§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Report received.
§ Clause 1 [Number of MEPs, electoral regions and electoral system]:
§ Lord Bethell moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Page 1, line 9, at end insert—
§ ("(2) In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, "United Kingdom", "Great Britain" and "England" include Gibraltar.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I make no apology for raising again this matter which was debated in your Lordships' House in Committee on 24th June. I believe 702 that the amendment raises an important principle of the right of universal franchise. I hope that this House will consider the principle carefully today and decide on a solution which will be to the benefit of all the voting peoples of Europe and not just of most of them.
§ I hope also that the Minister will have something encouraging to say. On 24th June he expressed his sympathy for the people of Gibraltar, who at the moment are not entitled to vote in the European elections. Nearly four months have elapsed since then and it will be interesting to see into what practical form his sympathy has evolved since that date.
§ Before beginning, I should declare an interest in that on 10th September I was the guest of the Gibraltar Government for the celebrations of their national day. Your Lordships may be interested to hear that on that day at least half the voting population of Gibraltar assembled in the main square, demanding the right to vote on 10th June 1999. I also have an interest in that since we last discussed this matter I have been selected as a prospective Conservative candidate in the European elections next year and I suppose it is just conceivable that the electors of Gibraltar may have the chance to vote for me and the others who are on my list. That is rather a remote matter of interest but something which I suppose needs to be declared.
§ I believe that the case for allowing Gibraltar voters to take part in the European elections is unanswerable. Certainly it has not been answered by any Minister over the past 20 years. Gibraltar is part of the European Union and its citizens are citizens of the European Union. They are also citizens of the United Kingdom for European Community purposes. That is all in the book of words. They are, I am sorry to say, the only EU citizens who cannot vote in European elections: 17,000 out of 300 million voters are unable to vote. That disability does not burden the people of the dependent territories or of the overseas territories of other member states. The people of the Spanish enclaves—of Ceuta and Melilla and the Canary Islands—are entitled to vote although they do not pay European taxation. The people of the Dutch Antilles vote as part of the Dutch contribution to European elections. The people of the French islands of Reunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique and others also take part. Only Gibraltar is discriminated against in that way. For the life of me, I cannot understand why.
The Single European Act was signed by my noble friend Lady Chalker in 1985. It states that,
the European Parliament, elected by universal suffrage, is an indispensable means of expression for the democratic peoples of Europe".
The European Parliament, according to that, is elected by universal suffrage not by universal suffrage minus 17,000. All the peoples of the European Union should be entitled to vote. Furthermore, that question has become part of the European Convention on Human Rights which states, in Article 3 of the first protocol, that member states undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot to enable people to elect their legislature.
§ Again, that matter affects the people of Gibraltar as much as any one of us or any citizen of any other member state. They have no person to whom they can write or refer a problem in the way that we do with our MEP. Often they need to raise questions of commerce and other European issues. At the moment they are unable to do so. As the Minister knows, that matter is now before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It seems that the advice I have received on that conflicts with that received by the Minister, but the matter will no doubt be worked out in due course.
§ The question of the right to universal suffrage is also mentioned in the 1977 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, signed by the institutions of the European Union. As it happens, Mr. Roy Jenkins was President of the Commission and Dr. David Owen was Chairman of the Council of Ministers. They were two of the three signatories of that statement which supports the European Convention on Human Rights on the matter of universal suffrage.
§ I know that the Minister takes seriously the 1976 Act on direct elections which states that the provisions of that Act apply to the UK alone. I realise that there is a conflict between that paragraph and the various other international agreements that I have quoted. However, I believe that, inasmuch as Gibraltar citizens are UK citizens for EU purposes, it makes sense in terms of fairness and justice, and perhaps in law, to include them in the provisions made for UK voters. Certainly, it seems unfair and unjust that they alone in the European Union should be excluded. As to the law, we are in the hands of the lawyers who give us advice.
§ With respect, I believe that it is part of your Lordships' duty to look after the people of Gibraltar in this matter. We are their stewards. They have no standing in matters of foreign policy. We, part of the British Parliament, are responsible for ensuring that their rights are protected. I hope that that is what your Lordships will do in this debate and in the Division Lobby.
Article 73 of the United Nations charter states that members of the UN:
recognise the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these [dependent] territories are paramount".
I suggest that the interests of the people of Gibraltar in this matter are paramount and that they are more important than any irritation or annoyance that might be caused to the Spanish Government if we go ahead and pass the amendment. I realise that we do not want to annoy foreign governments. Mr. Blair does not want to annoy the Chinese Government over questions of human rights in China. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office may not want to annoy Spain over the question of European elections, but I believe that this principle is more important than that. Therefore, I commend it, as encapsulated in the amendment, to the House. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Bethell and congratulate him on pursuing this cause so persistently and courageously, as always.
704 We discussed the issue thoroughly in Committee on a different amendment which had support from all sides of the House. I was disappointed by the result of the Division on that amendment. I rise only to remind your Lordships that we had on that occasion a petition from 90 per cent. of the people of Gibraltar asking for the right to vote in European elections. Although I am a great friend of Spain, have many Spanish friends and take seriously our good relations with Spain, nevertheless I think it important for your Lordships to support this request to ensure fairness and justice for that disenfranchised corner of Europe, for the people of Gibraltar. They should have the opportunity to vote not only in the next European elections, but in all subsequent elections. I support the amendment.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I can add little to the powerful and effective case put for the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, except to say that I do not believe that Spain would behave so badly in matters such as illegal fishing in Gibraltar waters and obstructing people for two and three hours at a stretch at the border crossing if there were an MEP representing Gibraltar to raise those matters in the European Parliament and other fora on the continent of Europe. Many other European countries, I suspect, would become almost as indignant about those matters as ourselves if they knew about them. The trouble is that matters affecting Gibraltar are rarely reported in the continental press. Acceptance of this amendment, apart from all the other arguments in its favour, would ensure that more attention is paid to Gibraltar in continental Europe.
The Earl of Carlisle
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Bethel], in his attempt to give the people of Gibraltar a vote in the next European elections. I took part in the debate in Committee on 24th June 1998, and having re-read the report of the debate, I noted an interesting exchange. At that time the Minister informed the Committee that the Government were bound by international obligation and he challenged my noble kinsman Lord Henley either to agree or to refute that. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, agreed, as I do.
In order to obtain a vote for the Gibraltarians at the European Parliamentary elections it is necessary, is it not, to amend the Act of 1976? That entails, first, of course, proposals from the European Parliament. Secondly, it will also need an unanimous decision in Council and, thirdly, ratification by all member states. Of course, the Government must push this ahead if it is to take place.
I have two questions for the Minister. Do the Government think that it is wrong in principle that Gibraltarians, who are British citizens under the Crown, are denied a vote? Is it not wrong in principle that they are physically, geographically, legally, culturally and socially a part of Europe and yet they do not have the vote?
My second question is this: do the Government fear a veto from Spain should the Spaniards refuse to accept a unanimous decision in Council? If they fear that veto, 705 surely that shows a fear of the democratic process. Therefore, I ask the Minister to think again. I understand that the elections take place in April. The Minister may inform us that there is not time for the process to take place. If there genuinely is not time, will the Minister, after the elections in April next year, ensure that legislation is presented to the European Parliament so that Gibraltarians are not denied a vote in the year 2004?
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I supported the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, on 24th June. I say straightaway that I shall support him again today if the matter goes to a vote. I say that as one who is not exactly enamoured with the European Parliament, and indeed would prefer that it reverted to a European assembly which was composed of people sent from national parliaments. Having said that, if we have the system of direct election, it ought to be fair and it ought to apply to all citizens of the European Union. After all, we were all made citizens of the European Union whether we liked it or not (and some of us did not like it) under the Maastricht Treaty which of course was supported by the Government.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has made an excellent case in saying that citizens of a particular organisation or a particular country, or whatever it may be, should be treated equally. Undoubtedly, the citizens of Gibraltar are not being treated equally. I believe that some means has to be found—I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, may have found it—to ensure that the citizens of Gibraltar who are clamouring to vote in these elections are satisfied. You do not often find that people are clamouring to vote. There should be some way in which we can enable them to vote in the interests of equity and of justice. I hope that the amendment will be carried.
§ Lord Chesham
My Lords, I should like to join in the support of my noble friend Lord Bethell. I have a brief point to make. There appear to be two interpretations of the law. One interpretation is that this can be done internally—that the Gibraltarians are part of the UK as far as Europe is concerned—in which case we can internally give them a vote; and the other is the situation as described by the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle.
I believe that we should take the internal route. We should say, "Yes, we can give them the vote", give them the vote and then see if Spain challenges the fact that they have been given the vote. That would clearly show the hand of Spain.
§ Lord Milverton
My Lords, I voted in favour of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, last time and I shall do so again if the amendment is put to a vote. I do not see any reason to change my mind. It seems to me to be fair and decent that Gibraltarians should be given a vote and we should be able to respond to them in that way. One wonders why Spain is dubious and is not excited about them having a vote.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, it is extremely odd that citizens of French and Dutch possessions, which are nowhere near Europe, have a vote in the European 706 elections because they were made part of their countries by internal laws purely for commercial reasons in order to take advantage of the union. The citizens of Gibraltar do not have a vote but they are definitely part of Europe and part of the EC. I do not see why we should not give them a vote in our own parliamentary elections and allow them to elect one Member to the House of Commons. Perhaps that is a route we could take.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, it is clear that there is a good deal of support for what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has quite rightly said about the great enthusiasm for the people of Gibraltar to vote in these elections. It is less clear whether by passing the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, we would be advancing that wish or indeed advancing the general interests of the people of Gibraltar.
It is no good pretending that the people of Gibraltar are full-square with voters in Dutch and French territories which are part of the metropolitan countries. I believe that in times past consideration was given as to whether Malta and Gibraltar should have exactly that status with the United Kingdom. It was decided that that was not to be, so we cannot wish it different now.
It may also be interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, as to how this matter was discussed inside the previous administration. After all, this is not the first election to the European Parliament. There have been a number in the past 20 years and I am sure that the wish to vote in those elections was as strong in Gibraltar as it is now. Yet somehow the previous administration did not act.
Obviously, there are difficulties about how we deal with our colonies. There is no firm track-record. We went to war over the Falklands and we handed back Hong Kong. What we do with Gibraltar and its relations with Spain is a matter for careful consideration. Successive British governments have given the clearest assurances that those relations will be based on the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. However, I am not sure that it is sensible in such a piece of legislation to add an amendment which, I suspect, would complicate rather than help resolve that long-term solution.
I hope that the Minister will indicate in his response that he sees this as a problem and tells us that the Government are willing to look at ways of helping forward the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. A suggestion made by my noble friend Lady Williams was that Gibraltar might have the absolute right to appear before the Select Committee of this House to register its views on European matters. The role of the Foreign Secretary as their representative as a colony at the Council of Ministers could be expanded and we could also consider the various suggestions which have been put forward in various debates.
Although there are strong views in my party—indeed, Simon Hughes, and others, have voiced them in the other place and my noble friend Lord Thomas of Swynnerton expressed contrary views in our last debate—I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, that it will not be possible for those of us on these Benches to support him. I hope that the noble Lord does not press 707 the matter to a vote. I believe that he has given the concerns and the desires of the people of Gibraltar a very good airing. I hope that the Minister will respond with sympathy, but, as I said, we on these Benches will not be supporting the amendment.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, perhaps I may make just a few comments before the Minister responds to my noble friend's amendment. In passing, I hope that I can also take up the invitation put to me by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and respond to his remarks. I want to make it absolutely clear from these Benches that we support my noble friend Lord Bethell and that we will be supporting him in the Division Lobby should he wish to press the matter. That is why I added my name to the amendment when it was tabled.
I do not wish to rehearse all the arguments that my noble friend and others have put forward, together with those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and others of his colleagues on an earlier occasion. I am sorry not to see those other colleagues present in the Chamber this afternoon. However, no doubt they will emerge in due course and I hope that they will support us in the Division Lobby.
For the reasons given, I believe that the citizens of Gibraltar (which, as others have put it, is culturally, economically, socially, legally and geographically part of the European Union) should have a right to vote. As has been said, it is outrageous that such an anomaly should have been allowed to continue for so long; indeed, ever since our accession to the European Union or, rather, ever since the time that we brought in direct elections for the European Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, invited me to comment on the actions of the previous government, of which I was proud to be a member, and on the fact that we did not address the issue when legislation of this kind appeared before us. The point that we want to make is that, although we might have been remiss on those occasions, this is a suitable opportunity to address such matters. It is a suitable opportunity for the very reason that when we had the first-past-the-post system it was not possible to attach Gibraltar to a single constituency. I believe that the noble Lord will accept that it would look rather peculiar to attach Gibraltar to Fulham, for example, or wherever the Church might attach it in terms of its bishoprics. Here we have an opportunity to do so. We have divided up the country into regions and it would make very little difference to add Gibraltar to one or other of those regions.
There is one further point that I should like to address; namely, the question as to whether we would be complying with our international obligations. That point was put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, on the last occasion when we discussed the matter. He made much of the fact that it was his opinion, and the opinion of those who advised him in the Government, that it would be a breach of our international obligations in that we would need to change the treaty—that is to say, the original European communities Act of 1976—and we would have to go through all the proper procedures in order to do so. As I understand it, we would need 708 proposals from the European Parliament and a unanimous decision from the Council of Ministers, together with ratification by all member states.
