HL Deb 20 October 1998 vol 593 cc1316-36

3.20 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Number of MEPs, electoral regions and electoral system]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 1:

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

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment and the three grouped with it seek to change the voting system for the European elections in a very significant way, in order to give the electorate more choice and the party apparatus less choice. We have been over this ground on a number of occasions, not just on this Bill but also on the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill. However, I think it is worth rehearsing the Government's proposal and also that contained in my amendments.

We are moving from single-member constituencies in Europe, first past the post, to regional lists covering very large areas of the country, where a number of European Members of Parliament—sometimes as few as four, sometimes 10—will be elected on the basis of a list system. For example, in London there are 10; in Scotland there are eight. The order of the list is all-important because, depending on the number of seats a party gains on a proportional system, that will lead to a number of members on the list being elected. I do not wish to go into the various systems which will be used to determine how many seats each party will get. The d'Hondt system, if one has to have that kind of system, is as good as any other. I should put in my usual caveat and say that, although I am discussing how to improve this particular system of proportional representation, the whole thing could be properly improved by sticking with the first past the post. Having made that point, I go on to look at the system the Government have proposed.

When noble Lords go into the polling booths for the European elections next year, they will be confronted with the party names. Also on the ballot paper may be the names of the candidates selected by the party in the preferred order; no one will be able to alter the order of those names. All your Lordships and the voter will be asked to do is to vote for the party. Labour voters will therefore vote for the Labour Party; Conservatives for the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats for the Liberal Democrat Party. That will be all. The votes will then be taken away; the d'Hondt divisors will be used and the number of seats for each party will be determined. The returning officer will then say that the Labour Party deserves three seats—though frankly I do not see why it deserves any—and the top three candidates will be elected.

The decision about that order of candidates is vitally important. As the Bill currently stands, that order will be determined entirely by the party itself. The three main parties represented in your Lordships' House have all chosen slightly different ways to decide on the order of that list. It would be fair to say that the Liberal Democrat Party has chosen the most open way in the form of a postal vote of its members. The Conservative Party has chosen the second most open way; that is, to hold general meetings of its members in each area. They come along, listen to the candidates, and then vote to determine the order of candidates. As I understand it, the Labour Party's decisions will be made by the powerful people who inhabit a certain floor of Millbank Tower, and so will be slightly less democratic and open.

That is how the three parties will do it. As our parties are independent organisations, it is only reasonable that they should be able to do it in their own way. It is odd that the Labour Party, which proclaims so much faith in democracy, has chosen the least democratic method of deciding the list. I hear my noble friends say that it is not odd at all. They are probably right: it is part of the control mechanism which so inhabits the Government. The real point, whether it is the Liberal Democrat, the Conservative or the Labour method, is that the one person who has no choice is the voter.

My amendments would mean that when the voter goes into the polling station next June, the voter who wants to vote for the Conservative Party would do so by placing his cross against the person on the Conservative list he would like to see being elected above all the others. The same is true of Labour; the same is true of the Liberal Democrats; in Scotland, the same would be true of the Scottish National Party. At the end of polling, all the votes cast for the Conservative candidates would be totalled, as they would be also for the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist candidates. The total votes for the parties will then be determined. The d'Hondt divisor will be brought into play; the number of seats to be given to each party will be determined, and the returning officer—let us say that the Labour Party are to get three members—will then look at the list and pick the three members who have received the most votes from the Labour electorate; not the general electorate but the Labour electorate. Those people who vote Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, will therefore determine not just the number of seats the party will gain, but who on the party's list will gain those seats.

Your Lordships may well wonder why the Government are against a proposal which is so open and democratic. We will know a little later whether or not the Liberal Democrats are also opposed to it. A number of arguments have been heard over the course of this and related Bills. One is that our European neighbours have closed lists. Yes, some of them do. Germany, Spain, France, Greece and Portugal have a closed list system. Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Austria and Ireland, however, have systems where the order of the names may be changed by casting personal votes for specific candidates. In Luxembourg and Ireland there can be cross-voting for people in different parties. The idea that, by moving to a closed list system, we are moving to one which accords with all our European neighbours is simply not true.

In any case, why do the Government seem to be so distrusting of our electoral system that they think that anything anybody else does must inevitably be better? That seems to be one of the themes that runs through it. I do not ask France and Germany to change their systems to our system, and I do not see why we have this obsession that what we have done for decades, in some cases centuries, is somehow worse than what some of them have done for only the blink of an eye when it comes to democratic elections this century.

The Government will tell us that the ballot paper will be too complicated. That is simply not true. The ballot paper will be reasonably straightforward. Indeed the Electoral Reform Society has produced a ballot paper which makes that quite clear. In case the Government still think that and the noble Lord, Lord Mostyn, tries to tell us that, perhaps I may suggest that he looks at Germany and the ballot paper that they used there a few weeks ago? He will see that it is not a straightforward ballot paper. The ballot paper outlined by the Electoral Reform Society for the system I am proposing would be a good deal simpler. I do not believe that the argument that the ballot paper will be too complicated holds any water at all.

