not. Defeat, if it comes to us, will be from a Chamber with no elected mandate. I say with all humility, because I never stood for the other place, that former Members of Parliament have spoken in our debates, not only tonight but on other occasions, and I wonder how they really feel.

The arguments have been rehearsed time and time again. On closed lists as opposed to open lists, honourable people can honourably differ. Our manifesto commitment was clear. It was to have a proportional representation system. May I say this one word? It cannot be denied. A PR system introduced by a Labour Government with a vast majority gives power away to Opposition parties in Europe, Wales and Scotland. The Tories have no representation in Wales in the other place but they had 20 per cent. of the vote. If Conservatives stand for the Welsh assembly with a PR closed-list system, they will have 20 per cent. of the seats.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is right to say that we did not specify in the manifesto an open or a closed list. It was reasonable to go for a closed list for four reasons. First, the overwhelming bulk of our colleagues in Europe have closed systems—more than 70 per cent. if we join. None of those points is determinative or absolute, but a sensible mind would take them into account and put them each in their proper proportion.

Secondly, the only other comparable system in the United Kingdom is the closed list system for Northern Ireland introduced in 1996 by a Government of which Mr. William Hague was a prominent Member. Thirdly, the system has been proved perfectly acceptable as a concept for Wales and Scotland in the Bills that respectively establish the assembly and parliament. The May elections to those bodies will predate the European elections in June that are the subject of the Bill.

Fourthly, we ran a model on the open list system and found, as the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, keenly pointed out last night, that one MEP can be elected in the same region, in the same election with, say, 400,000 votes, and another candidate in the same region, in the same election, can fail to be elected with a vote of, say, half a million. The public see that as nonsensical and offensive.

None of those reasons is capable of being disputed—at least, no one has ever made any attempt to dispute them on any occasion we have discussed the matter.

Perhaps I may give a word of quotation: Last Monday the other place voted on your Lordships' amendment and rejected it … There is no argument in favour of giving them a further opportunity to reconsider. Your Lordships will, I am sure, wish to reflect in the light of all the consideration and reconsideration already given to the issue whether this House wishes to continue to dispute this issue with"— and I underline the phrase— the elected Chamber".—[Official Report, 22/7/96; col. 1181.] The date? It was 22nd July 1996. The place? It was this House. Who spoke the words? It was the gospel according to John. It was not John the Baptist; not John the Apostle; not even John the Evangelist. It was John the Mackay of Ardbrecknish.

What did Mr. Ancram say in respect of the Northern Ireland system? He said: The strength of the system that we are proposing is that for the voter it requires only one cross to be put against one party". The arguments have been fully deployed. I underline the grace and courtesy with which almost all your Lordships have spoken. Virtually no one has claimed the monopoly of all the wisdom in this world. So we can honourably disagree. I hope that we continue to do so on an amicable basis where we regard difference of view as being a virtue not the mark of the outcast.

We are coming to our moment of decision. There have been successive majorities in the House of Commons, another place, of 170, 180, 200 and, earlier today, 193. On no occasion in this House would we have lost without the hereditary vote—

Noble Lords


Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, it is true. It may be disagreeable, but closing the eyes and hopping under the duvet does not make the disagreeable go away. I repeat that last night we lost by 63 votes. If the hereditary Peers had not voted we should have won by 36 votes. Those are the bleak and implacable facts to which I draw your Lordships' attention. The Commons have voted after full debate six times and we have had full debate—Heaven knows—and this will be the fifth vote.

All selections would have to start again. There would be chaos in the present arrangements. Your Lordships may think that a price worth paying; that is a matter for individual conscientious decision. The fact is that this House retains its present power to rule over the Commons. The question is clear. It will not go away. We have to face it. Is it to be the non-elected House which is supreme, sustained by hereditary principle, or at last—at last—in 1998, is the elected Chamber able to have this legislation which it has claimed from us with such authoritative and continuing majorities? That is the question. My mind is clear enough: power without mandate and without accountability is wrong and we need—we need—to resist that.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I certainly share one thing in common with the Minister. I was sitting in my place thinking that there are some people here I have never seen before and wondering who they were. So we share that.

Noble Lords

Name them!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I cannot remember their names, can I? They have just arrived here.

We have had an interesting debate. The Minister pleaded with your Lordships to give the Bill a safe passage. It can of course have a safe passage with my support, if we move to an open list system. At the beginning of the Bill's passage last November, even the Home Secretary was unsure about which of the systems available for the list we should use. It is not as though the Government have dug themselves in—and if they have it is their fault—on the closed list system.

The Minister mentioned Wales and Scotland. One of the interesting points is that the majority of the members of the parliaments in Wales and Scotland will be elected by first-past-the-post. That makes a significant difference, I suggest.