The noble Lord was quite clear when he stressed that, in his opinion, it would be a breach of our international obligations. However, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has made it clear that there is a contrary view and that others have offered different legal advice which suggests that it would be within our powers to act in such a manner. If there is any uncertainty on the matter, I believe that that would be far better tested in the courts. Therefore, for the reason put forward by one of my noble friends, I think it would be quite right for us to take the opportunity to give the vote to the citizens of Gibraltar who are, after all, members of the European Union. Any of those who think otherwise and who think it is wrong that the people of Gibraltar should have that right to vote, can, should they so wish—and I would like to see them do it—challenge that right in the courts. I do not believe that it would be right for us to refuse to offer them the vote when we have the opportunity to do so on this occasion. For those reasons, both I and my noble friends on these Benches will be supporting my noble friend in the Division Lobby.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, we had a very full discussion on the matter on the last occasion. The matter was put to a vote by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, but was defeated. I am speaking to Amendments Nos. 1, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17, which have been grouped together. They are all reflections of the same fundamental theme which the noble Lord has developed. On the last occasion I said that we had considerable sympathy with the principle contended for, but I pointed out then, as I do now, that the Foreign Office Minister in your Lordships' House was sitting with me—as is the case today—and that that was not by any coincidence. The fact is that one has to distinguish the principle that will override here. It is not a question of Her Majesty's Government being "afraid to annoy Spain". It is not a question of Her Majesty's Government not being interested in the principle for which the Gibraltarians contend.
The noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, asked me for an indication of the Government's attitude. I repeat it. We believe that there are good arguments for allowing Gibraltarians to vote in European parliamentary elections, as Gibraltar is part of the territory where EU treaties apply and it has rights and obligations under them. It is not that the Government have a fear of the democratic process. The latter is quite a subtle thing. It is not something to be invoked simply when convenience is our friend. I believe quite deeply that part of the democratic process is that if you enter into solemn, binding, international agreements you ought to abide by them, because there is a wider democracy upon the world stage than that which is simply incorporated by local, domestic or European parliamentary elections.
I do not put this forward as my view; indeed I did not do so on the last occasion. What I said then, quite unambiguously, was that government had the clearest 709 possible legal advice—I put in parenthesis that I presumed previous governments had had exactly the same unambiguous advice—and that to act as some of your Lordships had proposed would be a breach of our international obligations. On our advice, the 1976 Act is undoubtedly an instrument of treaty status which is binding in international law.
I recognise the principle to support the views of the Gibraltarians. However, the overarching principle, which I also demonstrate to your Lordships, is that we cannot act unlawfully. Noble Lords ought not to seek to press amendments—and I say this with great care—the immediate consequence of which would be that we would be acting unlawfully. Just as democracy is not the creature of our convenient moment, nor is the rule of law. The rule of law matters internationally as well as domestically.
I have listened to all the arguments put. Noble Lords were kind enough to say that although they were shorter today than earlier they were essentially the arguments deployed on that earlier occasion. Gibraltar has an unusual status in the Union. It is outside the Customs territory. It is exempt from VAT. It is exempt from the common agricultural policy. It is exempt from the fisheries policies. It does not contribute to the Community budget.
One or two questions were raised—I sympathise with them, in particular the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen—as to the comparison between the "overseas territories" belonging, for instance, to our Dutch and French colleagues. Their history is entirely different and always has been. The inhabitants of Gibraltar have never—I reiterate what the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said—participated in our domestic elections. The position is quite different in respect of the Dutch and French dependencies. It is different for many historical reasons. Annex II to the 1976 EC Act on direct elections to the European Parliament is quite clear and unambiguous. It restricts the application of the Act—it is worth bearing this in mind because it is quite plain—to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland only, to the exclusion of other United Kingdom territories such as Gibraltar but further including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
If your Lordships were to press this amendment to a vote I would have to advise your Lordships' House that the Government cannot possibly accept it for the short, simple, overriding reason that to put this into our domestic law is to act unlawfully. No proper government can go along that route. I repeat that I have every sympathy for the points so carefully put by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and others who support his view, but what he wishes your Lordships to do is to try to direct Her Majesty's Government to break international treaty obligations. That we shall not do.
There is a specific subtext here to which the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, referred—as, I think, did the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in passing—which is the question of present challenge on the basis that the failure to extend voting rights to Gibraltar breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. That is the case of Matthews v. UK which is being brought at the moment. 710 I remind your Lordships again that it has been referred to the court. At the preliminary stage the Commission voted by a sizeable majority that there had been no breach of the convention. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, mentioned the following point. As regards whether we can establish these matters of law, that is already under way. However, I repeat again—I make no apology for doing so—that we are advised perfectly plainly that to accept these amendments would be to act unlawfully. I repeat as respectfully as I can that we shall not do that.
§ Lord Shepherd
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I hope I may ask him one question. The noble Lord will know that I put my name to the amendment in Committee and my heart is still very much with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and the people of Gibraltar in this respect. I accept reluctantly the advice that the Minister has given in regard to the legal position. However, is it not a fact that when we reach the stage of the enlargement of the Community many wider aspects than merely the entry of countries into the Community will be discussed? If there is an opportunity then—as I believe there will be—will the Government pursue this matter with the greatest determination to see whether at that stage we can make lawful what the Government now believe to be unlawful?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I very much sympathise with what the noble Lord has said. I do not put this in a partisan way, but as regards the previous enlargement relevant to Spain there was an opportunity for these matters to be considered but the previous government did not take up that opportunity. I note what other noble Lords have said. It remains the position that to have a change one needs a proposal from the European Parliament, a unanimous decision in Council and then ratification by all member states. If we see an opportunity whereby we may persuade our European colleagues to take a different view then, of course, the Government will seriously consider and pursue that option. However, I stress that the mere fact of enlargement does not disturb the constitutional fragment of what is an instrument of treaty status binding in international law. I cannot say too often that we sympathise with the point of view put forward but simply to act unlawfully is not a proper response.
§ Lord Bethell
My Lords, I am afraid I find what the Minister has just said rather disappointing. I appreciate that he has received advice in a certain sense. I have read the United Kingdom's case as put before the Strasbourg court in Matthews v. UK. I must say that I found the UK's case unconvincing. I do not believe that what is proposed in this amendment is unlawful. There has not been a verdict by any court—as opposed to a commission—on this matter. It is not possible to say that what is proposed is unlawful. I agree with my noble friends Lord Henley and Lord Chesham that we as a House of Parliament are perfectly entitled to act in the interests of the people of Gibraltar, to whom we are duty bound to preserve their interests. I therefore hope that your Lordships will carry out that duty in the way that seems most appropriate to your consciences.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 114; Not-Contents, 125.712
|Division No. 1|
|Aberdare, L.||Kingsland, L.|
|Addison, V.||Kitchener, E.|
|Ailsa, M.||Knight of Collingtree, B.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Leigh, L.|
|Alton of Liverpool, L.||Long, V.|
|Ampthill, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Anelay of St. Johns, B.||Lyell, L.|
|Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||McConnell, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Bethell, L. [Teller.]||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Biddulph, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Biffen, L.||Molyneaux of Killead, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Monro of Langholm, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Monson, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Moynihan, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Newall, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Carlisle, E.||O'Cathain, B.|
|Carnock, L.||Onslow of Woking, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Palmer, L.|
|Cowdrey of Tonbridge, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Cranborne, V.||Pender, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Perry of Southwark, B.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Plumb, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Rawlings, B.|
|Denton of Wakefield, B.||Roberts of Conwy, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Romney, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Exmouth, V.||Savile, L.|
|Fookes, B.||Seccombe, B.|
|Gage, V.||Selkirk of Douglas, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Slim, V.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Harlech, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hayhoe, L.||Taylor of Warwick, L.|
|Henley, L. [Teller.]||Tenby, V.|
|Hooper, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Trumpington, B.|
|Ilchester, E.||Weatherill, L.|
|James of Holland Park, B.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Jopling, L.||Wilcox, B.|
|Kimball, L.||Wise, L.|
|Addington, L.||Ashley of Stoke, L.|
|Alli, L.||Bach, L.|
|Amos, B.||Bassam of Brighton, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Berkeley, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||McCarthy, L.|
|Blease, L.||Macdonald of Tradeston, L.|
|Borrie, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.|
|Bruntisfield, L.||McNair, L.|
|Burlison, L.||McNally, L.|
|Calverley, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Castle of Blackburn, B.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Clement-Jones, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Montague of Oxford, L.|
|Crawley, B.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Currie of Marylebone, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|David, B.||Morris of Manchester, L.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.|
|Dholakia, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Orme, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Paul, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Peston, L.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||Phillips of Sudbury, L.|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L.||Pitkeathley, B.|
|Ezra, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Falconer of Thoroton, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Razzall, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Goodhart, L.||Richard, L.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Russell, E.|
|Goudie, B.||Russell-Johnston, L.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Sainsbury of Turville, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Sandberg, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Grenfell, L.||Serota, B.|
|Grey, E.||Sewel, L.|
|Hacking, L.||Sheppard of Liverpool, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Shore of Stepney, L.|
|Hardie, L.||Simon, V.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Haskel, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Hayman, B.||Steel of Aikwood, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.||Strafford, E.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Hooson, L.||Taverne, L.|
|Hoyle, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Hunt of Kings Heath, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]||Tordoff, L.|
|Turner of Camden, B.|
|Islwyn, L.||Uddin, B.|
|Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Varley, L.|
|Wallace of Saltaire, L.|
|Linklater of Butterstone, B.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Ludford, B.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 2, I point out to your Lordships that if it is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 3 to 10 inclusive.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 2:
§ Page 1, line 24, leave out from beginning to end of line 28 on page 2.713
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and it is supported today from different parts of the House by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, and the noble Earls, Lord Kitchener and Lord Russell. I am grateful to them for their support for this amendment. Its purpose is to delete those sections from the Bill which refer to the introduction of a closed party list system to Great Britain. That would then leave standing in the Bill the references to the single transferable voting system, which already operates in Northern Ireland and which would thereby be extended to the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ The Government's proposals before your Lordships' House, and which we examined at Committee stage, introduced the closed party regional list system. That has the unique claim of combining all the worst aspects of proportional representation without retaining any of the strengths of the first-past-the-post system.
§ The closed party list has three characteristics. First, it consolidates power in the hands of political parties. Secondly, it is inherently centralist in nature. Thirdly, there is no linkage with constituents. If your Lordships wanted to discredit proportional representation then this is exactly the sort of system that one would set out to introduce. For the first time ever in the history of our country the voter will not be able to vote for an individual candidate. It breaches the long-established constitutional principle which entrenches the link between an individual representative and the represented. Having for 18 years represented people in another place and for eight years before that as a city councillor, I treasured the link with the people who sent me as their representative. It also enabled me to be free of the overweening power that parties sometimes try to exert, especially if one puts forward a dissenting view or if one is not compliant to whatever the political faddishness of the moment might be.
§ So there are three characteristics: consolidating power in the hands of political parties, inherently centralising our system of politics, and breaking the linkage between the representative and the represented. Those are matters that we should carefully ponder and consider before we allow such a system to apply in these European elections. The consolidation of power in the hands of political parties, where parties themselves will choose lists of candidates, will mean that those who form the central committees of parties, either nationally or within their regions, will have enormous political power. It will mean that, if your face does not fit, there will be little chance of being selected in order to represent people within that region.
In addition, this system is disliked by voters. Research for the Home Office, undertaken by NOP and published in February, resulted in two findings about the closed list system: first, that it appeared to be,
depriving voters of their right to select individuals";
and, secondly, that it raised the question for some voters,
as to whether party loyalty will precede constituency loyalty".
Research on focus groups—recently referred to mischievously as "focus fascism"—carried out by NOP for the McDougall Trust found that voters' reactions
were immediately negative to closed party lists as they believed they were being deprived of their right to vote for individual candidates. It also found that, although voters tend to vote on the basis of party, they react strongly to the removal of the right to select a candidate for themselves. All of us who have contested elections know that that research reflects our personal experience. I am surprised that, having taken the trouble to undertake research and publish the findings, the Home Office then chose to ignore the findings by proceeding with the system in the Bill before the House today.
§ Last week in Bournemouth Mr. William Hague pledged himself and his party to fight against proportional representation. That has echoes of earlier declarations to resist any form of devolution. As many would agree, that has been disastrous for the Conservative Party.
§ There is no point in saying that all proportional representation is the same, and conjuring up images of the Italian system and constantly falling governments. Proportional representation comes in many forms. Indeed, we are already introducing PR in different forms in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and possibly in the London mayoralty elections; and who knows what will happen with reforms to this House and, following the publication of the commission of inquiry by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, what proposals may be put forward for the House of Commons?
§ It strikes me as bizarre that we should introduce these many different kinds of proportionality, which will add to voter confusion, without thinking through a logical, coherent system which could be used everywhere throughout these islands. As we have such a system already operating successfully in Northern Ireland, one cannot understand why, on the basis of that experience, it cannot be extended elsewhere in the United Kingdom. A more intelligent and discerning approach is needed than simply saying no. Proportionality is coming. Changes are being made in our voting system. An intelligent, discerning approach is needed in this debate if we are not to make some of the mistakes which many of us fear may have been made in the devolution argument.
§ The Front Bench of the Official Opposition seem to recognise the need for a more intelligent approach. In later amendments they offer a modified form of the list system. But how much better it would be if they were to support a system that already operates successfully. This alternative, the single transferable vote, maximises the voters' choice. It forces parties to reflect diversity instead of the "take it or leave it" form of politics which the closed party list system embodies. They have then to draw up lists that are genuinely representative. They cannot simply put forward the favoured few who come from one faction or one wing of the party. They have to put forward a list which properly balances questions of gender and racial diversity and mirrors the diversity of the community generally.