What would the electorate like? The Home Office set up a focus group. That will not surprise your Lordships: if in doubt, set up a focus group! It commissioned some research by NOP last February and found that voters felt that the proposed closed list system appeared to be depriving them of their right to select individuals. For some voters it raised the question as to whether party loyalty will precede constituency loyalty. Focus group research carried out for the McDougall Trust by NOP found that voters' reactions were immediately negative to closed party lists, as they believed that they were being deprived of their right to vote for individual candidates.

I should have thought that to be fairly reasonable and self-evident. An organisation called the Democratic Audit carried out some work based on an ICM poll commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. None of these organisations is a particularly a great supporter of the Conservative Party, but I believe that members of the Government and their friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches should be listening to what they are saying.

The poll asked people to vote on closed or open lists. The report stated that two-fifths used the opportunity to vote for individual candidates, while three-fifths voted for the party list. Charter 88 states that that is a significant majority, especially given that voters will never before have used a list system. The report states: In real campaign conditions, we would expect up to half the voters to use the opportunity to support a particular candidate".

If somebody straightforwardly wishes to vote for the party he simply votes for the person at the top of the party's list—if the party can put names in order. It could be alphabetical order. I have no objection to the party doing that, but I believe that people should be allowed so to vote.

One of the arguments used on a number of occasions by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is that the first-past-the-post system is a closed list of one. That is significant and it is right, but in many regions when a voter votes for a party he will be voting for more than one person—he will be voting for two, three or four people. I suggest that in those circumstances a voter who does not like the names at the top of the list will be less likely to vote for another person or another party because he or she will realise that the vote counts for more than one person. However, we all know that in first-past-the-post elections a significant number of people say, "I put my hand over the candidate's name and voted for the party". There are a minority—not many—who say, "I am not voting for my party if that is its candidate". Therefore, I believe that the closed list of one is not a good argument because only one person is elected. One can decide not to vote for that person without endangering up to three or four of one's party's seats in a particular area.

I thought that the first-past-the-post system was a bit wobbly at the last election, and I even thought that it was a bit wobbly in 1987. But just because the result is not what I would have chosen that is not a good reason for changing the electoral system. I have always made that clear. However, the most important fact is that if the Government want to move away from the first-past-the-post system they should not hark back to some of its advantages in order to justify the closed list system, for goodness sake. If we are moving to proportional representation it ought to be not merely proportional representation; it ought to give the electorate more democratic control in terms of the people they elect.

Charter 88, in its handout on the issue, stated: We believe that voters should be able to choose between candidates of the same party. We are especially concerned that voters are not given the impression that the new voting system is being introduced for party political benefit. We are concerned that if the Government insist on the use of closed lists voters may be left with the impression that the voting system has been manipulated for party political aims".

I could not have put it better myself. It is being manipulated for the political ends of the party.

We agree to differ on the principles of first-past-the-post, but when we get into the nitty-gritty of the systems we can make common cause. Mr. Ken Ritchie said today: We are all for proportional representation and we give the Government credit for having moved so quickly in introducing PR for European elections. But there is more to electoral reform than PR. We want to see voters being able to exercise more choice, and certainly not less choice, over who their MEPs will be. Such a system [the closed list] is bad for voters, bad for candidates and bad for democracy".

I hope that at this last gasp your Lordships will agree that we ought to amend the Bill to ensure that the voters have some choice not just on the party colours of the people who represent them in the European Parliament, but also on who the individual who represents them should be. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside

My Lords, last Monday at the Report stage I made it clear that the amendment we were debating, which was the same amendment as we are debating today, was superior to those that I had tabled giving the electorate choice of candidates. I stated that I would withdraw my amendments because I thought this amendment was better.

I have made it clear from the outset that I am hostile to the entire concept of the Bill in relation to closed lists as selected by central committees. I say to my noble friend the Minister that the amendment, if accepted by the Government, will not affect the Labour Party NEC's chosen list of candidates in any way whatever. Those chosen candidates will remain on the list. It will not affect proportionality in relation to the parties because, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, made clear, the total of the votes cast for all the candidates will be given to the party. However, the electorate will have a small say in the positions of the candidates, and in one or two circumstances there might be a difference between the party's list and the electorate's final choice. It is a modest amendment which improves what I believe is a thoroughly bad Bill.

I also draw the Minister's attention, and the attention of the Liberal Democrats, to an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph of 15th October by Mr. George Jones, the paper's distinguished political editor. He was writing about the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, for the reform of voting systems for the House of Commons. I am certain that Mr. Jones had received some interesting information from a good source. He states that during a series of consultation exercises around the country he had been taken aback by the hostility to the idea that introducing some form of proportional representation based on a list system would increase party control.

The article quotes the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. Apparently, the initial proposal was that the names would be selected by the parties from a pre-set closed list. However, the noble Lord proposes that voters should be able to vote for individual candidates on the list. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not in his place, but I believe that that is an important article. I submit that the proposal sounds like the amendment we are currently discussing, which tries to remove some of the tight control held by the central executive over the party's list. I trust that the Liberal Democrats will give the matter further thought in view of the fact that we might have to deal with the issue again when we receive the final report of the noble Lord and his committee.

