Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Öpik: While no one is wrong for expressing a view in any vote, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that we still have a job of work to do in that respect? However, under STV, a minority vote will not command an overwhelming majority of the power.

Mr. Ancram: That does not detract from the fact that the hon. Gentleman said that if one dislikes what the majority votes for, one simply ignores it. That is not the basis of a fair vote. He gave some examples of STV and referred to Ireland. I do not wish to criticise the Irish system, but in my experience it created anything but stable government. When I was a Northern Ireland Minister, I found myself negotiating with a Government led by Mr. Albert Reynolds one month and with a Government led by Mr. John Bruton the next. There had been neither a change of political opinion nor a general election, simply a change of coalition partners--a falling out of individuals--and suddenly the whole political landscape in Ireland changed. We should be very much aware of such lessons if we are to create a stable system. I thought that the Government wanted to create a stable institution in Wales, not one that is constantly at the whim of the small parties involved.

Proportional representation leads to government by deal. That is what coalition is about. I was entertained tonight to hear that the deal cobbled up before the election on the additional member system between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party, which was in opposition at the time, had not even lasted the short course between the election and now, and that the Liberal Democrats were trying to unpick it. That does not fill me with great confidence about the Liberal Democrats' proposals.

Mr. Dafis: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that all Governments govern by deal? One of the last

20 Jan 1998 : Column 895

Conservative Government's biggest problems was that a deal between the two disparate wings of the party was impossible, so the whole thing fell apart.

Mr. Ancram: I suppose that, in a pluralist system, all political parties are coalitions. At least within a party there is a system for having arguments, whereas under proportional representation deals are done between different parties. I seriously believe that, almost invariably in a coalition system born out of proportional representation, the small parties hold the balance and sway of power. The Liberal Democrats are keen to have such a system because they look across the water to Germany and see that the party that has remained in government, regardless of whether the left or right is in power, is their sister party. That must be attractive to them. However, it is not a democratic prospect when the party that is actually in power is the one that secures the smallest number of votes.

Mr. Dalyell: Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the writings of Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at Oxford university, who incidentally is a great pro- devolutionist, about the problems of having fixed-term Parliaments under a coalition? If one member of the coalition wants to swap sides or change allegiance, real problems arise. Unless there is the possibility of dissolution, it is difficult to maintain a credible Government.

Mr. Ancram: I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Donald Anderson: As in Norway now.

Mr. Ancram: We shall closely examine whether the Scotland Bill has provision for dealing with such a situation. It is a serious point, as is the issue of minorities holding the balance of power in coalitions. Proportional representation makes it easier for not only the moderate minority in the middle but for the extreme minority on the outside to get in. In the recent election in Ireland, three of the seats were held on a narrow majority by people with strongly republican views: two were from Sinn Fein and one was an independent who could, ultimately, hold the balance of power. That is the antithesis of stability.

We argued against devolution, but we now believe that it will happen, so it must work. We should be conscious of anything that is likely to create a more unstable system.

Mr. Livsey: The right hon. Gentleman argues that there is instability in Ireland, which operates an STV system, and in Germany, which operates AMS. Where does he actually stand? The Federal Republic of Germany has been extremely stable under AMS, and so has the Republic of Ireland under an STV system.

Mr. Ancram: I have said what I have said about the Republic of Ireland. The one stable factor in the Federal Republic of Germany has been the constant re-election of the equivalent of the Liberal Democrats on between 5 per cent. and 7 per cent. of the vote.

The additional member system gives rise to other problems. Perhaps the Minister will remind me whether the system proposed is the d'Hondt or Sainte-Lague system. They are complicated systems that try to ensure

20 Jan 1998 : Column 896

that there is some degree of proportionality. If the system were totally and openly proportional, it might produce a distorted result. The problem with AMS is that, particularly where there is a closed list, it is the antithesis of fair votes. People are asked, in effect, to vote for a party. Members who are elected are chosen not by the electors, but by the party machine, however the list rankings have been decided. That adds to the power of the party machine, which undermines democracy and creates enormous areas of political patronage. Such a system is open to abuse. That is why we do not like it. The AMS, as opposed to the European system of a straightforward list, has two categories of Member. One category is elected directly by the electors in the constituency under a first-past-the-post system, and the other is elected by party according to the weight of vote across a larger area. Members in the first category will undoubtedly claim to represent the constituents in dealing with the problems of housing, health and roads, and Members in the second category will not have that mandate.