§ That is why the system was introduced in Northern Ireland—because of the sectarian differences there. That is why it has been such a strength. If there are such failures in the system of the single transferable vote, 715 then presumably your Lordships would be lining up today to delete from the Bill the continuation of the single transferable vote in Northern Ireland. STV is exceedingly fair; it is equitable. That, more than any other reason, is why it should be supported.
§ Changes to our voting system need to be seen against a backdrop of other significant changes being made to our constitution: the backdrop of devolution; the creation of the London mayoralty, which may lead to mayoralties elsewhere in the UK; possibly the move towards regionalism in England; and the reform of this House. But it also needs to be seen against widespread civic disillusionment and disaffection.
§ I said in Committee, and I apologise if my remarks are in any way repetitive, that it struck me that in a local government election in the city of Liverpool within the past 12 months the turnout was just 6 per cent. of voters; and in the last European by-election to be held there, just 11 per cent. of voters turned out. There is widespread disaffection and disillusionment in regard to our voting system and our system of politics and democracy. It is an issue that we have to address. It could well be that if you are a Conservative living in a city like Liverpool and know that, however often you cast your vote and even though your party may receive 20 per cent., 25 per cent. or 30 per cent. of the vote, in 20 years you have never seen anyone elected to the House of Commons, you may feel that there is little point in voting. Having seen the destruction of every Conservative councillor in that city, it is no wonder that local members of the Conservative Party now advocate a form of proportionality in order to ensure that at least a fifth of voters living there receive some local government representation. That is why some system of change is necessary.
§ However, I fear that in running pell-mell into closed party lists we are trading one bad system for one that is probably even worse and will add to the general sense of disillusionment and disaffection. I believe it was Thoreau who warned that if you cut down the trees there will be nowhere left for the birds to sing. We are in danger of cutting down all the trees and leaving nowhere for the birds to sing. We are in danger of unpicking our democratic and civic institutions without sufficient forethought as to the consequences. Reform and renewal are not to be feared. But they must be based on fairness and justice and a widespread consensus. If changes are made which create the suspicion of backstairs deals, of people being whipped into lobbies against their consciences when there have been long-standing commitments to a system such as the single transferable vote, or the pursuit of narrow party interest, it will merely discredit our institutions and those reforms will not stick. I therefore beg to move the amendment standing in my name.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Evans of Parkside
My Lords, in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, it would be apposite at this stage to refer your Lordships to the Bill's curious history. It was not included in the list of measures announced in the Queen's Speech following 716 the election of the Labour Government. Therefore, we are entitled to assume that no one proposed altering the voting system for the European Parliament. Then, curiously, it was introduced almost without warning in October last year and had a very confused Second Reading in November. At one stage it appeared that the Home Secretary, who is not known as a zealot for proportional representation, almost indicated that he was prepared to re-examine the method of elections for the European Parliament. I do not know what subsequently happened, but unfortunately no further changes took place so far as concerns the proceedings in the House of Commons. The Bill had its Second Reading in this House in April this year in a very short debate on Maundy Thursday, just before the House rose for the Easter Recess. There was quite a long time before we came to the Committee stage on 24th and 25th June. The Bill passed without amendment through the two-day Committee stage. Here we are in October: a long period between the Committee stage and Report stage. I appreciate, of course, that the Recess took place in between, but nevertheless five months for a short Bill which had not been amended in Committee seems strange. I tend to wonder whether the reason for the long delay was to ensure that no controversy was raised before the Labour Party Conference so that the Bill could pass through that conference.
I am completely opposed to the way the Bill has been slipped through and I am also opposed to the Government's proposals. As I speak from the point of view of someone who served for many years on the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, that may sound strange. But what I am concerned about is that the Bill gives total control for the selection of Labour Party candidates to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. It does not involve the membership in any way as regards the selection of candidates. Of even greater concern is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, the Bill abolishes the link between the elected and the electors. That is something which I believe in the long run will prove to be detrimental to democracy itself.
While I am certainly opposed to the Government's closed lists, I am even more opposed to the methods that the Labour Party has adopted to select its candidates. I referred to this, together with my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington, saying that it was almost getting back to the days of communism. The Minister responded, at col. 275 of Hansard for 24th June, when he said:My noble friends Lord Evans of Parkside and Lord Bruce of Donington made the point that we may be getting back to the days of communism—democratic centralism, if that is not an oxymoron. The answer there is to have appropriate internal party arrangements for choosing the candidates who go on the list".On reflection, I realised that that was a strange reply. The words used were "appropriate internal … arrangements", not "democratic internal arrangements", not even "traditional internal arrangements". Indeed, it is well worth asking, to whom or for whom were the arrangements appropriate? They were certainly not appropriate to the individual members of the Labour Party. If the selection and placement on the list of the candidates of the Labour Party had been by the 717 individual party members using a one member, one vote ballot both in the selection of the candidates and placing them on the list, I would have found the proceedings to be a little more acceptable. But in truth the selection process is ruthlessly controlled by the NEC, acting in what can only be described as a central committee fashion.
As I pointed out on the last occasion in Committee and confirm now, the selectors consisted of 11 members appointed by the National Executive Committee. Those 11 members interviewed 160 people who were on the panels of candidates who had been selected by the nine regions in Scotland and Wales. They were all interviewed over one weekend, just before the party conference. There were quite a few complaints from some of the candidates about the relevance of some of the questions they were asked. There was even some suggestion that there had been a complete stitch-up and that the lists had been agreed before the candidates were interviewed. I have not the faintest idea whether there is any truth in relation to those comments.
However, there was pointed out in the reports to which I referred the dangers of some people being put on a regional list when they were not residents or members of that region. On 24th June I said:I wish to address a point directly to my noble friend the Minister. I am concerned about the danger of disillusionment among party members in relation to having candidates imposed on their regions".—[Official Report, 24/6/98; col. 314]There are a number of strange anomalies in those lists and I shall refer to only three. But it is an indication of the concern which has been expressed by many members of the Labour Party. A Manchester MEP has been selected as the number one candidate for the south-west region. A Merseyside MEP has been selected as the number three candidate for Yorkshire. A Cheshire MEP has been selected as the number three candidate in Wales. That will mean that all those candidates will be elected to the European Parliament.
I know that all those men are excellent. The chances are that others who may find themselves in similar positions may also be excellent men and women. But they were not selected by the members of that region. They would be in a much stronger position if they had been selected by the members of that region.
What I also find of great concern is that acceptance of the one member, one vote rule within the party was dropped by New Labour at the first series of elections after the general election. I remind your Lordships that the struggle to introduce one member, one vote in the Labour Party took almost 10 years before it came to fruition. On behalf of the National Executive Committee, I moved the first resolution to introduce selection of parliamentary candidates by one member, one vote at the 1984 conference in Blackpool. It was not until 1993 that the party finally accepted that all parliamentary candidates would be selected on the basis of one member, one vote.
Of course, the great raison d'être for the introduction of one member, one vote was that it would introduce widespread democracy within the party, it would give the party members a voice and a vote in the selection of their candidates and it would be a wonderful message to 718 give to people who were party supporters to join the party. It was used for the 1994 European elections and for the last general election. This is the first election since then, and it has now apparently been dropped. Perhaps that is because the OMOV method selects too many horny-handed sons of toil and not enough of the meritocrats who seem to find favour in certain sections of the party.
One argument which was used to defend the closed lists is that it was said that more women and black candidates would be elected. What are the facts? Currently there are 13 women MEPs and one black Labour MEP. The party now boasts, with the new lists, that there will be 34 women and six black candidates. That sounds like a huge increase. However, on examining the lists we find that the realistic chances of election mean that there will be 13 women and one black candidate who will almost certainly be elected. It does not sound much of an advance on the current situation.
The other point that should be made is that when the Bill receives its Third Reading some time later this month, if it is not amended, it will have taken almost 12 months to pass through the parliamentary process. When the Government were first challenged about the reasons for introducing the closed lists and dropping the OMOV method of selecting Labour Party candidates, it was claimed that there was insufficient time to use the party's traditional methods to select the candidates. The party has selected all its candidates; it has placed them on the list. The Bill has not reached the statute book yet and the elections will not take place for another eight months. It seems to me that there was all the time in the world to use the party's method of one member, one vote to select the candidates.
The real reason for the selection method is, frankly, that those who now manage New Labour are determined to exercise control over those who are selected as candidates and, more important, those who will not be candidates. What can best be said about it is that the party members apparently cannot now be trusted to select the candidates who are required and the electors will not be trusted to select the Members of Parliament from the candidates. The list is now fixed. The electorate will have one vote in those elections if the Government's methods are adopted.
I pointed out in Committee, and repeat now, that that is bad enough in relation to those on official party lists. But there are Independents standing—and in all the elections we have ever had there have always been people standing as Independents—it becomes an outrage. If, say there are 10 Independents for the 10 seats available in the north west region all the elector will be able to do is cast one vote for one Independent. That vote will only carry the value of one candidate whereas if the elector votes for 10 Conservative candidates, 10 Liberal Democrat candidates or 10 Labour candidates, he then gets 10 for his vote. That is a gross unfairness in regard to how the election is conducted.
The amendment throws challenges to the Conservatives and to the Liberal Democrats, because the Conservatives have made it absolutely clear that they 719 are opposed to any form of proportional representation. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, to whom I listened with great interest, referred to the Leader of the Conservative Party having made clear at Bournemouth that he was opposed to any form of proportional representation. However, all we have on offer in the Bill is this strange form of election which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as proportional representation.
At their conference the Liberal Democrats made it clear that when Lord Jenkins's committee reports they do not want to see any watered down version. They want full and proper proportional representation, and so I suggest that today they support the amendment; otherwise we might find that a lot of people who were in support of proportional representation will not be too interested in how they perform after Lord Jenkins's report. I say to the House that my great concern is that there has been a long struggle for proportional representation in this country. I believe that if this method is adopted for these elections, then the chances are that no one in future will offer much support for PR in any other elections. I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
§ 4.30 p.m.
The Earl of Dartmouth
My Lords, when I stood in the north west in September 1974 I never thought I would find myself speaking in support of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside. I thank him very much for his eloquent words.
I should declare an interest now because I shall be standing for the European Parliament for my party under this frankly rotten system. For that reason, if for no other, I have had occasion to address it and to seek to understand it. There are of course many different versions and varieties of proportional representation—maybe as many as 57 varieties. It does not say very much for the Government that they have chosen what is easily the worst; that is to say, the closed list.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said with his customary eloquence—and elegance for that matter—the closed list goes wholly against the grain and indeed the entire history of British political tradition. Those noble Lords who have been Members of the House of Commons—I stood twice as a candidate, unsuccessfully—will also confirm that it goes against the political tradition of the House of Commons, to which Members have always been elected as individuals.
When there is a closed list the respective nomination and selection procedure of the respective parties, which is otherwise a private affair of limited interest, becomes a matter of general concern for all electors. I therefore intend to say something about the nomination and selection procedures for the European Parliament for the respective parties. Both the Liberal Party and ourselves have, I believe, made the best of a very bad job. Specifically, the Liberal Party had a postal vote of all the members. That would have been worthy of some praise, but of course it could not resist sticking in a 720 gender quota, which is very unsatisfactory and very undemocratic and goes against the grain of everything else it sought to do by holding an open postal ballot.
We in the Conservative Party have had hustings open to all members. Indeed, we achieved a turnout of 1,700 at an all-day-long meeting to select MEP candidates for the south east, which is really not too bad for a party of dead parrots. On the other hand, the Labour Party, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, ably and eloquently pointed out, has landed itself with a system which is orchestrated, dominated and manipulated by Labour's national executive in a system almost entirely designed to suppress diversity.
The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is, I understand, a lawyer by background. I draw his attention to the very interesting case of Liz Davies. She was elected to Labour's NEC at the last Labour Party conference. As a member of the NEC, she will in future help to determine those Labour Party members who are selected as European Members next time. However, she herself was ruled ineligible to stand for the parliamentary constituency of Leeds North East by the very same NEC of which she is now a member. I am told that lawyers enjoy anomalies—both my brothers are barristers—and so I look forward very much to the comments of the Minister on what I consider a very interesting anomaly.
The British electors will dislike very strongly what they are presented with at election time unless some or all of my noble friends' amendments are accepted later. I urge the Minister to think again on behalf of the Government. The closed list and its manipulation by Labour's NEC, together with the bias against Independents—again so eloquently laid out by the noble Lord, Lord Evans—have entirely negative implications not just for the way in which people regard the European Parliament but also for the way in which they regard political parties and—though I do not want to be thought guilty of hyperbole— even perhaps for people's regard for British democracy itself.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I must declare an interest as the president of the Electoral Reform Society. This amendment is the policy of the society by which I am advised, which is one good reason for supporting it. It is also the policy of my party, which is another good reason for supporting it. My noble friend Lord Bradford, who was in the Chamber a short while ago, may possibly remember that when I addressed the adoption meeting for our candidate at Richmond at the last election—now happily elected—I said that if anyone wanted to vote for Tony Blair as Prime Minister, they could not do it in Richmond. Although the Minister might wish to quibble about the detail, for practical purposes it is true.
The disadvantage of first-past-the-post is that it does not allow you to express a free and effective choice for government. The disadvantage of a closed list is that it does not allow you to express a free and effective choice of candidate. Since the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, provided the details, I shall let that stand. I am most grateful to him.
721 In an election one has two legitimate objectives. One is to choose a government and the other is to choose a Member of Parliament. First-past-the-post allows one; this system allows the other. The point about STV is that it is the only system which leaves us genuinely free to do both. A genuine advantage, I believe, is that it allows for a degree of cross-party voting. Not every political commitment—indeed not every passionate political commitment—is one which is entirely confined to one party. One knows that in this Chamber there are groups of people with specialist interests in one subject, for example, childcare or asylum, who have friendships and working partnerships that stretch across party. Under an STV system one is allowed to give effect to those partnership in one's vote. I believe that to be an electoral right and that a system which discourages it is mistaken.