I also refer to the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, when he dismissed my noble friend Lord Stoddart, who asked for an explanation of the system adopted by the Government in the Bill. The noble Lord rather loftily dismissed my noble friend by stating that election manifestos do not consist of the details of a Bill. I could not remember any mention in the manifesto, but that was probably my fault. Therefore, I searched through my copy and, sure enough, I found a reference towards the end of the document on page 37. There are 14 words in the manifesto, which state: We have long supported a proportional voting system for election to the European Parliament". Yes, but it offered no explanation whatever. However, it did offer an interesting explanation of the system to be adopted for both the Scottish and Welsh elections to their respective parliaments next year. When we hide behind manifesto statements of such a brief nature and then produce Bills subsequently which leave a lot to be desired as far as democracy is concerned, it tends to bring politics into disrepute.

I suggest to my noble friend that if the Government accept this amendment it may actually assist the party in Wales. I understand that there are considerable difficulties with sections of the Welsh party because of the selection of the candidates to contest the five seats in Wales. My information is that the three Welsh Labour Party members on the NEC selection panel completely disagreed with the majority's placement of the candidates but were outvoted by the rest of the NEC members.

There have been considerable problems in Wales, with protests from various constituency parties about the Welsh list of candidates. If my noble friend can accept this amendment it will solve the Welsh problems at a stroke. It would give the Welsh electorate the opportunity to decide the order of the candidates to contest the election in Wales.

Is this Chamber a revising Chamber, as has often been pointed out? I am not parting company with the Government on any particular or major piece of legislation. I am asking them to have second thoughts about a particular element in a particular Bill, as are other noble Lords. When it discussed this issue in Committee, the House of Commons did not spend long debating particular methods. On Second Reading, on 25th November 1997, there was a rather astonishing exchange between the Home Secretary and various Members when, introducing the Bill, he said: To help hon. Members, I shall arrange for a brief description of how the Belgian system operates to be placed in the Library, alongside a greater description of how the system in the Bill is intended to operate, and I shall be interested to learn how hon. Members on both sides of the House perceive the system. This will therefore be a subject to which we can return at a later stage of the Bill's passage". Hansard records that several honourable Members rose and Mr. Straw said: I give way first to the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney). Sir Brian said: I want to be clear as to what the Home Secretary has said. Has he just said that, having proposed the Second Reading of a major Government Bill, he is now signalling that he is willing to change one of the fundamental aspects of that Bill? Mr. Straw replied: It may come as a surprise to the right hon. Gentleman, as a member of the previous Government, who did so badly, that we are a party and a Government who listen to argument".—[Official Report, Commons; 25/11/97, col. 814]. That is precisely what is being attempted on this occasion. An argument is being presented in relation to one aspect of the Bill. It is not an instruction to the House of Commons that it has to accept anything from the House of Lords; it is an opportunity for it to have second thoughts about this particular aspect. If the Home Secretary is correct that this is a government who listen to argument, and if the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, is correctly quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying that he has been taken aback by the hostility to closed lists which increase central party control over candidates, surely this is a timely and helpful amendment from the revising Chamber to the principal Chamber. I trust that my noble friend will give serious consideration to accepting the amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I must declare an interest as president of the Electoral Reform Society. The society put out a press release at two o'clock today from which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has already quoted. I wish to quote the paragraph following the one mentioned by the noble Lord: At present many candidates have been selected and put on lists in positions in which they have no hope whatsoever of being elected no matter how popular they are with the electorate. Others near the top of lists will almost certainly be elected even if the electorate thinks they are useless. Such a system is bad for voters, bad for the candidates and bad for democracy". Having declared my interest, I have also read the Companion to the Standing Orders which says that noble Lords speak not for outside interests but for themselves. I am also aware that the attitude of my Front Bench towards this amendment is different from that of the society. That attitude has very great weight with me. But, faced with two conflicting pressures, I think that frees me to consider arguments of principle, of the national interest and of democracy. That is what I propose to do.

I shall not spend long on the case against the closed list. I have been outlining it since the Second Reading of the Bill. The basic point is that democracy involves the right to choose both what party and what person will represent us. This Bill allows us to choose what party represents us; it does not allow us to choose what person represents us. That appears to be a fundamental blow to democracy. It is bad for the candidates; it is even worse for the elected members. It destroys the accountability of the member to the voters. In doing so it destroys one of the very cardinal principles of democracy. All members of elected assemblies—or of any other assemblies—will try to please those from whom their title to sit comes. It is human and it is inevitable. This Bill creates an incentive to please a party machinery and not to please voters.

We on these Benches have always upheld two principles of electoral reform. One is the principle of proportionality, which this Bill meets. The other is the principle of accountability to the voters, extension of voter choice and the use of the injection of democracy to control unaccountable power. The one principle has always been as important to us as the other. The second principle this Bill does not meet at all. It is not a representation of the people Bill; it is a representation of the parties Bill.

The contrary case must rest almost entirely in terms of the appeal to loyalty. My loyalty to my party is one of the strongest emotions that I possess. It is a greater loyalty to a collective group of people than I ever believed myself capable of. I agree—we all do—that all political effort is and must be a team effort. In my actions so far I have tried to give effect to that principle. I had been here 10 years before I voted against the party Whip. Indeed, I was once reproved by Lady Seear, as deputy Leader, for insufficient willingness to vote against the Whip. Since then I have done it twice, on both occasions on this particular issue—three offences, if you like, but all on the same point, so I might ask for the sentences to run concurrently.