In the Welsh assembly and in the Scottish Parliament, the two categories of Member will be paid the same and have the same facilities, but one will have to work a darn sight harder than the other. I believe that that is a recipe for instability.

The Liberal Democrats' proposal for an open list should be considered, because it at least gives a greater mandate to the Member elected than does AMS.

Ironically, the proposed system is likely, in the short term, to help my party. The hon. Member for Swansea, East kindly reassured us that that was the reason for the Government's proposal. I am not sure that I take that entirely at face value. Even so, I believe that the stability and robustness of the system that we adopt for the Welsh assembly is more important than short-term political gain.

For that reason, we have tabled amendmentsNos. 22A and 23A, which would replace the additional member system with the straightforward, first- past-the-post system. If the result of the vote on 1 May were to be replicated, that would not be in the interests of Conservatives in Wales. However, I take the rather more optimistic view that we are on our way back, and by the time of the Welsh assembly elections, the first- past-the-post system will do us very well, and a large number of Conservatives will be elected to the assembly.

8.45 pm

I want to put on record the reasons why we are strongly against proportional representation. We believe that our electoral system works better than the PR systems in other countries. Italy is a good example, because it has had PR for years and has had countless Governments. It has now begun to move away from PR towards first past the post, because PR created years of unstable government. France switched back to its second ballot system because the national front won more seats under PR from 1986 to 1988. New Zealand, which introduced PR last year, had to wait more than two months for a Government to be formed. A number of people who have studied that system have told me that we should consider closely the lessons to be learnt from New Zealand before we make the same mistakes.

Mr. Allan: Italy is an extraordinary example to use. According to my reading of that country's current

20 Jan 1998 : Column 897

political situation, there has been far more instability since the change in the electoral system than there was before it. There has been a complete breakdown of the parties, a growth of new parties and confusion between Forza Italia and the parties in the north. There is no case for saying that the introduction of first past the post has stabilised the Italian system.

Mr. Ancram: The hon. Gentleman should consider the number of Governments that there have been since the system was changed, as opposed to the average number per year in the years since the war before it was changed. He will find that his argument does not stand up.

There is no doubt that accountability suffers under a PR system.

Dr. Marek: The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the fact that Italy overtook us in economic well-being years ago, so we must not draw too many conclusions from the position there.

If the election were replicated in Wales, a Labour group from south Wales would be in charge. We needed to change the system so as to provide not a Labour assembly, but a Welsh assembly. We have achieved that by moving away from a first-past-the-post system and providing an element of AMS.

Mr. Ancram: I cannot remember whether the hon. Gentleman has declared that he is going to the assembly or staying in the House. If he is going to the assembly, he must be looking forward to many changes of Administration, possibly in the hope that he will feature in a number of them. I take his point about the need to create a Welsh political unit, but there are other ways of doing that. I do not want to show my hand at this stage, but I shall introduce amendments that try to achieve that. The price that is paid for PR is not necessarily the best way of creating homogeneity in Wales.

There is no doubt that under PR the one-to-one link between a Member of Parliament and his constituency is weakened. I believe that the electorate want one person to be responsible for dealing with their grievances. The fact that I represent all my constituents and not just those who support me is a healthy part of our democratic system, because it broadens our outlook.

I shall ask for a vote on our amendment, because I believe that the introduction of PR into our political system--leaving aside Northern Ireland, where the lack of pluralism creates a different situation--is a bad step. It is a bad step not just for Wales and Scotland, but because it will be seen as the forerunner for the rest of the United Kingdom.

There is no doubt that PR produces the second best, because the result is always compromise. Some people may argue that compromise is a good thing, but in my experience compromise has its place. Compromise in politics normally means getting not the strongest and the best but the "least worst". I do not wish that on the Welsh assembly, and I will therefore press my amendment to a vote when the time comes--if I may, Sir Alan.


Next Section

IndexHome Page