Of course the Minister had good fun quoting what I said after one of my defeats. I have had a few defeats in your Lordships' House. They were all much more expensive and when the party opposite defeated me they put out press releases claiming that it was a great triumph for common sense, democracy and all kinds of other things. They were very proud of those defeats. I did not like them very much, but I accepted your Lordships' right to defeat me. Indeed, often the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was in the Lobby voting against me.

I understand the noble Earl's arguments entirely. I would not argue with him. He has been very brave about his position on the issue. He warned us earlier that if, so to speak, push came to shove he preferred the closed list, much as he disliked it, to no proportional representation at all. I respect his position as I do the three former apparatchiks who have spoken. My noble friend Lord Garel-Jones always has my respect. He was an apparatchik when I was a junior Minister, so your Lordships can understand that I am quite careful about my noble friend. He has made his point as he is properly entitled and able to do. Your Lordships will have to judge.

I did not know the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, as an apparatchik; I knew him as a Speaker. He made the traditional point to your Lordships about whether or not they are entitled to ask again. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, asked me a few questions. He was one of the Whips who managed to defeat me on a few occasions. He asked: what is the difference this time? I believe that the difference this time is that we are talking about and discussing something which is at the very centre of our democracy: how people vote and whether or not the voters have the right to choose. I do not believe that there is any comparison with the War Crimes Bill. Bluntly, the changes we have received from another place are on the margins; they do not address the central issue of the form of the list.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I was interested to note that his claim of authorship yesterday has moved today—

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept one very important difference between this Bill and the War Crimes Bill: that the War Crimes Bill was a matter of a free vote?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I said that I did not believe there was any comparison. The two issues are separate and one cannot make a comparison.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, yesterday claimed authorship of the Bill. Whether he regretted the style or content I was not sure, but today he decided that it was the Government's Bill after all. But there is no need to lose the Bill. As I said previously, we can have the open list. The Government, I suppose, at a last pinch can use the Parliament Acts.

I believe that this is a serious issue. All the issues that have been addressed in this important debate have been serious issues. Noble Lords are well able to make their own judgments about the matter. My judgment is that it is so centrally important to the way in which our people vote and decide when they go into the ballot box that your Lordships should stick by the opinion that the electors have a right to choose and not the party. I will ask the opinion of the House.

8.50 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 212; Not-Contents, 183.