The need for a team effort necessarily goes both ways. There is sense in what I am told is a disciplinary maxim in the American army: never give an order which is not going to be obeyed.

Loyalty is something about which I have thought in many contexts. It takes many forms. Loyalty can be loyalty to a person or it can be loyalty to principles. The distinction is most classically made in the famous "Saturday night massacre" in the United States when Richard Nixon ordered the Attorney-General to sack the Special Prosecutor. A1 Haig said to the Attorney-General, "Your Commander-in-Chief is giving you an order". The Attorney-General replied, "I am sworn to obey the constitution". There you have the two principles of loyalty. Your Lordships will have no difficulty in guessing which is mine.

Loyalty can also be a loyalty to a person or to a group. When I think of my loyalty to my party, I think of the people with whom I ran up steps in Oldham in a heat wave or who held the torch for me when I looked for numbers in Winchester Cathedral Close in the rain and in the dark. If I were to vote with this Whip, they would not understand me. That, of course, is not an insuperable argument. Occasionally, one has to do things which they do not understand. What is much more important to me is that I could hear myself, if I tried to answer them, getting to the point where my voice faltered and I had no argument.

I have listened to my Front Bench on this issue many times. They argue that there has been a deal. I do not know what deal; when it was reached; where it was reached; or for what inducement. I would need to know those things. I do know that when this Bill was first announced. It certainly was not known to those who managed the business for us that it was to introduce a closed list. I do know that my honourable friends in another place voted against a closed list. If we carry this amendment, I would expect it possible that many of them might do so again.

The other argument is simply in terms of the loss of the Bill. I argued last week that I do not really believe that that is a particularly large danger. All three parties have now chosen their candidates. If the Bill were to be lost, we would have to go back to the old constituencies and to the old candidates. I do not believe that the Prime Minister wants Mr. Ken Coates returned as a Labour MEP. Therefore, I believe that the danger of the loss of the Bill is small.

We must consider always, especially when in trouble with our parties, what the effect of our vote is. I do not believe that a vote for this amendment is just a gesture. I believe there is a possibility that the amendment might carry. If it carries, I believe it will attract support in another place. I believe it is not impossible that it might be accepted. The chances of course are slim, but if we do not try to change legislation where there is a slim chance, then, my Lords, what are we doing here?

I must of course listen, and will listen with the greatest care, to what my Front Bench says in reply to what I have said. I owe them that. But I must say to them that, as I see things at present, I am minded to vote for the amendment; and any argument that persuades me otherwise would have to be a very good one indeed.

Lord Renton

My Lords, we have heard three very impressive speeches in favour of the amendment. I am sure that all your Lordships will carry their mind back to other occasions when Parliament has had to decide on electoral reform. Certainly in this century—it was not so true in the previous century—we have generally managed to get a high degree of agreement between the parties on that matter and we have tried also to put the interests of the people first. One's mind goes back to giving votes to women, to the lowering of the voting age, and so on. It would be very unfortunate if an amendment which should achieve agreement between the parties, even though it is something of a compromise, were to fail in your Lordships' House. I therefore implore not only the members of the Government Front Bench but also the members of the Liberal Democrat Front Bench to bear in mind those two worthy ends: meeting the interests of the voters and trying to get agreement between the parties.

Lord McNally

My Lords, when I was Member of Parliament for Stockport, South I once went to a local club. The chairman said, "Before we start the bingo, we will have a few words from our Member of Parliament". Until the intervention of my noble friend Lord Russell, that was the most daunting softening up for any speech I had to make. Of course I understand his strong commitment to proportional representation, to democracy and to open lists, and certainly no orders are going from this Front Bench. We have a position, as we are entitled to have, and that is that we will invite Liberal Democrats to vote with the Government and against the amendment.

My favourite political play is "Antigone" in which Creon explains to Antigone that politics is sometimes about getting your hands a little dirty. I fear that my noble friend Lord Russell is my Antigone.

Noble Lords


Lord McNally

I hear the "Ohs" from former Conservative Ministers who spent 18 years getting their hands dirty, so let us have a little silence from those Benches. I also remember George Woodcock, the former General Secretary of the TUC, reminding his members on many occasions that progress was often based on shabby compromises.

Of course my party believes in the single transferable vote. At earlier stages we have argued for the open list system. We have been working—that is not a matter of deals—with the Government across a wide range of constitutional reform. We wish we could have persuaded the Government at earlier stages of different shapes for not only this Bill but also for the Bills dealing with Scotland, Wales and so on. But what do we have tonight? We have the noble Lord, Lord Evans, telling us that he thinks this is a bad Bill. We have the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, telling us that he would have first-past-the-post if he could get it. It seems to me that the supporters of this amendment support it because they do not want the Bill at all.