It has been argued that the first-past-the-post system is a closed list of one. That argument has a certain amount of force. I do not believe that it goes all the way because under that system a single candidate is accountable to the voters. Very frequently it happens that because voters do or do not like the candidate they vote for a different party from the one they would otherwise have supported. I have known many examples among my friends and I do not believe that I need to labour the point. Suppose that in a list of 11 candidates there is just one whom one absolutely cannot stomach. Even the greatest party loyalist must have at least once experienced a candidate of his own party that he absolutely cannot stomach. There is no way that one can give effect to that except by voting against all 10 of the other candidates of the party for whom one may have great devotion or perhaps an intense personal friendship. It breaks the accountability of the candidate to the voter and I believe that to be the most serious aspect of elections by means of a closed list. The point of this amendment is that the single transferable vote restores that link.
As it was put in the 17th century, people regularly seek to please them in whom they see the power resteth. In any system where the voters choose which candidates are elected there is a very powerful incentive, of which most of us have knowledge, for the candidate to please the voters. That is right and is democracy. But under a closed list system the candidate has no incentive whatsoever to please the voters, especially if he is placed low down on the list. He has every incentive to please whatever group of party members is doing the selection. I point out to the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, that we had hustings as well as a postal ballot in our party, but I do not believe that that makes it all right. After all, we are only a party and a party is not the people. I am sure that the noble Earl will say the same for his party.
The choice of Members of Parliament, European or British, should be for the people. To give individuals an incentive to please their party and not the people breaks the crucial link between the member and those whom he is supposed to represent. I believe that to be dangerous. A party is not a single monolith; it is not a corporation with only one will. A party is a family. Some families work harmoniously; some do not from 722 time to time, but the common feature is that they have a union within a collection of loud and often clashing voices. When a party works that is how it works. I hope that that is what the introduction of this amendment will make possible.
The only possible reason for opposing the amendment is the argument that it is too late in the Parliament. But we have a good many weeks of this Session still to go. Any Bill that is lost at this stage will be lost because the Government want it lost already. I do not believe that that can possibly be the case. Just as we and the Conservatives have selected our candidates, the Government have also selected their candidates. I do not believe that the Government want to go back to the old constituencies and system and re-nominate even the existing MEPs. If they did they would be unable to turn their coats.
There is no danger to this Bill in accepting the amendment. I hope that we shall do so. I also hope others will follow the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, in saying that although they do not support PR if we must have it—within the Long Title of the Bill we must—it is the first-past-the-posters' preferred form of proportional representation. There are many good reasons for saying that. I believe that it is the best system of representation and I am happy to support this amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I too support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I congratulate the noble Lord and others who framed the amendment, which is so simple, involves so few words and takes so many out. It is therefore easy to understand and. I hope, easy to vote for.
I believe the first-past-the-post system is an eminently good and respectable method of electing people not only to this Parliament but also to the European Parliament. It has worked successfully for a very long period of time. It has the merit of ensuring that the electorate elect the person named on the ballot paper and the ability to hold the elected person to account. That is important in electoral and democratic terms, but it provides a benefit to the elected persons themselves. If there is a difficulty between their constituencies and the party they can say to their party that that is what their constituents believe and want. Therefore, the MP or councillor has a strength that he simply will not have under this system. It will not be possible for even 11 people to get up and say that this is what their 10 million constituents—whatever the number may be—say because it is too amorphous. Under this system no proper link is maintained between the elected representatives and the electorate, as has been eloquently said by other speakers.
My noble friend Lord Evans of Parkside explained exactly how bad in democratic terms was the closed list system. It is beyond belief that the new Labour Party should make such a proposal. The Labour Party which I joined over 50 years ago, if it believes in nothing else, believes in democracy. As my noble friend explained, this system is not and cannot be democratic. The opportunity exists this afternoon to put the matter right and I hope that we shall do so. There is a great possibility of putting it right if the Official Opposition decide to support it and 723 I urge them to do so. The amendment has the benefit of simplicity. It does not need four amendments to put it right. The amendment has the benefit of simplicity. People understand exactly what it does; and it will achieve a better result than the amendment proposed by the Opposition. Despite the fact that it will cause administrative difficulties—the candidates have been chosen—I sincerely hope that the Opposition will support the two amendments. The amendment will provide what I believe the majority in the House wishes. On whichever side, I believe that there is a majority which seeks to do what the amendment provides.
I hope that Members on all sides of the House will rally to the amendment. Let us ensure that the European parliamentary elections maintain that essential democratic link between the elected and electors.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I urge noble Lords to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, supported by my noble friend Lord Evans. The House may forgive me if I say that I should not care to take lectures on democracy from the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I do not think that the noble Earl can point with any pride to the reputation over the years of his party as any kind of authentic author of democracy as I understand it. I know perfectly well what goes on in the selection of Tory Party candidates, in the same way as I think I know what happened hitherto in the selection of Labour Party candidates. But the European Parliament is not a parliament as we understand it. In terms of the membership of the so-called parliament, it has no identifiable connection with its large constituencies of half a million apiece, such as we have in this country with electorates of between perhaps 50,000 and 70,000.
My objection to the Government's proposals is that they tend to enshrine the party and its officials in a position that should never occur within a democracy. It is all very well to denounce party officialdom, the party official machine, and so on. But a party has to have a machine in order to pursue the election. It is the assumption by the party machine of a role that it has no business to assume—that of the final censor as to who should or should not be selected from the ranks of the party for the position for which the election has been held—that I regard as completely repugnant.
As has been pointed out by numerous other speakers in the debate, one is bound to have a drive by the official machine for uniformity, for conformity with whatever views dominate the policy of the party for the time being. I believe that that is most undesirable. If they are to be even remotely successful, or taken into account by the population of the country, all parties need a degree of diversity within the parties. Dissent within the parties is needed as well as dissent by one official party against another. All progress is inevitably by dissent. It is a dialectical process which one would not propose to go 724 into in this debate. I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Russell, fully understands and appreciates the argument. Dissent is exactly what we want from time to time. There is no progress without dissent even within parties, as well as between them.
A selected list completely violates that concept. Power tends to feed upon itself. The more successful a party machine, the more efficient it becomes, the greater number of seats that it gains, supported by massive propaganda either in the press or in Parliament, the more that power tends to feed upon itself. So we would have a narrowing of the requirements of the party machine as regards the views expressed and the actions taken by its new Members of Parliament if they are selected. I regard that as the death of democracy.
What we require is a system whereby local or regional districts, and perhaps personnel within those regions or districts, have a discretion which will reflect ultimately in different types of people with different grades of policy and different depths of belief being elected across the whole spectrum. A person elected on behalf of the Conservative Party list in one region need not necessarily have the same views as a Member of the European Parliament elected as a Conservative from perhaps two regions away. That would permit diversity. There is no point in having complete unanimity —a driven unanimity, a callow unanimity, an almost cowardly unanimity—among Members of the European Parliament, another place or elsewhere. Diversity is the key.
The proposals are an enemy of diversity, even within the limitations and sometimes the generalities of party policy. It is a dull effort to produce a uniformity which is unhealthy for democracy. It is not only unhealthy for the people themselves but also for the leadership of those parties. Leaders are human, like everyone else. I believe that there are leaders who, the moment they are elected, think next about how to be re-elected rather than to fulfil the mandate for which they were elected. So they are a little weak too. It does leadership good to know that it has to deal with diverse people, not a series of automatons who are elected at the behest and choice of the party machine. Therefore I support what the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said.
The noble Lord knows perfectly well that when we were in the European Parliament it was not uncommon for us to disagree with one another on a subject. It was not always the same subject. Nevertheless, we were still good members of our party. But there was a diversity and dissent; and that I wish to keep as far as possible. It may not be all that possible. The appreciation by people of the real validity and value of the democratic institutions may have sunk so low that they do not give a damn whether members are to be elected through a party list or as individuals. That spark still remains. As Members of what one sometimes thinks of as the thinking Parliament, it is our function to give such measures our support.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, there is no worry that we shall lack diversity today. When listening to the noble Lord, Lord Evans, waves of nostalgia swept over me as 725 regards some of the internal machinations of the Labour Party. But, in all fairness, we should leave those matters for debate within the party. They are not relevant to the matter before us today.
The Earl of Dartmouth
My Lords, surely, the point is that under a closed list system the internal machinations of political parties, especially the Labour Party, which is the largest in the country at the moment, have a general relevance to all electors and all interested people.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl to a certain extent. I hope that when the electorate make their judgment they will look at how the various parties have selected their candidates and will recognise their quality. However, I tend to stick to the general rule and not intrude in private grief.
Today, I found strange some of the discussions on democracy. After all, the noble Lord was a nominated Member of the European Parliament. He was succeeded by the first-past-the-post system which was truly grotesque. In one election, 60-odd Conservative and 20-odd Labour candidates were elected. In another election, 70-odd Labour and a handful of Conservative candidates were elected. It totally distorted not only the will of the British people, the British representation, but the general composition of the European Parliament. Therefore, some of the pleas for democracy sound a little strange.
I also believe that some of the points made by noble Lords are behind the times and do not appreciate the full implication of regional lists. The forthcoming elections to the European Parliament will be among the most exciting and relevant; probably not for the Conservatives who will be heading for another disastrous result. However, they will be exciting for the Liberal Democrats. For the first time, there will be a real chance that the number of Members we return to the European Parliament will reflect our general support in the country.
Furthermore, I suspect that the argument that we lose the link with constituents will be replaced by a link which many Members are slow to realise. It is the link with the regions. I suspect that many of the MEPs elected under the list system will become the focal point and voice of their regions in a way which does not apply to Members of Parliament. Regional representatives talking for the north west or the south west will be an interesting new part of our mix.
In addition, the regional representatives will not be a monolith. There will not be a solid Labour block from the north east or a solid Conservative block—I doubt there will be one from anywhere—but there will be interesting regional voices. There might be the Labour voice from the south west; the Liberal Democrat voice from the West Midlands; and the Conservative voice from the north east. There will be new elements to our national and European debates which previous systems have prevented.
726 I am not as pessimistic as many of today's speakers about the reforms before us. We are being given a real opportunity to inject a different kind of democratic choice into the European elections. It is one which will interest and excite the electorate.
As regards the way in which the Liberal Democrats have made their choice, yes, the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, is right. We did slightly tweak pure democracy by a little gender-bending because we want to see many more women elected to the European Parliament. We are not ashamed of that. We are delighted that women are heading a large number of our lists. More importantly, in respect of our system of one-member one-vote, we have produced lists which bear no relation to any wish of a central committee. Anyone who knows anything about our internal party politics and looks at the various lists will see how many of the awkward squad are at the top of the lists. I am sure that if my noble friend Lord Russell had stood in one of the constituencies he would have come at the top. That illustrates how far away from central control they were.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, with a steely look along this Bench, pointed out, the Liberal Democrats and the Liberals before them had STV carved on their hearts. In every discussion we have pointed out the strength of STV. It is my party's chosen system of proportional representation, but it is not the policy of my party in terms of this Bill. As my noble friend Lord Russell will know, prior to the General Election we participated in a study with the Labour Party. It was popularly known as the Cook/Maclennan talks and we drew up a range of agreements on constitutional reform. We agreed to support a list system for elections to the European Parliament. Therefore, it is not a matter of abandoning the party policy. In terms of the purity of STV, we are still wholly in favour. However, as our manifesto stated, we fought the last election in the belief that the elections to the European Parliament should be on a list system.
Given the Labour majority of 178, many people believed that the Cook/Maclennan agreement would be quietly pigeon-holed. I wish to put on record the view that the Labour Party has acted with honour, not only as regards the European Parliament but other elements of the package, in sticking to that agreement, on which it also fought the election, and bringing it speedily before Parliament. It would be dishonourable for the Liberal Democrats, having reached that agreement and fought an election on it, to deny the Government our support at this stage of the Bill.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am a little reluctant to take part in what has become almost a family squabble within the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Party and the combined parties arising from the Cook/Maclennan proposals. In case anyone doubts that I may have had second thoughts during the Recess, I make it clear that I still firmly believe, as does the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, that the first-past-the-post system is by far the best. Of course it has defects. One of the major defects is the fact that constituencies have not been equalised in number. 727 I have made that point on several occasions, but perhaps we are too far down the road to retrieve the situation. But undoubtedly the lack of proportionality of the outcome is a factor as regards the way seats are divided, with almost little or no regard to the quota. If the seats were far closer to the quota in each and every constituency, with perhaps a few exceptions, the result of any election using the first-past-the-post system would be a closer image of the proportionality of the total vote. However, I do not seem to be able to persuade anybody on the Government Benches of the need to do that although, in case any of your Lordships wish to be excited by these things, I shall probably return to the matter at the Report stage of the Scotland Bill when we still have time.
Therefore, I start this afternoon very firmly in favour of first-past-the-post. Nothing I have heard this afternoon in any way changes my mind. Indeed, I am rather like the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who, after an exchange between myself and Government Ministers on the Government of Wales Bill, said that he thought that first-past-the-post was still by far the best system. He said that it was comprehensible; it did not have all the complexities of proportional representation; and it had served us well. I paraphrase what he said but I feel exactly the same way after listening to this afternoon's debate. I shall not take part in a beauty parade as to which method of proportional representation I believe is the least bad.