Division No. 2
Ackner, L. Ampthill, L.
Addison, V. Anelay of St. Johns, B.
Ailsa, M. Annaly, L.
Aldington, L. Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Ashbourne, L.
Astor, V. Hereford, Bp.
Astor of Hever, L. Hesketh, L.
Attlee, E. Higgins, L.
Baker of Dorking, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Banbury of Southam, L. Home, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Hood, V.
Bell, L. Hothfield, L.
Beloff, L. Howe, E.
Belstead, L. Howell of Guildford, L.
Biffen, L. Hunt of Wirral, L.
Blackwell, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Blaker, L. Inglewood, L.
Blatch, B. Iveagh, E.
Blyth, L. James of Holland Park, B.
Boardman, L. Jeger, B.
Bowness, L. Kelvedon, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Killearn, L.
Bradford, Bp. Kimball, L.
Braine of Wheatley, L. Kingsland, L.
Bridgeman, V. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Laing of Dunphail, L.
Bruntisfield, L. Lawrence, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller.] Leigh, L.
Buscombe, B. Limerick, E.
Butterworth, L. Listowel, E.
Cadman, L. Liverpool, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Long, V.
Carlisle, Bp. Lucas, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Carnarvon, E. Luke, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Lytton, E.
Carnock, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Carr of Hadley, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Chadlington, L. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Chalfont, L. MacLaurin of Knebworth, L.
Chesham, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Clark of Kempston, L. Mancroft, L.
Colwyn, L. Marlesford, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Courtown, E. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Cowdrey of Tonbridge, L. Merrivale, L.
Cox, B. Middleton, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Cranborne, V. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Crickhowell, L. Monro of Langholm, L.
Cross, V. Monson, L.
Cuckney, L. Moran, L.
Cumberlege, B. Mottistone, L.
Davidson, V. Mountevans, L.
Deedes, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Denham, L. Moynihan, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Munster, E.
Derwent, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Napier of Magdâla, L.
Downshire, M. Naseby, L.
Dudley, E. Newton of Braintree, L.
Dundonald, E. Norfolk, D.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Norrie, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Northbrook, L.
Ellenborough, L. Northesk, E.
Elles, B. Norton, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Norton of Louth, L.
Fookes, B. Norwich, Bp.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. O'Cathain, B.
Gage, V. Onslow, E.
Gisborough, L. Onslow of Woking, L.
Glenarthur, L Oxfuird, V.
Greenway, L. Palmer, L.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Haddington, E. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Harding of Petherton, L. Peel, E.
Harlech, L. Pender, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Harris of High Cross, L. Phillimore, L.
Hayhoe, L. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L. Stewartby, L.
Poole, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Prior, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Rankeillour, L. Stafford, E.
Rathcavan, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Rawlings, B. Swinfen, L.
Reay, L. Tebbit, L.
Renton, L. Teviot, L.
Renton of Mount Harry, L. Thatcher, B.
Renwick, L. Trefgarne, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L. Trumpington, B.
Rotherwick, L. Ullswater, V.
Saatchi, L. Vivian, L.
Sainsbury of Preston Candover, L. Waddington, L.
St. John of Fawsley, L. Wakefield, Bp.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Wakeham, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L. Warnock, B.
Sandford, L. Waverley, V.
Sandwich, E. Weinstock, L.
Seccombe, B. Westbury, L.
Sharples, B. Wilcox, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L. Windlesham, L.
Shore of Stepney, L. Wolfson, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Young, B.
Stevens of Ludgate, L. Young of Graffham, L.
Acton, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Addington, L. Dubs, L.
Ahmed, L. Elis-Thomas, L.
Alderdice, L. Evans of Parkside, L.
Alli, L. Evans of Watford, L.
Amos, B. Ezra, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Avebury, L. Falkland, V.
Bach, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Feversham, L.
Barnett, L. Freyberg, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Garel-Jones, L.
Bath, M. Geraint, L.
Berkeley, L. Gilbert, L.
Bethell, L. Glentoran, L.
Blackstone, B. Goodhart, L.
Borrie, L. Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Bragg, L. Goudie, B.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Grantchester, L.
Burlison, L. Gregson, L.
Burns, L. Grenfell, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L.
Calverley, L. Grey, E.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Hacking, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Hamwee, B.
Chandos, V. Hanworth, V.
Christopher, L. Hardie, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Hardy of Wath, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Clement-Jones, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Haskel, L.
Cooke of Thorndon, L. Hayman, B.
Crawley, B. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Dahrendorf, L. Hollick, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B. Hollis of Heigham, B.
David, B. Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Hooson, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Hoyle, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Hughes, L.
Dearing, L. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Desai, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Dholakia, L. Islwyn, L.
Dixon, L. Jacobs, L.
Donoughue, L. Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.] Rea, L.
Redesdale, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Judd, L. Renwick of Clifton, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B. Richard, L.
Kilbracken, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Kirkhill, L. Russell, E.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Lockwood, B. Sawyer, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Longford, E. Serota, B.
Lovell-Davis, L. Sewel, L.
Ludford, B. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Shepherd, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.] Simon, V.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Smith of Clifton, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
McNair, L. Southwell, Bp.
McNally, L. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Maddock, B. Strabolgi, L.
Mallalieu, B. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Taverne, L.
Meston, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Mishcon, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Molloy, L. Thornton, B.
Monkswell, L. Tomlinson, L.
Montague of Oxford, L. Tordoff, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Uddin, B.
Newby, L. Varley, L.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Nicol, B. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Ogmore, L. Warner, L.
Paul, L. Weatherill, L.
Peston, L. Whitty, L.
Pitkeathley, B. Wigoder, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Prys-Davies, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Puttnam, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B. Winchester, Bp.
Randall of St Budeaux, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Razzall, L. Winston, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.

9.1 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, this Bill has now been lost for this Session. However, it will be introduced in the next Session under the procedures of the Parliament Acts. Even so, your Lordships will understand that, to hold the June 1999 European elections under this system, the Bill would have to receive Royal Assent by mid-January of next year. That can only happen with the co-operation of the opposition parties. If that co-operation is not forthcoming, the Government will still use the Parliament Acts to secure the Bill's enactment. However, as I am sure your Lordships understand, this will mean that the new system could not come into effect until the year 2004.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for clarifying the situation, particularly when her right honourable colleagues in another place attempted to make it clear beyond peradventure before this evening's vote that the Bill would be lost if your Lordships decided to vote in the way that they have in fact voted.

Noble Lords


Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the Bill has been lost in this Session, but it was clear that the noble Baroness's right honourable friend intended us to believe that the legislation would not be reintroduced under the Parliament Acts.

We have clearly noted what the noble Baroness has said. We are aware of the limitations on the rights of this House—limitations set out very clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Shore—and I hope that we will behave accordingly when the Bill is reintroduced.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, the Home Secretary said in another place earlier today that the Government remained committed to the Bill. For that reason, we very greatly welcome the statement made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House about the Government's intentions for the next Session. For our part, whatever votes there may have been and whatever hesitations we have previously had, we will give it full support at every stage.

I have one further comment to make and I say it to the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition in this House. We shall waste parliamentary time. We shall be seen to be going back over business discussed time and time again. If the Conservative Party had behaved more wisely during the final stages of the Bill, and particularly today, it would have been for the honour of the House and to the advantage, though I might not like it, of the Conservative Party itself.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Carter

My Lords, in moving that the House do now adjourn, perhaps it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if I say that the House will meet at three o'clock tomorrow for Starred Questions and for Prorogation. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at five minutes past nine o'clock.