I shall tell the House what we want. We believe that the Bill is a substantial advance on whatever has been on offer before for elections to the European Parliament. We have had nominated Members of the European Parliament and we have had Members of the European Parliament elected by first-past-the-post. As has been pointed out on a number of occasions, the first-past-the-post system on large constituencies produced grotesque swings in the representation of one or other party, Labour or Conservative, and until the last election totally excluded the Liberal Democrats. Under this system not only will parties be represented according to some proportion of the votes they receive in those elections but, almost as important, we will have a geographic spread so that from the south-west for the first time we may hear a Labour voice in the European Parliament, or from the West Midlands a Liberal Democrat voice, or from the north-east a Conservative voice. I believe that that makes a healthier representation in the European Parliament.

I also believe that it will bring about a development where those who hanker after the constituency system are really and truly behind the game. These elections will bring genuinely regional voices into our politics and into the European Parliament, not block voices but individuals who are voted in from those Euro-constituencies. They will then become a voice for their region.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was generous enough to acknowledge, many of the objections rest not on what is in the Bill but on how some powers internal to various parties have been interpreted. For my part, I know the individuals who will be holding the banner for the Liberal Democrats. I know how they have been chosen. They have not been chosen by any central committee but by our members voting freely. They have produced lists with an order which is their choice and which they will put to the electorate with enthusiasm.

Of course this Bill is not everything that we wanted. However, I say to my noble friend Lord Russell that I can face exactly the same activists as he has trouble facing. I shall tell them that by securing this Bill, for the very first time we shall send to the European Parliament a delegation, a representation, of Liberal Democrats commensurate with our support in the country. That is closer to my ideal of democracy than we have ever achieved before and it is worth supporting.

4 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, we heard some extremely distinguished speeches this afternoon. I rise to support my noble friend Lord Evans of Parkside who made a very penetrating, indeed distinguished, speech in support of this group of amendments.

I believe that my noble friend Lord Evans speaks for a number of people on the Labour side of the House. That must be taken into account. My noble friend has had a long and distinguished career and past in the Labour movement and, indeed, in the body politic. He was a Member of another place for a long time and has been a Member of this House for a little while during which time he has been extremely active and has made some distinguished contributions.

However, he has also been extremely active in the Labour movement generally, serving for many years as a member of the National Executive Committee. Therefore, he knows what he is talking about and has represented a wide range of people in the Labour Party over a long period of time. What he said about the Bill and the amendments is correct. Although he and I are for the continuation of the first-past-the-post system, which is respectable, he supports an attempt to make the proposals in the Bill more workable and more responsive to the people of this country.

What he wants to do and what the amendments seek to achieve is to give the electorate a voice in who is elected to the European Parliament. I see nothing wrong in that and everything right in it. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment, but I should say to him that I have been in this House, in another place and in the Labour Party for a long time. My guess is that if the proposal in this Bill had been put forward by a Conservative government, the Labour Party in this place, led by the Front Bench, and indeed in another place, would be opposing it. I am quite sure that my noble friends in Opposition would say that this is a disgraceful Bill which strikes at the very roots of representative democracy. It is a great pity that we are not saying so now.

Only one mistake was made from the other side; it suggested that the Labour Party is doing this for its own electoral benefit. That is not so. I do not think that will happen. Labour supporters should not believe that this will be better for the Labour Party than the first-past-the-post system or an STV system. Oh no, it is designed not to help Labour candidates; it is designed to help Liberal candidates. They will gain most from this measure.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister, as was suggested to him by my noble friend Lord Evans, will understand that this House is entitled to make recommendations to another place. Indeed, with his support we should be very pleased to make the recommendation contained in these amendments.

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, as your Lordships will know, I had at one time a relationship—fortunately, an arm's length relationship—with the European Parliament. I was always extremely concerned about the peculiar effects of the first-past-the-post system in the United Kingdom on the balance of power in the European Parliament. Therefore, I was always in favour of some reform. But, frankly, I regard the closed list system as even more objectionable than the first-past-the-post system. Therefore, the proposal which my noble friend puts forward is at least an improvement on the thoroughly objectionable proposal in the Bill promoted by the Government.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, it almost seems that the world reserves of hyperbole have been somewhat exhausted. Therefore, I shall try to approach the matter in a calmer way.

The fact is that for any modern functioning democracy, it is political organised parties which bring forward candidates to elections. It is the party activists, the deeply committed minority, who organise party structures to bring forward candidates. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, indicated that our colleagues in Europe are somehow Johnnies-come-lately, whereas in this country for centuries we have been voting democratically. That is not really so. It was after 1918 that women got the vote on a basis of any sort of equality. If the noble Lord doubts my history, I shall indicate the dates: 1832, 1868 and 1884. Those are the dates of the Reform Acts which were significantly opposed by a large number of his then party.

The noble Lord said that NOP had carried out research. He said correctly that when it carried out that research about the closed list, the reaction was immediately negative. Is it not also the case that when the systems were explained to those who were polled, they changed their views quite significantly?

The noble Lord contended, as he does always most agreeably, that he does not want the Bill at all because he favours the first-past-the-post system; and, secondly, as he did in Committee and on Report, that he is the champion of internal party democracy. Again, that is not really so because the other day he confessed, which is always good for the soul, that he is one of the three not quite hereditary clansmen in Scotland who would determine not the order of the list but whether or not anyone should be allowed to stand at all for the Scottish parliament.

The fact is that when this matter was discussed in another place, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said that he would look at the Belgian system. He commissioned research on that which indicated that one could have quite absurd results in terms of public acceptability.