I suppose that we are talking about the system which the Government propose but we are talking about that in contrast to the single transferable vote. I agree with much of what the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Evans, said about the closed list system. We shall shortly address that because my later amendment opts for the open list system. I do not believe that that is much good but it is less bad than the closed list system. I am realistic enough to know, having battled with the Government on a few pieces of legislation this Session, that to persuade them to change their mind is extremely difficult. A small change may be a good deal easier than a major change. It may be easier to persuade them to accept an open list system as opposed to that which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, now proposes; namely, STV.
I respect the position from which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, comes. He is being true to his principles. He believes in the single transferable vote, as does the Electoral Reform Society and the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I never thought of the noble Earl as a member of the awkward squad. I should never put him in that category. But now we know how narrow the Liberal Democrats are compared with those of us who have received many lessons at the hands of the noble Earl. For me it was usually when I was on the other side of the House at the Dispatch Box answering for the government on social security matters.
We heard clearly from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the single transferable vote may be engraved on his party's heart but for the purposes of this Bill, its heart 728 has been taken out and replaced with a transplant which is called the Cook/Maclennan heart. That says that the party will go along with less than what it wants.
When we debated this matter as long ago as 24th June, I pointed out then some interesting words in the Liberal Democrat News in which Celia Thomas who writes a column called "The Lords Gallery" said about that stage of the Bill, that:All kinds of amendments to the voting system have been tabled by the Tories and just an open list system by our peers, but we fear that any change at all will jeopardise the whole Bill, and that in the end we will have to give in gracefully to the closed list system".Therefore, the great party of high principle turns out to be—I was going to say—just as grubby as the rest of us. However, I go further and say that it is grubbier than the rest of us because we have heard about the high principle of the single transferable vote for so many years and it seems amazing that, at this stage, that high principle should be torn up.
I wish to say a few words about the single transferable vote. I do not believe that it is any better vis à vis the constituency link than what the Government propose because it has to be done in multi-party constituencies. Therefore, it has to be done in fairly large regions, not significantly different from the regions proposed by the Government. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, agrees. That is probably in his "line to take" about which we shall hear in a while. In that regard, I am being helpful although I do not intend to be. I do not believe that the constituency link argument holds at all for the single transferable vote any more than it holds for the list system. That is one reason that I believe very firmly that the first-past-the-post system, for all its proportionality disadvantages, has the huge advantage of the link between the member and his constituency.
I believe also that the single transferable vote is a negation of one person/one vote. I shall not bore your Lordships for too long with why I think that but those of your Lordships who understand STV—and I am sure all your Lordships do—will know that depending on how you place your vote, your second, third, or fourth vote may be counted. But equally, if you place your vote in such a way that the person for whom you vote hovers between being elected and not being elected, your second, third and fourth votes will never be counted. Therefore, it is a negation of one person/one vote. Some people have more votes than others depending on what happens to their first choice. If their first choice fails miserably, their second choice is counted. If their first choice succeeds by a mile, some of their second choices are counted.
I understand the system well but I know that it is not one person/one vote. Some people will be allowed to pass two, three, four or five votes which will be counted. Therefore, I object to the system on those grounds.
We shall deal later with the closed list system and I shall reserve some of my points about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, until we reach that point because much of what he said is more relevant to the closed list. The party apparatus will have quite a lot of control, although not the same amount of control, in deciding who should be on the list for a single 729 transferable vote system. I suspect that the selection for such a system will raise many of the same questions which the Labour party now asks.
I must share with your Lordships the joy of the thought that Mr. Dennis Canavan, who is a fairly independent-minded Member of the other place, was asked by the serious-minded people of the thought police, "Have you ever voted against the Government?", or something like that. Any idiot would know that Dennis has voted against the Government and the Labour Party on any number of occasions. To actually ask him in that bland way shows the thought-police attitude. Despite the fact that Dennis Canavan has been a long-term advocate of a Scottish parliament, he was ditched fairly unceremoniously from his party's list of preferred people. That is a telling point.
All parties will be able to do that. I am sure the Labour Party would agree—perhaps not now but certainly in the old days—that the party cannot guarantee that the local party will jump through the hoop and take the preferred candidate of party headquarters. I can think of one or two occasions at by-elections when the Conservative Party locally did not take on the central office preferred candidate but took somebody else. That was its right and that right will be taken away. All those issues are a serious problem when it comes to any of those methods which remove the first-past-the-post constituent link which we have hitherto had.
However, I return to the point about STV. As your Lordships will have guessed, I am not in favour of it. It is just as bad as all the other PR systems. Interestingly enough, it is not necessarily proportional. I am always intrigued by people who talk about proportional representation. The single transferable vote is not necessarily proportional. I suspect that if that system had been used at the last election, the number of Conservative Members of Parliament would have been markedly fewer than in fact turned out to be the case. Therefore, the single transferable vote would have meant that we were further away from proportionality. I cannot believe that many of the second votes of the Liberal Democrats or Labour Party called into play would have gone to the Conservative Party. Therefore, those second, third and fourth votes which I mentioned earlier would have gone to prevent the Conservative Party achieving even the representation which it in fact received.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the research upon which he is relying that maintained that STV is not proportional assumed that everyone would have cast their preference votes exactly as they would under an ordinary party system? That assumption is not necessarily valid.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, it may not necessarily be valid but it is not necessarily invalid. I do not want to get into a deep discussion about this, but in Scottish politics it has been perfectly clear for at least three elections that people were perfectly able to switch their party allegiance tactically, depending on which party could defeat the Tories. That is, bluntly, 730 what happened. And they succeeded. They had a bit of an attempt in 1987, when they got rid of some of us, and they returned to it in 1997 when they got rid of the rest of us. The fact is that people who are natural Labour supporters in many constituencies voted either Liberal or Scottish Nationalist in order to get rid of the Tories, and the combination goes all the way round. I point to the evidence of the way that Scottish politics panned out on first-past-the-post to back my assertion that those people would certainly not have voted Tory on their second choices but would have shifted their vote to the Liberals, Labour or the Scottish Nationalists, whichever was the most likely to defeat the Conservatives in those constituencies. The point is that STV is not a proportional system.
I do not know what the noble Lord. Lord Alton, will do about his amendment, but I recommend to my noble friends that we should not take part in a beauty contest between the single transferable vote and the list system and that, if the governing party and their friends wish to have a little squabble about this, we should watch with interest.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am glad that the Opposition Front Bench have come to that emphatic conclusion, which I think is normally included on market research polls as, "Put me down as a 'don't know'".
This has been a fascinating debate. The speech which I found the most persuasive came from the noble Lord. Lord McNally. I did not think that there was anything more to be said about STV after our debate last time. Having listened to the debate this afternoon. I remain firmly of that conviction. A good deal of the debate has, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, rightly said, related not to STV but to the question of the closed list. He rightly pointed out that there are matters to be discussed in connection with that list when we come to his amendment. He said that he would not speak about the closed list until then, and I intend to do the same.
In his absence, although I was careful to look after his interests, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was described as part of the awkward squad, which I found deeply offensive. I have always regarded him as the sole constituent of the awkward party, rather than part of the awkward squad. I was accused by the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, of being a lawyer by background. Yes, my Lords, but not by heredity.
My noble friend Lord Evans said that he was looking for a simple system. The system that he contends for, as a necessary consequence and by-product of this amendment, may have many virtues but simplicity is not one of them. If we adopted the system contended for by the noble Lords who tabled this amendment, there could be up to 50 candidates standing for election in the south-east region. Under STV the electors in that region would have to rank up to 50 candidates in order of preference. A number of your Lordships said that persuading people to come out and vote was difficult. The figures are lamentable, I agree. But to present someone with a choice of 50 candidates will not make people pant to go and vote on an STV system.
731 I believe that again the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is right. Whatever the virtues or disadvantages of STV, it does not have any relevant connection with a linkage to a constituency. After all, in Northern Ireland STV was introduced by a previous regime, if I remember correctly, but that is a relatively small electorate which had particular problems of its own and, as it happens, first-past-the-post would have been a disaster in that context. It was for that reason that the previous government quite rightly went to STV. It produced what everyone regards as the appropriate outcome in Northern Ireland; namely, two Unionist and one SDLP member of the European Parliament. That was a very significant advance. Yet, to take up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, there is no specific constituency linkage between a particular individual in Northern Ireland and the region. That is the point. We are not talking about constituencies in the traditional sense; we are talking about regions.
A regional list system was the system recommended by the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, rightly points out that that was the conclusion arrived at in the Cook-Maclennan agreement. I believe that in this country we shall never again have a single monolith by way of electoral system. STV has worked well in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that it would work with the much larger constituencies in England, Wales and Scotland. With 6 million electors in the south-east region, 11 MEPs and up to 50 candidates, it would not be simple, and I do not believe that it would be workable.
My noble friend Lord Evans of Parkside spent a little time discussing what he said were the inadequacies of internal mechanisms in the Labour Party. That may or may not be so, and it is not for me to develop that theme at the moment. My essential submission to your Lordships is this. Whether or not the Conservative Party is more democratic and open than the Liberal Democrats, and whether or not the Liberal Democrats are more democratic and open than the Labour Party, has nothing to do with the point of this Bill; it is a completely separate argument. It is an argument of interest and validity, but it has no place here. If it had a place here, I should be inclined to look for some examples.
The noble Earl is not in his place, but I shall answer his question anyway. Miss Elizabeth Davies was refused selection in a particular parliamentary constituency but was nevertheless elected to the NEC. Why not? That is the attraction of different democratic outcomes. It would not, of course, be right for me to point out that, if I remember rightly, Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Nicholas Budgen, both Conservative MPs for many years, curiously failed to have the opportunity to stand for the forthcoming European elections on the Conservative Party ticket; nor would I want to point out that last Wednesday morning two MEPs were expelled from the Conservative Party but—miracles do exist; be not without faith—they were restored to the Conservative Party, a quicker rebirth than even that of Lazarus.
732 The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asks, not too sotto voce, "What about the Strasbourg four?" I have no problems with the proposition that, if you join a political party, you submit yourself to a certain amount of political discipline, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, knows perfectly well. I am sure that on occasions he had to read out a brief which was not universally to his satisfaction. He accepted the necessary constraint of enjoying a position on this Bench for some years. No one suggests that joining a political party gives anyone a licence to have an individual view which is capable of being determinative of party political policy. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, told me when I first started to read out briefs: "You must stop reading out the brief when it sticks in your craw". If you do not want to go along with the policy of a political party, you leave, you stay and fight or you are expelled.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, for the record, the Minister must be aware that three Conservative MEPs escaped from the Conservatives at Bournemouth. One had the good sense to join the Liberal Democrats; the other two were indeed recaptured.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, one escaped and is now in the care of the community in the Liberal Democrat Party. I do not think I have anything more helpful to add.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for that response. As Members return to care in their respective communities, I was particularly struck by his remark that one must submit oneself to a certain amount of discipline. The question is, how much discipline? I know that government Front Benchers are keen to attack the causes of crime. The party can sometimes, through the disciplinarian approach of the Whips, also attack those who are regarded as the awkward squad. Too much discipline can be imposed on people who take a dissenting view. My complaint about the closed party list system hinges on the way in which candidates will be selected without any relationship to voters, but with a new relationship instead—merely to their political party. That is the chief concern that has been expressed by all who have contributed to the debate. It is interesting that there have been no speeches from the Back Benches in favour of the proposals in the Bill but there has been unanimity between the Front Benches in opposing the amendment. That in itself probably says quite a lot.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred to the link being broken between candidates and voters, but the link is also being broken with regard to questions of conscience. It will no longer be possible to discern between candidates who may take conflicting views on, for instance, the death penalty, the sale of drugs, Europe or euthanasia. It will be "take-it-or-leave-it" politics. Voters will have to take the entire list presented to them. It will not be possible to exercise any choice.
Speaking for the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said that the system was complex and not truly proportional. However, it is very 733 much more proportional than the first-past-the-post system which operates in Britain today which he has been so keen to defend. He then told us to consider what it would mean in terms of party advantage for the Conservative Party and what would have happened to it at Westminster if STV had operated at the last general election. Those do not seem to me to be the principal reasons for examining the way in which our voting system should be modelled for the future. If the STV system were so complex and riddled with the sort of problems that he suggested, surely there would be an amendment to delete Northern Ireland from the provisions of the Bill. We are being invited to endorse the continuation of the single transferable vote, and rightly so, in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, "STV is the chosen system of my party but not on this Bill." If I were to say to your Lordships that I had a chosen position on, say, the death penalty or the single currency, but that I would vote in a totally contrary way on those matters in the relevant legislation, I know what your Lordships would think of that. I know that that policy has been engraved on the noble Lord's heart, but I do not think that it has been engraved on his soul and I suspect that I know where his soul has been sold.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, the noble Lord uses hard words. In the north west, which we both know well, under the system we are likely to pass today, it is likely that Chris Davis and Flo Cluckas from the Liberal Democrats would be elected. No Liberal Democrat has been elected in the north west. Liberal Democrats in the north west have effectively been denied representation in the European Parliament. I believe that this deal gives parties the opportunity to be represented in all regions. I do not call that selling it short or selling our soul. I call that a real, positive advance for proportionality.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, the noble Lord reveals his hand in talking about a deal that has been made. We should be talking instead about constitutional principles, the fashioning of our democracy for the next century and the links between constituency representatives and their voters. With massive voter disillusionment, it is crucially important that voters should be able to vote for named candidates. Under this system, they will be unable to do so. They will be able to vote for the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Party or the Conservative Party, but not for named candidates. That breaches an important constitutional principle. It is a fearsome breach. I genuinely appeal to the noble Lord: even if a deal has been made, that should not be a reason for imposing a Whip on his noble friends requiring them to follow a particular line on this issue. That in itself is indicative of the sort of politics I have been describing, which will be entrenched by closed party list systems.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, reminded us of the need for dissent and diversity. We heard similar sentiments from the noble Lords, Lord Evans and Lord Stoddart. Those are voices of considerable experience in both this House and another place. Voters' rights are being abrogated by a sleight of hand and allegiance to the people is being displaced by allegiance 734 to a party. It is for that reason that I seek to test the mood of your Lordships' House. People may accuse me of fighting the wrong battle in the last ditch, but I think that in politics today too many people say, "These are my principles and if you don't like them, I'll change them".