We have been over this in the past, and I shall trespass very briefly on your Lordships' time and patience. The fact is that the so-called open list system, as shown by the way it has worked in Belgium, is quite capable of producing anomalous results. That is to say, someone can be elected with a lesser total of votes than someone who fails to be elected. That has never been gainsaid. I do not think that anyone controverted that proposition when I developed it previously; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, described it as "a fiddle and manifestly unfair."

Earl Russell

My Lords, can the Minister tell us of any electoral system which is incapable of producing anomalous results?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, of course not. Some representation depends upon no election at all and that produces anomalous results—for instance, as the noble Earl will know, the hereditary principle.

One has to make a judgment of what the appropriate scheme is. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that the proposal would not necessarily be of universal benefit to the Labour Party. I accept that. Similarly, mention was made of Scotland and Wales. My noble friend Lord Evans of Parkside said that the amendment would solve the Welsh problem. I do not think that anything is capable of solving the Welsh problem, certainly not the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. I am not adopting a partisan stance because I think we are entitled to look for your Lordships' support. The fact is that the Conservative Party had significant electoral support in Scotland at the last general election but secured no Members of Parliament there. In Wales, 20 per cent. of the electorate voted Conservative but the party has no Members of Parliament there. As I have said on a number of occasions, we have specifically designed these schemes to do away with a monolith in Wales and in Scotland, neither of which is likely to be healthy for the Scottish parliament or the Welsh assembly.

I revert to where I began. The party, I suggest, should not be confused with the mechanism we are proposing. A number of observations have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, says that the Conservatives are very democratic internally; the noble Lord, Lord McNally, says that his party is more democratic; and the noble Lord, Lord Evans, over the years, has tried to make the Labour Party more democratic internally, but that is nothing to the point of the system adopted. If one wants a better, more democratic internal party selection system, that is one thing. What we are doing here is offering to the voters a list of party supporters in a way which has been determined by internal party choice.

Internal party choice can be good or indifferent but that is nothing to the point on the list. I do not believe that it can be gainsaid—it has not been gainsaid on any occasion when we have had these lengthy debates in Committee and on Report—that the open list system can produce results which are deeply offensive to the public. I believe I am right in saying, from memory, that the sort of NOP polling to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, referred, absolutely confirmed that.

Perhaps I may give an illustration. I want to put it neutrally. I think that most people of fair mind—that means most people who agree with me—would accept that women are grossly under-represented and ethnic minorities have an even less favourable deal. I believe that it is competent and proper for a party to select what is called a closed list; to bear that in mind; and to give women a fair deal and ethnic minorities a fair deal by putting them appropriately high in the list.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside

My Lords, I accept the premise that my noble friend puts forward in relation to women and ethnic minorities. However, will he accept from me that a close study of the Labour Party's list of candidates indicates clearly that there will be 13 women elected to the European Parliament under these new proposals, as there were 13 elected under the first-past-the-post system, and one representative of ethnic groupings—one black member—will also be elected? There is an outside chance that a second black member may be elected, but that is somewhat doubtful.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not think that focuses on the principle I am contending. I readily recognise that there are some women and some people from ethnic minorities who do not want any consideration of this sort applied to them. But I believe that a party has a moral duty to ensure that women and those from ethnic minorities are not disadvantaged.

Perhaps I may give an example from the Home Secretary's own constituency. In a multi-member ward constituency it was noticeable that those who had names which were apparently of ethnic minority origin did significantly worse than those with apparent English, Welsh or Scottish names. We can argue and differ about these things but I believe that if a party wants to bring forward a certain number of women; to redress the monstrous endemic injustice from which ethnic minorities suffer or to bring forward—let us not forget—people of particular expertise whom it wishes to have at the top of the list, it is entitled to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, expressed displeasure about first-past-the-post. This provision remedies that in part. He expressed displeasure about the solution we propose. But if the Labour Party, the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party have people with particular expertise in the European context, people who are knowledgeable, experienced and practised, it seems to me perfectly justifiable that the party which is bringing forward the candidates should offer those candidates in the list as this Bill offers.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, perhaps I may take my noble friend back to where he was when he discussed the Belgian system and pointed out that it contained a defect; namely, that you could get more votes—but not be elected—than someone who was elected and that that causes resentment. I think that point has been understood in the House during our debate. But it is not true that only the Belgian system is available. As the noble Lord will remember from earlier exchanges, there is a Finnish system. The Finnish system rules out the danger of someone being elected who has not had a majority of votes cast by eliminating the chance of voting for a party. It simply lists the names of the candidates. Their party loyalty is indicated as well so that when the vote is cast, if the aggregate of those votes cast were for a particular name and he comes top of the list, he will be elected. That exists in practice. What is the defect with that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I remember on the earlier occasion that the noble Lord was contending for the Finnish system and the Luxembourg system. The Luxembourg system seems to have fallen by the wayside.

I return to my fundamental point, namely that it is parties that bring forward candidates. If parties internally choose their candidates, I suggest to your Lordships that they are entitled to do that and offer that list in the way they have chosen for the reasons— perfectly honourable and legitimate reasons—I have outlined. If the individual voter does not wish that, he or she is perfectly entitled not to use the vote for that party or to use it for another party in exactly the same way as on the presently closed system.

If the only Labour candidate in my constituency—if I were able to vote—was someone I did not care for, I would have to come to a conclusion. Do I vote on party loyalty lines, identified by the noble Earl? Do I not vote for that particular candidate? Or do I swallow my doubts and vote for that candidate.

To revert to the description of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, the "Finnish system", as I understand it, has the same weaknesses as the Belgian system. Candidates in Finland can be elected with fewer votes than candidates who are not elected.

My next observation is simply a part of the picture and is not intended to be an overwhelming argument. It will be the fact that, should we go the way that this Bill indicates, Germany, France, Greece, Spain and Portugal will all have the same system that we do; in other words, it will apply to rather more than 70 per cent. of the voters in the European Union. It will not surprise your Lordships that I have not changed my view about the propriety of that.

I listened carefully—we listen sometimes with a full House and sometimes with a scanty House—to the arguments that have been rehearsed. I do not say that impolitely because many noble Lords feel strongly about this matter. First, I feel that we were honourably right in moving away from the first-past-the-post system for European elections. We are entitled to say that this is a reasonable scheme whereby, essentially, we are voting in large regional areas. That is wholly different from and unrelated to the size of our present constituencies. It is the fact that on the lists many voters—I say this without disrespect—will not have much knowledge of the individuals offering themselves except for the fact that they are on the party list.

It has been said—again it is not accurate—that this is an unprecedented step. In fact, this is a scheme which worked in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc) Act 1996, piloted by the party opposite, provided for a list-based electoral system exactly the same as this in all essentials for elections to the peace forum. Therefore it is not unprecedented. The argument that it has not happened before and the question as to where it will all end—unattractive as it is—is not even founded on recent history.

I cannot usefully contribute further to these discussions. I invite your Lordships to come to the conclusion that this is an amendment that should not be supported.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, we have had an interesting and thoughtful debate and I am grateful to all those noble Lords who took part. In summing up perhaps I can make a few points in response to what was said.

First, I say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that it is not a fair proposition to say that I tabled this amendment because I do not like the Bill. The amendment does not damage the Bill. My view is that it improves the Bill because it improves the PR method being used. As to sending Liberal Democrats to the European Parliament, which seems to be the objective of the noble Lord, Lord McNally—I suppose it is a reasonable one—having an open list will not prevent that happening if it is going to happen. It makes no difference to the numbers who go; it means that those who vote Liberal Democrat will actually decide who will go. That is the important point.

I shall not embarrass the noble Earl, Lord Russell, too much. As those noble Lords who were in the House in the last Parliament will know, he and I were frequently at daggers drawn, though they were genteel daggers. We had considerable differences of opinion. However, one thing I knew was that the noble Earl would conduct his arguments with dignity and honesty. He has done that again today and, if it does not embarrass him too much, as usual I take my hat off to him for his skills in that regard.

The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, said that this does not upset the principle of the Bill. The open list system which I brought before your Lordships obeys the Labour Party's manifesto in every way as much as the closed list system brought forward by the Government. Therefore it is not a problem. In relation to the need to hasten this Bill. I must say that this Bill has made the most stately progress through both Houses of any Bill of its size. My noble friend Lord Henley reminded me that it started in the other place last November. The Bill will not be lost simply because your Lordships ask the other place to think again.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, performed many of his usual clever tricks—if I may so call them—learnt, no doubt, in many years of making excellent submissions at the Bar. In doing so he introduced a series of red herrings and, so to speak, "kippered" them. He produced an argument in relation to PR. But we are not arguing for or against PR; we are arguing inside the PR system.

The noble Lord argued against the Belgian system. But it is not the Belgian system. In this system, if three people are elected from the Labour Party, the three people who will go to Brussels will be the three who obtained the largest number of votes. Nobody with more votes than the three who go will be on the list. It cannot happen. The returning officer will take the candidate with the biggest vote, the next and the next. So I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, produced a bit of a red herring in that argument.

The Belgian system has nothing to do with it; this is not the Belgian system. This is not an argument about PR. It is an argument about offering the voter a choice. Towards the end of the submissions of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, he showed us that he did not believe that Labour Party voters should have a choice; he did not believe that they would exercise it properly—properly was the way he defined it. That may be what he thinks about Labour Party voters. It is a sad reflection of what the Government think about the people who returned them to power with such an excellent majority, at least in the other place. I believe that Labour voters deserve better. It is not simply a matter of giving the voters a choice between the parties and ending up with proportionality; it is about giving the voters a choice between the candidates of their favoured party.

After last year it is not easy to say this, but I say it now because it is the position that I am taking here, clearly and firmly, and the Government are not. We should trust the electorate to decide who from a party's list should go to Brussels. We should trust the electorate. As a result of the debate last week it may seem a little odd to ask your Lordships to come to the rescue of democracy and voter choice. But that is exactly what I ask your Lordships to do. I do not believe that, unlike his usual performances, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, made out his case and I invite your Lordships to make a judgment.

4.26 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 165; Not-Contents, 140.