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 28; Not-Contents, 122.735
|Division No. 2|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Alton of Liverpool, L. [Teller.]||Monson, L.|
|Biddulph, L.||Moran, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Naseby, L.|
|Bridges, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Carlisle, E.||Russell, E.|
|Darcy de Knayth, B.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Dearing, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Evans of Parkside, L. [Teller.]||Tenby, V.|
|Halsbury, E.||Weatherill, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Kitchener, E.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Addington, L.||Gordon of Strathblane, L.|
|Alli, L.||Goudie, B.|
|Amos, B.||Gould of Potternewton, B.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Ashley of Stoke, L.||Gregson, L.|
|Bach, L.||Grenfell, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Hacking, L.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Hardie, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Haskel, L.|
|Borrie, L.||Hayman, B.|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.||Hilton of Eggardon, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.|
|Burlison, L.||Hollick, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Carter, L. [Teller,]||Hoyle, L.|
|Charteris of Amisfield, L.||Hughes, L.|
|Clement-Jones, L.||Hughes of Woodside, L.|
|Crawley, B.||Hunt of Kings Heath, L.|
|Currie of Marylebone, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Islwyn, L.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||Jacobs, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Diamond, L.||Linklater of Butterstone, B.|
|Donoughue, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.|
|Eatwell, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Ludford, B.|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Falconer of Thoroton, L.||Macdonald of Tradeston, L.|
|Falkland, V.||McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.|
|Geraint, L.||McNair, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||McNally, L.|
|Goodhart, L.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Mason of Barnsley, L.||Sandberg, L.|
|Merlyn-Rees, L.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Serota, B.|
|Mishcon, L.||Sewel, L.|
|Molloy, L.||Simon, V.|
|Monkswell, L.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Montague of Oxford, L.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Morris of Castle Morris, L.||Steel of Aikwood, L.|
|Morris of Manchester, L.||Stone of Blackheath, L.|
|Murray of Epping Forest, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Paul, L.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Perry of Walton, L.||Taverne ,L.|
|Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Peston, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Pitkeathley, B.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Prys-Davies, L.||Uddin, B.|
|Ramsay of Cartvale, B.||Varley, L.|
|Randall of St. Budeaux, L.||Watson of Invergowrie, L.|
|Rea, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Rendell of Babergh, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Renwick of Clifton, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Richard, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Russell-Johnston, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Sainsbury of Turville, L.||Young of Old Scone, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accodingly.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 3:
§ Page 1, line 26, at end insert—
§ ("(1A) The names of each of the candidates of a registered political party, and of each individual candidate, in the electoral region shall be printed on the ballot paper.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a small amendment so perhaps I may explain it briefly and then the Minister can give me the assurances which I seek and all will be well.
§ Essentially, there seems to be a great deal of disagreement within the Government about how the regional list votes are to be conducted. In this Bill, the Scottish Bill and the Welsh Bill there are regional lists. In the Scottish and Welsh Bills they are devised in order to get top-up members but in this Bill they are devised in order to get all the members.
§ We shall all be entitled to vote in the European elections. We started from a position where we thought that we would all be given a ballot paper on which there would be our parties' names—the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Party and perhaps the Green Party, if they decide to stand—and independents' names would be on it. Along with the party name, there would be a logo. It is a pretty poor reflection on how the Government view the electorate that they have decided to put pictures on the ballot paper.
§ There are some complications arising because I understand that the Labour Party, for example, may not be allowed in Scotland—on my personal ballot paper—to put the "Scottish Labour Party". That is causing a great deal of trouble in Scotland. The Labour Party feels it quite strongly, the Liberal Democrat Party feels it quite strongly and the Conservative Party feels it strongly. The Scottish Nationalists feel it strongly as well because they will be the only party which will be allowed to use the word "Scottish" on the ballot paper. Perhaps that is a matter for the legislation on the registration of political parties, although I believe that it is important when one considers what the electorate will see when voting.736
§ That is where the matter started. There has been a great deal of discussion about whether candidates' names would be on the ballot paper. We started off with a great debate on the Welsh Bill. It so happened that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who seems to take part in almost all of those pieces of legislation—he has not appeared on the Scottish Bill yet but there is time and he could make a star appearance for 10 minutes on some of these subjects—after a bit of prompting by my noble friend and myself, conceded that the list of candidates' names might be put up in the polling station and it might be published, but certainly the names would not be on the ballot paper. In the Scottish Bill we are at the stage where the list of candidates' names will not be on the ballot paper.
§ This list is of vital importance. It will tell the individual elector for whom he or she is voting—not just singly but maybe the first half dozen. The Welsh Bill has gone and we shall be returning to the matter on the Scottish Bill, but we have it here in the European Bill. The Minister assured me in Committee that it is intended that there should be a list of candidates', names and I quote from col. 336 of Hansard. I was left scratching my head, thinking that of course there has to be a list of names, but will that list of names be published in newspapers and put up in polling stations or will it be on the ballot paper?
§ I have a firm view about that. I do not think much of this system, but I shall think even less of it if members of the electorate cannot see in front of them when they vote for whom they are voting when they vote for the Conservative Party, for whom they are voting when they vote for the Labour Party and for whom they are voting when they vote for the Liberal Democrat Party. I am absolutely sure about that.
§ I read the debate in Committee in Hansard carefully and I believe the Minister was telling me that I should not worry because the secondary legislation will deal with that and the list will be there. I have put down this amendment because I want to be absolutely sure. That is not the position that the Government are taking in Wales, and to date—although I suspect we shall force them to change their mind at the next stage—it is not the position that they have taken on the Scotland Bill.
§ As regards this Bill, I want to narrow the issue to this election to the European Parliament. My amendment would make sure that the list of candidates decided by the party will appear on the ballot paper. In due course we shall come to the question of the names decided by the party. I beg to move.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
My Lords, I should like to indicate the support of these Benches for the spirit of the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said, we have debated this subject before on other pieces of legislation.
There is a case for a standard procedure when introducing new election systems for different purposes. As my noble friend Lord McNally said in the earlier debate, we at least take the view that the lists drawn up by the registered parties, whether for the European elections, the Welsh elections or the Scottish elections, have the advantage of being determined by the party membership by democratic procedure. The counter argument of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is that if the procedure is carried out properly, in the way in which we 737 carry it out, you can argue that it is an extension of political democracy in the country because it gives every member of the political party something positive to do other than to sign a membership card and send a donation. I certainly believe that that has proved to be the case as regards the way in which the drawn up lists have operated within the Liberal Democrats. We are very proud of the fact that we have achieved that in Wales and Scotland and in these European elections.
Secondly, unless the names on the lists determined by the registered parties appear on the ballot paper then an unwitting advantage is given to any independent candidate who may appear, whether in the European elections or in the others. In my view, it would be intolerable that an independent could appear as an,individual candidate, named on the ballot paperas set out in the Bill while the names of those on the lists would not appear on the ballot paper. That would be an indefensible position.
I also find that the wording of new Section 3(2) of the 1978 Act, as set out in Clause 1, to be slightly ambiguous. The subsection saysA vote may be cast for a registered party, or an individual candidate, named on the ballot paper".However, if we are successful in persuading the Government that the list should be on the ballot paper, that wording almost invites a transition to the open-list system. I personally would welcome that very much, but I do not believe that that is the Government's intention. I believe that the subsection is intended to say that the vote may be cast for a registered party or for an independent candidate. Otherwise, the wording is rather confusing.
Finally, I should point out that I am not at all impressed by the argument that I have often heard advanced in bureaucratic circles that the mason we cannot have the list published on the ballot papers is that the ballot paper would then be too large. I have with me a German piece of paper, which is a ballot paper from the recent elections. Noble Lords can clearly see that it is very much larger than the British ballot paper. There are in fact 22 registered parties on it. However, even with 22 registered parties—which I doubt we will have—the Germans have managed to put the five top names of every party on the ballot paper. If it can be done there, it can be done here. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give us that assurance. I should like to tempt the noble Lord to give us a global assurance as he is responsible for matters in Wales, though not yet for Scotland. Now is the time for him to intervene in Scottish matters and assure us that this new principle will extend to elections across the Border.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, vis-à-vis Wales and Scotland, I should point out that this is my day off. Today I am just dealing with the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is quite right. I did make it clear earlier—and I repeat it now—that it is our intention that all candidates' names should appear on the ballot paper for European parliamentary elections. The Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office gave an assurance to that effect in his Written Parliamentary Answer on 23rd June and I gave the same assurance two days later when we considered the matter in Committee.
738 A prototype ballot paper has been placed in the Library of both Houses. It contains the names of candidates and we are commissioning research on the most appropriate design which is to be carried out by the Constitution Unit in conjunction with social and community planning research. I can assure noble Lords that the brief that the latter have been given to work with includes the requirement that all candidates' names should appear on the ballot paper. I am happy to repeat that firm commitment.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I did not actually expect anything less than that assurance. I thought this would be a useful exercise because we are dealing with an important issue. I cannot for the life of me think why we cannot have this on the face of the Bill; but, nevertheless, I am prepared to accept the Minister's categoric assurances. However, I should just warn the Minister that he had better brief his colleagues who are dealing with the Scotland Bill that the words he has just used will be prayed in aid against them when we come to those deliberations. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo)
My Lords, before I call Amendment No. 4 I have to inform the House that if this amendment is agreed to I shall be unable to call Amendment No. 5.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 4:
§ Page 2, line 1, leave out ("a registered party, or").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 6, 9 and 10. These amendments would deliver the open-list system, which was mentioned during the first debate on the single transferable vote. The position at present is that the Government propose that the political parties—and we shall only deal with them—will send to the returning officer a list which they will have determined with the order—the all-important thing—having been decided by the political parties. I shall not enter into a discussion about whether the Labour Party do it better or more openly or whether the Liberal Democrats do it more openly than we do, I shall leave that to the Liberal Democrats who seem to pride themselves in that direction.
§ The fact is that it will be a decision either for a limited number of a political party or for the membership of the party either at a public sort of hustings or by a postal ballot of the members. What will certainly be true is that a vast number of all our party supporters who are not members of the party will not have any say in the order. The order will be decided by the political parties. It will appear on the ballot paper, as we now know, but when I vote for the Conservative Party I shall be voting for the list in the order determined by the Conservative Party centrally. I may not agree with the order on the list but there is nothing I can do about it. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said earlier, the person at the top of the list could be the person I most heartily dislike in the Conservative Party, but I shall have no option other than to vote for the party because that is the only way that I will 739 perhaps get candidate number two or number three. Of course, the number of votes I have will depend upon which part of the UK I live in.
§ Therefore, no one should be in any doubt that the party list system is driven entirely by the party and that it gives the voter absolutely no choice. It has caused all the problems that the noble Lord, Lord Evans, mentioned in his speech earlier; for example, the kind of purity tests that we understand have happened inside the Labour Party. I must admit that I am one of the three people in Scotland who decide whether someone should be approved of as a possible candidate for Parliament, for the Scottish parliament and for the European Parliament.
§ I can share a confidence in that I have passed one or two people whose political views I do not entirely agree with. I did so because I did not believe that I was there just to run a purity test on each issue. I certainly did not ask any of them whether they thought that the last government had made any mistakes. I gather that that is one of the questions that has been asked. Neither did I ask them: "Are there any mistakes that the Government have made since the election?" That is a really awkward question. You either show yourself up as a total flunkey of the party or, if you just say, "Well, they might just have got some little thing wrong", that will get you 10 black marks and ensure that you are not on the list.
§ I have already invited noble Lords to enjoy the question to Dennis Canavan—namely, "Have you ever put an awkward question to a Government Minister?". As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said, the Labour Party has ruthlessly controlled the list, the NEC has ruthlessly controlled the list. However, that is the Labour Party's problem. The fact is that whichever party it is, and however the list is made up, the one group of people who will have no choice in deciding the order of the list are those who decide to vote for the parties. If all our parties were just reliant on the votes of our members, none of us would have very many votes. Indeed, we all rely on the votes of an awful lot of people who do not join our parties, for whatever reason, but who do vote for us and sometimes do so election after election. They will have absolutely no say in the order of the list. The real problem with the list is that if I do not like the number one candidate on the list I may actually take my vote away from candidates two and three if I decide to vote for another party or to abstain.
§ I firmly believe that we ought to move away from the closed list. I hope that my amendments will achieve that aim. However, no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will advise me of the views of the draftsman as regards my friend's ability in that respect. Indeed, I shall not go as far as to pretend that it is my drafting. What we have at present is the proposition that the ballot paper will actually have on it the names of the people put forward by the parties with the order of the names on the list being decided by the party. I have no complaint about that, although I did suggest, rather tongue-in-cheek, that a kind of arbitrary little raffle should be conducted to decide the order. Nevertheless, I am prepared to give the party this much influence so that it will actually determine the order on the list. But when the electorate vote they will place their vote not for the Conservative Party, in my case, but for one of the candidates. If I am quite happy with the top person and I think he or she is the right person to be the top person, I shall vote for that person. If, however, I am perverse and I think that the seventh or eighth person 740 is the right person, I shall vote for that person. The same is true with the Liberal Democrats and with the Labour Party. In other words, we are not invited to vote for a party but for an individual.
§ At the end of the polling, all the votes of the Labour candidates, for example, are added up, as are all the votes for the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Independent, if there is an Independent. The votes are all added up and they then become the party vote. The d'Hondt divisor is brought into play and it is decided how many seats each party receives. Let us say that the Labour Party is to receive three seats. The returning officer then looks at the votes for each individual candidate and he selects the leading three candidates. Those three are elected. The same happens as regards the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat Party. Therefore the d'Hondt divisor does not affect the total votes for the party. However, as regards who should be returned for the Conservative Party, the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrat Party, that decision is made by the electors themselves. Your Lordships who have been following this discussion will realise that I have given the party a bit of an advantage because if I have no particular views about the merits or demerits of each individual candidate the chances are I shall vote for number one. Therefore the party gains a slight advantage. However, that advantage can be gainsaid if the party has put someone further down the list who is much more popular with the electorate and whom the electorate wish to see elected.
The Home Secretary stated in the Guardian on 24th October 1997,
the order of candidates on a party's list and the order in which they are elected should be determined by parties rather than the electorate".
I half agree with him. The order of candidates on a party's list should be determined by parties rather than the electorate; that is what I am suggesting. However, I do not agree with the second part of the argument. The order in which they are elected should be determined not by the parties themselves but by the electorate. I beg to move.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
My Lords, I would be more impressed at hearing that speech—I believe I have now heard it for the third time—from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, if the Conservative Party instead of having three wise men, or however many committees it has, had an internal election for the candidates on the list. That is the real answer. If there is an argument about policy or the personality of the people going forward—the Dennis Canavan case is a good example—in my view that is settled if the party members have a vote themselves. They have such a vote in our party, but not in the party of the noble Lord. While I am wholly sympathetic to the general argument for open lists, the argument would be a little stronger on the part of the Conservative Party if it had open elections itself.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. It might produce a good result for the Conservative Party if I and my two colleagues decided who was on the list. There is a difficulty with using the word "list" in a different way from the way that we have been used to. I am one of the three people who decide whether someone can go forward for consideration; in other words, people who get on to the panel—as we have described 741 it, to distinguish it from the list—to be considered by constituencies for the first-past-the-post system, or who can put themselves forward for selection by the party. While I am speaking, I should say that we are holding a hustings type meeting to which all members of the party will be invited. They will hear all the candidates who have put their names forward and they will then vote. That is not perhaps the postal ballot that the noble Lord's party is suggesting, but it will be a ballot of those members of the party who care to exercise their right to vote. I would not like the noble Lord to think that I was the Obergruppenführer, as it were, on this matter.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
My Lords, the noble Lord is certainly the starting point of that process, if not the finishing point. Of course the noble Lord is quite right. He will accept that certainly in our party—and I guess in his too—the numbers of people who attend hustings meetings are but a small minority of the total membership. I think I am right in saying that when I was elected first on the list in the Lothians—that is a little plug!—there was a ballot of 60 per cent. which is unusual for a postal ballot among party members. I think that is the proper, democratic way to compile a list.
I hope very much that the Government even at this last moment—I note that both the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Mostyn and Lord Sewel, are present—will have a change of heart and will decide that we should allow the voter greater choice in this matter. However, I suspect that will not be the case and that in the end we shall just have to live with a slightly imperfect but nonetheless much better system than we have had up till now.
§ Lord Shore of Stepney
My Lords, the House will be disappointed by that rather feeble intervention from the former leader of the Liberal Party from whom in the past I have come to expect much more decisive contributions, particularly in support of major principles. A major principle is involved here. I find myself in the hideously embarrassing position of agreeing with virtually every word that the spokesman for the Conservative Party has said in his short but powerful intervention a few moments ago.
As I develop my point, I make a point which we should all remind ourselves of because we must not deceive ourselves. The system of election for the European Parliament is, frankly, a matter of secondary importance to the electors in this country. They do not vote in large numbers because they have no regard or affection for the European Parliament. On the contrary I do not think they have regard or affection for it; I think they have a considerable hostility and indeed at times contempt. They have a contempt for it because they know it is a bogus parliament. It is a bogus parliament which claims for itself privileges, rights and so on when it has in no way any authentic roots in the British democracy and the wishes of the British people.
The electorate see the European Parliament as, above all, the place where that classe politique, or rather the representatives of the classe politique in Europe, come together for their mutual support and satisfaction in the pursuit of policies which are often remote from the wishes of their own people. There is such a thing as a classe politique; it is recognised everywhere. Associated with the existence of this classe politique—separated from the democratic wishes 742 and the institutions of their own countries—is the whole system of PR, which makes so much of this separation of representatives from electorates possible and also, I fear, is responsible at its worst for a good deal of the corruption that disfigures so much of democracy on the Continent of Europe. Anyone who has simply read the papers over the past few months must have been struck, if not horrified, at the extent of the corruption revealed in Spanish politics, in French politics, in Belgian politics, for God's sake!. Italy, as we know, is almost a totally discredited political class which is now of course trying to reform itself with new political institutions. It is a very important association: remoteness from the people, proportional representation, the selection of candidates by the party élites and the formation of this separate classe politique in Europe. Now we are being invited to join it. Basically, we are being invited to get rid of what is a far better way of electing people to that institution; namely, with constituency members. Even though there are large constituencies and there are problems, that is a damned sight better way of doing it than having list systems at all, and inevitably with a PR system attached to it.
There are two kinds of objections to what is being done. One of them was put succinctly by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. He drew our attention to the way in which this system deprives the electors of choosing a Member of Parliament. They are unable to do that because the Member's name is not even before them. All the electors are offered instead is to vote for the anonymous party, which decides who is to be the Member of Parliament. It decides not only the list of candidates but the order of preference. A small committee appointed by the party leaders decides who are to be the Members of Parliament. It is outrageous and quite unacceptable to anyone who treasures the traditions of democracy in this country.
Perhaps I may add a relatively minor point. The electors are not allowed to vote for candidates. Whenever a by-election takes place there is no opportunity for an expression of opinion during the four-year period in which general elections are held. All that happens is that the next anonymous name on the list is chosen to be the Member of Parliament and fills the vacancy. These are great disadvantages and, worse, insults imposed on the electors.
As regards our own party members I do not believe that we are doing them any favours. I do not speak with venom against the methods of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrats in choosing under a list system. I suppose they all have their advantages and disadvantages. But there is a big difference from the system today which the ordinary members of our three parties expect to use. In the constituencies a range of people is interviewed who wish to have the honour of representing the constituency. They are interrogated and then they are chosen. There is a vote; they are known; they are judged and it is decided whether they are right. They are the people and if what they do is not liked they can be got rid of at a later stage.
How different is that procedure. It is the right of every party member to take part in the choice and election for what is now on offer. With the best will in the world, with the huge "selectorates" the whole process has to be reduced to the separate constituency Labour Party or Conservative Party associations that form a region. The individual association or party can at best have the right of nomination to a long list 743 and that is all. There is the right of nomination, but the right of choice and selection has to be delegated to a representative committee in which, I fear, the leadership is always tempted to play the major role.
I do not make any accusations because, after all, we have not yet adopted these systems: they have not been introduced. But the dangers of cronyism, patronage and corruption are obvious in a system which concentrates power in such an important area on so few people who are basically self-selected. These seem to me to be very powerful reasons why we should not have a list system at all and why we certainly should not have a closed list system.
Those points were in my mind when we debated these matters on 24th June. I recalled to the House then my concerns and worries, which were certainly not confined to myself. I knew them to be widely shared in the Parliamentary Labour Party and indeed among Ministers. We know very well that the Home Secretary himself was so unhappy and dissatisfied about the almost inevitable results of the system of lists that he set up a short inquiry—it had to be short because the Bill had already had its Second Reading—to try to find a way out. I am sure that he did his best, but he should have given himself more time. He looked at only one alternative system which I thought had the good will and support of the Liberal Democrat Party, as it is now called; namely, the Belgian system. That system allows the elector a choice: he can vote for the party or for named people. The Home Secretary was unhappily persuaded that there was a great deal of dissatisfaction with the Belgian system because people who came top of the list—the people whom the electors wanted—were often outvoted by people who got fewer votes. But because of the party vote and because they were more preferentially regarded by the party managers, they became the members. The man who got the most votes did not get the seat and, hardly surprisingly, that produced a good deal of dissatisfaction, unhappiness and disquiet.
I come to my last point. If my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had had more time to search more widely he would have identified another system practised by the Finns and, I believe, the Luxembourgers. Under that system an open list is insisted on. But there is no option for voting for the party: one can vote only for the named candidate. Inevitably, the candidate who has the most votes gets the seat. I put it to my noble friend that that system is so self-evidently more attractive than this dangerous and untested system which is riddled with difficulties, anomalies and dangers and which we appear to be supporting. If my noble friend cannot produce a really satisfactory reply he cannot expect us to support this measure tonight. We would be doing our duty and serving the country well, and the House of Commons, if we gave the House another chance to reconsider the whole matter.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Russell-Johnston
My Lords, I shall detain the House briefly. I had no intention of speaking at all until I heard the speech of my old sparring partner in the Commons who has always been famed for his capacity to conjure up the apocalypse and its four horsemen almost instantaneously. He did it tonight eloquently and very well, but not all that persuasively.
744 Let us take, for example, the idea that the whole intent of voters in general elections in the United Kingdom is naturally to vote for a particular candidate. I remember vividly when I was elected in Inverness. Feeling very cheerful about it all, I went into a local public house in Newtonmore to celebrate—incognito, naturally, I say in the face of grimaces from the Government Front Bench. I asked a gentleman there how he had voted. He said, "I voted for Mrs. Thatcher". I told him that that was a mistake, but that she was not standing in that constituency! "Well", he said, "I don't know who the Tory was, but I voted for Thatcher". That is the reality in many places, as the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, well knows.
Equally I would say: please do not tell me that parties never manipulate constituency choices. Noble Lords may remember the large signs all over Wales saying, "Wales needs Hain". That was not true at all. The reality is that sometimes parties do these things—even the Liberal Democrats.
Finally, I make a plea to the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney. In a slippery slide during his remarks he said that the European constituencies were rather big. Rather big! They represented a quarter of a million people. The idea, if the first-past-the-post system is justified in single-member constituencies, that it is workable on that scale is absolute nonsense.
The reality is that in the European Parliament, where I have briefly had the opportunity to serve, one was interested in general indications as to philosophy, political attitude: were people Conservatives, Liberals, Socialists or Communists? General political attitudes were important. The Bill answers that problem. The noble Lord. Lord Shore, was uncharacteristically unkind to my dear friend who sits in front of me, my erstwhile leader, for whom I have some continuing respect. Believe it or not, we the Liberal Demcorats are realists. I understand the views of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, who, true to form, made an excellent speech. However, the priority now is to secure the passage of the Bill. We have been through this argument before. It has been well rehearsed and does not require further rehearsal.
§ Lord Evans of Parkside
My Lords, I am in a similar situation to that of my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney. It is the first time in almost 25 years in both Houses that I find myself in agreement with most of the remarks of the Tory spokesman on any measure. The noble Lord said that under the present closed list system the elector has no options whatsoever. That comes close to the kernel of the problem. While I have criticised the Labour Party in its method of selecting candidates, I have also made it clear that I have always thought that, in the final analysis, it was for the elector to decide who the successful candidates would be. The noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, used the "I voted for Thatcher" story. If I have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times in relation to various parts of the country, not specifically Scotland. It is a story that can be trotted out whenever the argument requires.
I have asked my noble friend the Minister to respond to another point. To whom are the elected MEPs under the closed list system to be responsible? There is little doubt that so far as the Labour Party is concerned Labour candidates who are successfully elected to the European Parliament under this system will regard their responsibilities, so far as 745 their future careers are concerned, to lie entirely in obeying the demands and requirements of the National Executive Committee and the leadership of the party. After all, it will be the NEC that has put them there. If the NEC finds that their performance is in its view not satisfactory, they will be removed at the following election. At least the limited proposals of the Conservative Front Bench would ensure that a successful MEP had some regard to the views and wishes of the electorate and would seek to find out what those opinions were.
Perhaps I may take this opportunity to make one matter clear. The Deputy Speaker indicated that if this amendment is carried, Amendment No. 5 will not be put. I believe that this amendment is superior to Amendment No. 5 standing in my name and it is not my intention to press it, irrespective of what happens to this amendment.
I, too, regard the response from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench as less than satisfactory. It would appear that the deal that was stitched up between Mr. Maclennan and Mr. Cook has tied their hands completely. The idea of achieving a few more seats has put out of their heads the once-treasured principle of STV. I remind them that the argument about STV will come to the fore again in relation to another place. They may find some difficulty in persuading people to support them on that occasion unless they go for a similar system to that presently proposed by the Government.
Another point in relation to any system that is adopted is the turnout of the electorate in European Parliament elections. Frankly, it is abysmal. In the previous Euro-elections it ranged from about 38 per cent. in some constituencies to about 16 per cent. in others. I must confess that I do not believe that any of the methods proposed will greatly increase the turnout. But under the Government's proposals how on earth we can persuade party activists, the party members, to go out and vote for a list of candidates in which they have had no participation is absolutely beyond me. I hope that my noble friend will, even at this eleventh hour, consider accepting, if not the exact proposal of the Conservative Front Bench, at least some variation of it which will improve the present government proposals.