Division No. 1
Ackner, L. Cope of Berkeley, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Courtown, E.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Cox, B.
Ampthill, L. Cranborne, V.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Crickhowell, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Cuckney, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Dahrendorf, L.
Beloff, L. Davidson, V.
Berners, B. Denbigh, E.
Bethell, L. Denham, L.
Birdwood, L. Dixon-Smith, L.
Blackburn, Bp. Elibank, L.
Blatch, B. Ellenborough, L.
Bledisloe, V. Elton, L.
Boardman, L. Erne, E.
Bowness, L. Evans of Parkside, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Exmouth, V.
Brentford, V. Ferrers, E.
Bridge of Harwich, L. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Bridges, L. Gainford, L.
Brightman, L. Gisborough, L.
Broadbridge, L. Glasgow, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Gray of Contin, L.
Bruntisfield, L. Halsbury, E.
Burnham, L. [Teller.] Harding of Petherton, L.
Burns, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Butterfield, L. Harmsworth, L.
Butterworth, L. Harris of High Cross, L.
Byford, B. Harrowby, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Headfort, M.
Carew, L. Henley, L.
Carnarvon, E. Higgins, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Hogg, B.
Carnock, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Chesham, L. Hooper, B.
Clanwilliam, E. Howe, E.
Clark of Kempston, L. Hussey of North Bradley, L.
Cockfield, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Colwyn, L. Ilchester, E.
Iveagh, E. Platt of Writtle, B.
Kingsland, L. Rankeillour, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Rawlings, B.
Kinnoull, E. Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Kintore, E. Renton, L.
Kitchener, E. Renwick, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Knollys, V. Rotherwick, L.
Lamont of Lerwick, L. Rowallan, L.
Lane of Horsell, L. Russell, E.
Leathers, V. Ryder of Wensum, L.
Leigh, L. Saatchi, L.
Liverpool, E. St. John of Bletso, L.
Long, V. Sandford, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Sandwich, E.
Luke, L. Seccombe, B.
McAlpine of West Green, L. Selkirk of Douglas, L.
McConnell, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Shore of Stepney, L.
Mackay of Drumadoon, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Marlesford, L. Slim, V.
Mayhew of Twysden, L. Stallard, L.
Mersey, V. Stenley of Alderley, L.
Miller of Hendon, B. Stockton, E.
Molyneaux of Killead, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Monk Bretton, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Monson, L. Strange, B.
Monteagle of Brandon, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Mottistone, L. Sudeley, L.
Mountevans, L. Swansea, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Teviot, L.
Moyne, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Munster, E. Trefgarne, L.
Waddington, L.
Naseby, L. Weatheril, L.
Noel-Buxton, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
O'Cathain, B. Wharton, B.
Onslow of Woking, L. Wilberforce, L.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B. Wilcox, B.
Palmer, L. Wilson of Tillyorn, L.
Pender, L. Windlesham, L.
Perry of Southwark, B. Wise, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L. Wynford, L.
Addington, L. Dean of Beswick, L.
Ahmed, L. Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Alli, L. Desai, L.
Amos, B. Dholakia, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Diamond, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Dixon, L.
Bach, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Eatwell, L.
Bath, M. Evans of Watford, L.
Berkeley, L. Ewing of Kirkford, L.
Blackstone, B. Ezra, L.
Blyth, L. Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Borrie, L. Falkland, V.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Fitt, L.
Burlison, L. Gallacher, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Geraint, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Gilbert, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Gladwin of Clee, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Goodhart, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Goudie, B.
Clement-Jones, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Clinton-Davis, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Gregson, L.
Crawley, B. Grenfell, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Grey, E.
David, B. Hacking, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Hamwee, B.
Davies of Oldham, L. Hardie, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Newby, L.
Haskel, L. Ogmore, L.
Hayman, B. Orme, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Paul, L.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Pitkeathley, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Plant of Highfield, L.
Hoyle, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Hughes, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Razzall, L.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Islwyn, L. Renwick of Clifton, L.
Jacobs, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.] Russell-Johnston, L.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Judd, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Kirkwood, L. Serota, B.
Linklater of Butterstone, B. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Lockwood, B. Shepherd, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L. Sheppard of Liverpool, L.
Longford, E. Simon, V.
Lovell-Davis, L. Simon of Highbury, L.
Ludford, B. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.] Steel of Aikwood, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Strabolgi, L.
McNair, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
McNally, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Maddock, B. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Thornton, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Thurso, V.
Methuen, L. Tomlinson, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B. Tope, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Mishcon, L. Varley, L.
Molloy, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Monkswell, L. Warner, L.
Montague of Oxford, L. Whitty, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Wigoder, L.
Morris of Manchester, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

4.37 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4:

Page 2, line 2, at end insert—

("(2A) Each candidate shall declare that he is either—

  1. (a) the candidate of a party and shall name that party; or
  2. (b) an independent candidate.

(2B) There shall be added together the number of votes given for each party's candidates in each electoral region.

(2C) The number arrived at under subsection (2B) shall be the number of votes for the party for the purposes of this Act.").

Page 2, line 15, at end insert—

("(5A) After the allocation of seats to the parties, the order of candidates in each list shall be such that candidates are ranked in terms of the votes each received, with the candidate with the highest number of votes appearing first.

(5B) If two or more candidates have the same number of votes, their order on the list shall be determined by lot.").

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

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.