It is with a heavy heart after all these years that I am so critical of my party. Nevertheless, in the interests of what I believe is the best future for my party, I have put my fears and views on the record.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, one can sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Evans. However, his complaints seem to relate to matters internal to the Labour Party rather than matters central to the Bill. Knowing how the Liberal Democrats have gone about the matter, I can see that much of the discussion is rather confusing. People talk about the anonymity of this system. But I know that Liberal Democrat voters in the south-west will return Robin Teverson or Graham Watson; that in the eastern region they will return Andrew Duff; in the West Midlands, Liz Lynne; in the south-east, Emma Nicholson and Chris Huhne; in the north-west, Chris Davies and Flo Clucas; in London, Sarah Ludford and Hugh Dykes. The idea that somehow candidates are to be anonymous in these elections is palpably absurd. There is an idea that they will be dependent on some party gauleiters. I can only say as a Liberal Democrat that, if 746 they are to survive as MEPs, they will need to become effective spokesmen and spokeswomen for the regions in which they run for election.
Where so many of the speakers are behind the game in the debate is in thinking only in terms of old Westminster parliamentary constituencies. We shall see a whole new generation of Euro MPs who will see themselves as regional representatives, regional spokesmen. That will be wholly good and effective both in terms of giving a personality to the European Parliament and in giving effectiveness to the electorates.
I understand some of the points made on the Opposition Benches, but I say to the noble Lord, Lord Evans, on this point and others that have been made about the position of this Bench that this is no squalid deal as far as we are concerned. We participated in an effective study before the election. Both sides then took the result of the study to our parties and the commitments were incorporated in our respective general election manifestos. There is nothing in the Bill that was not put by our party candidates at the last election. We have no problems at all in standing four square behind it. The Government have delivered what they promised and we are delivering what we promised.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I had not intended to speak until I heard the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I must confess that I listened to him with amazement. He said that the Maclennan-Cook deal or Cook-Maclennan deal, whichever way it is, was not a squalid hole-in-the-corner deal. I have to say it sounds very much like it to me. It was apparently a deal which did not involve any other political party, not in England anyway. It was a deal which was not put to the electorate. I confess I cannot remember seeing it, although I did not vote in the general election. Nevertheless I did not see it in the Labour Party manifesto, nor can I recall it having been discussed widely within the Labour Party. So it seems to me that this form of proportional representation has been reached by a squalid deal before an election rather than a squalid deal after an election. That is even worse.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is having a difficult afternoon. It was difficult on Amendment No. 2, when he had to say to his party that they were at this stage abrogating, ignoring the long-term commitment to STV. I do not know how that will go down in the Liberal Party. When they understand that in the House of Lords there will be the opportunity for the Liberal Party to vote for STV—which they have been prating on about for decades—and they fail to support it, I do not know what they will do. Poor Paddy! He has got something coming to him, in my view.
The fact is that what is proposed cannot, under any circumstances, be described as proper representative democracy. It reminds me of the Soviet system of elections. That is where they have a party list and a non-party list. That was all one was able to choose. Democracy is about representation. Representation in this country is understood to be for the person who is being taxed and the person who has laws made for him has the right to representation where those laws are being made. Having elected someone, the elector has to know who that someone is to have proper access to him in order that people can put pressure upon that person.
747 It is no good the electorate going to someone under this system, because it will not depend on the electorate as to whether the person is re-elected. It will depend on a party coterie. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, shakes his head, but if there is a big issue within the region and, for example, two people out of the 11—as it would be in my own region, the south-east—decide that they will go against the party line, it will be the party that will decide whether they shall stand at the next election and not the electorate. So it takes away from the electorate the right to have an influence on and, in the last analysis, to discipline the person who is supposed to represent them. In that respect and in every other respect, my noble friends Lord Evans and Lord Shore are absolutely correct. The Liberal Democrats—I hesitated about saying that—have this afternoon got themselves tied into a corner, which I think they will regret and which I too regret. They have had some good ideas in the past. I thought that they believed in democracy, but I am beginning even to doubt that.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, one of the pleasures of listening to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is to find out which aspect of Labour Party policy he proposes to denounce on that day. I cannot recall any occasion in recent weeks or months on which the noble Lord and the Labour Party leadership have been in agreement. No doubt at some stage in the future we will have such a happy occasion, which on these Benches we shall want to celebrate.
On a future occasion when the noble Lord speaks, perhaps he might apply himself to working more carefully on his speech before he delivers it. What he said about the Cook-Maclennan talks was absolute nonsense. After the discussions which took place between the representatives of the Labour Party and the representatives of the Liberal Democrats substantial publicity was given to what had been decided in those talks. The fact that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, did not apparently bother to examine what had been said on that occasion is a matter for him and not for others.
It was also made absolutely clear in the election manifestos of both political parties where they stood on the issue. There is no mystery about it, no smoke-filled room negotiation. It was all done openly and in front of the British people. As we can all recall, at the general election more than 60 per cent. of the people of this country voted for either the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will reflect upon those statistics.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he telling me that in both the Labour Party manifesto and the Liberal Party manifesto this system of election was put forward? That is what I was trying to indicate. I must confess that I did not see it, nor did I hear about it.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, the noble Lord knows that election manifestos do not consist of the publication of details of a Bill. The central issue was PR for the European Parliament and reform of this House. They were two good examples of what was decided. As I indicated, there was plenty of publicity given at the time to 748 what had been agreed. Therefore, the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is as wildly inaccurate as many of the other statements he makes in this House.
The Earl of Dartmouth
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Surely the basic point is that we now know—and we did not know before—that the Liberal Party is in favour of a closed list system for the European elections in June 1999. I for one look forward to conveying it to the electors when the time comes.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, not for the first time it falls to me to try to lower the temperature a little. It is well known of course that all constitutional arrangements have elements which are decorative and stately rather than necessarily functional. I think there is still someone around and about who rejoices in the title of Bearer of the Cap of Maintenance. It is very interesting to me to understand that our constitutional arrangements are developing organically, because according to what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has told us, north of the Border he is to be the Keeper of the Black Spot, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Indeed, he said most beguilingly I thought, that he would have nothing to do with whether anyone got on the list or not: even better, he would stop them even applying to get on the list. That must be new conservatism.
The fact is that if we adopt the present system which is proposed in the Bill, 70 per cent. of our fellow colleagues in the European Union will be voting on this system; namely, Germany, France, Greece, Spain, Portugal and ourselves—70 per cent. This is not an enormous constitutional innovation, intended to subvert all our regimes. It is intended to be a development to make people more interested in Europe in a parliament which of course is not the same as the Westminster Parliament. Its functions, its constitution and its structures are designedly different.
What the Government propose is a simple list system. The noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, is quite right. The Home Secretary did look at other models and came to the conclusion that they had deficiencies. He is also quite right in that the Finnish system is the same generally as the system proposed by these amendments. The Luxembourg system is not: it is quite a complicated system in which each voter can vote up to six times, spreading votes between the parties. That is not, I believe, a very practical way of going forward.
There has been quite a lot of research done, and perhaps I could refer your Lordships quite briefly to the publication, Counting on Europe. I quote:Open list ballot papers are more complicated. The ballot paper will be much longer because all the candidates will have to be listed with tick boxes. People may feel obliged to look over all the names, a lengthy business in the South East region where with 11 seats there could be 40 or more candidates…I believe it could be 50: that is my interpolation.… some people such as the elderly, those who have difficulty reading, first-time voters, and people who are just attached to the existing way of doing things may dislike the ballot paper or find it confusing …Making Votes Countprovided good survey evidence that British electors do not like complicated ballot papers, with multiple names and tick boxes. They strongly prefer simple, short ballot papers".With the new electoral regions they are going to be very large, and I have not heard it developed as a sensible argument or proposal that they should not be or could not 749 be. The fact is that individual candidates are going to be known by a very small proportion of voters. If this were an Athenian democracy, which it is not, then that might not be a proposal that I would put forward. The fact is that all political regimes of a developed nature depend on party organisations, and it is parties which bring forward candidates. It is a small number of party activists who go to meetings, who attend hustings and who in fact focus on the choice of candidates.
Perhaps I may offer a suggestion. At present the first-past-the-post system which the irredentists cling to depends on a closed list of one. We do not have primary elections in this country, as far as I am aware, to choose that one. To suggest that a closed list of one is rather more democratic somehow than a simple list of 10 or 11 simply is Cloud-cuckoo-land. To suggest that party discipline is going to focus on this list of 10 or 11, as opposed to the prospective deselection of the one, I believe it wholly unreal.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Shore of Stepney
My Lords, if I have understood my noble friend, a closed list of one is how he refers to the present way of selecting candidates to bear the party's standard in Parliament. But surely you could only use that phrase if only one candidate came before the selectors. Where there are half a dozen candidates coming before the selectors, the party members, and being interrogated by them and then they decide on the one that they prefer, that surely cannot be described as a closed list of one. Have I wholly misunderstood my noble friend?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, my noble friend has wholly misunderstood what I was saying and he has at the same time wholly confirmed the thrust of what I was actually articulating. What, on a first-past-the-post system, is offered to the voter is literally a closed list of one. It derived of course from a list which offered itself forward and was allowed to be offered forward in the Labour Party—in Scotland it is not allowed to be put forward—and then that closed list of one is offered to the electors. Equally, assume that there are 10 persons on the simple list: in the Labour Party they derive from a field of hopefuls and others of perhaps 20 or 30, and so what I said earlier was the literal truth.
The electorate at present is given a choice to vote for this Labour candidate or nobody else, if they want to vote Labour. I repeat that the research which has been commissioned generally indicates that the system proposed by the Government is one that is likely to work. I shall not repeat it at any length, because we have worked through the systems often enough. The fact is that if you have a so-called open list it is perfectly capable of producing anomalies so that those with the largest personal vote may not be elected and others on the party list may well be.
The Government's position, I am glad to say, had strong support from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on an earlier occasion. He described the earlier proposals as "fiddle" and "manifestly unfair" in that some persons could be elected on fewer votes on candidates who were not elected. We believe that we have got a workable system. All electoral systems, in the nature of things, and particularly new ones, are likely to be compromises. We think we have reached a fair compromise. It is not unprecedented in this 750 country. The 1996 Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc) Act, which was piloted by the party opposite when in government, provided for a list-based electoral system for elections to the Peace Forum with closed lists. They thought it would work then and we believe it will work in the future.
I repeat again that one does not need to be a slavish follower of everything European, but if this Bill is carried in its present form 70 per cent. of our colleagues in Europe, including us, will be voting in this way. I think that the arguments put forward—substantially on the basis of "Where will it all end?"—are not convincing.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate, made more interesting by the fact that it took three interventions from the Liberal Front Benches to deal with a fairly simple issue. I suspect that was to cover embarrassment at what I think was described as "a squalid deal". It also probably took three interventions to cover the simple fact that, as I said earlier, Celia Thomas, writing in the Liberal Democrat News, gave the game away when she said that in the end they would have to give in gracefully to the closed list. So it has taken three Liberal Front-Benchers to give in gracefully to the closed list. Does a Liberal BackBencher wish to intervene?
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, I was just about to take my seat; but at the next European elections something like 20 Liberal Democrats will be elected. They will be elected because they will represent something like that proportion of people voting Liberal Democrat at that election. That will be the first time that the Liberal Democrats will have got a fair deal from the electoral system for the European Parliament. I do not call that a squalid deal: I call it electoral justice.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, that was the fourth intervention from a Liberal Democrat Front-Bencher: I had thought one was coming from the Back Benches. So it is really all to do with making sure that the Liberal Party gets its place in the sun: in fact I have never had any doubt that this was the reason why they supported proportional representation.
However, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, by intervening has reminded me that he seemed to be implying that next June the proof of the pudding will not just be in the vast number of Liberals who are elected, but in the vast number of the electorate who will turn out, because they will be so enthused by this new system of voting. We may well find that that is not so, but we look forward to the proof of that particular pudding in June.
As always, the Minister makes interesting submissions to your Lordships' House. He came close to saying, as usual, that just because we do it differently from other parts of the world we are wrong and we must change. I am surprised that we are not being invited to drive on the right-hand side of the road which is the practice on the Continent. The fact of the matter is that five states—Germany, Spain, France, Greece and Portugal—adopt a closed system where voters cannot alter the order in which the candidates appear on the list. In nine states—Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Austria and Ireland—the order of names on the list may be changed by casting personal votes for particular candidates. In Luxembourg and Ireland voters may in addition vote for candidates from 751 different parties. That comes from the brief of the Electoral Reform Society. I say that in case the noble Lord is tempted to intervene and contradict it. I have no reason to believe that that factual information is incorrect.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was careful to tell the House that Westminster elections are different. That little caveat is inserted just in case the Government decide—as I hope they will in a month or two—not to have any truck with a Jenkins report that favours that kind of voting for Westminster.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, in an endeavour to be entirely helpful, I said that the Westminster Parliament is different, not that Westminster elections are different.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am happy to have that correction. The Westminster Parliament is different—exactly. The noble Lord has said on a number of occasions at an earlier stage of the Bill that the Westminster Parliament elects a government.
The noble Lord made one other interesting point in his submission. He accused his noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney of intervening and justifying the noble Lord's position. I had understood the noble Lord to say earlier that a focus group (presumably) had said it liked simple, short ballot papers. Dare I say that the simplest and shortest ballot papers can be found in a first-past-the-post system? I believe that the noble Lord shot himself in the foot in making that point.
I accept that this is a difficult issue and clearly the House is not at one with us. We shall consider these issues and decide whether or not to return to them at the next stage of the Bill. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 5 to 12 not moved.]
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 13:
§ After Clause 4, insert the following new clause—