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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Some hon. Member has an electrical device that is sounding off in the Chamber. Madam Speaker takes an extremely strong line on these matters. Members must either ensure that they have properly switched them off, or leave them outside the Chamber.

7.30 pm

Mr. Straw: You are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to upbraid the Conservative who had failed to turn his pager off. The same thing happened on Second Reading of the Bill on 25 November last year.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) rose--

Mr. Straw: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished reading Lord Bethell's excellent letter. Lord Bethell goes on with this sage advice to his party:

I would have thought that, these days, some mechanism that ensures some Conservative unity would be welcome to the Conservative party.

Mr. Swayne: My understanding is that Lord Bethell voted against the Government on the issue, but did the right hon. Gentleman see the article on the opposite page by Daniel Hannan, placed fourth in the list for the south-east? If he did not, I commend it to him.

Mr. Straw: I did read Mr. Hannan's article. I have marked it up and have it here. By the way, although I have a high regard for Mr. Hannan, whom I know, he erred. He said:

Tories often make the error of believing that the development of representative government that we had in this country over many centuries up to the end of the previous century was democracy; it was not. We did not get around to establishing a properly democratic franchise until this century, so Mr. Hannan, on that key point, is in error.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Did the Home Secretary read Lord Bethell's speech of12 November at columns 862 and 863? If so, he would have recognised that Lord Bethell was not just speaking against closed lists, but recommending a different system.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman shows the degree of confusion in the ranks of the Tory party. I have read out what Lord Bethell wrote in The Daily Telegraph today. I assume that, like quite a number of other Conservatives, he now has a touch of the panics. He realises the

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considerable problems that will arise to the Conservative party if the leadership of his party and the Conservative Whips in the other place continue this process.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I am listening carefully. I hope that we will not hear too much of Lord Bethell because, although he is a dear man, he once marched around a kibbutz and said solemnly to the young man in charge, "Wouldn't it be better run by private enterprise?" I have never had quite the same faith in his judgment since.

Mr. Straw: None of us will vote for Lord Bethell, even if we are presented with the opportunity to do so, but his words speak for themselves. He makes the point that I have been making to Conservative Members for many months: to have a so-called open list with 50 or more names on the ballot papers, where hardly any of them--says a candidate who is pretty well known himself--is known, will lead to voters marking "their crosses at random".

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I am following the Home Secretary's observations with close interest. Is he aware that Lord Bethell, who is an estimable individual, is also a constituent of mine residing in Brill in the Buckingham constituency? Is he further aware that Lord Bethell is a lifelong opponent of centralism and deeply disapproves of the thoroughly undemocratic, Stalinist fashion in which the Labour party wishes to select its candidate for the European elections?

Mr. Straw: My party is a lifelong opponent of centralism as well. We do not need any lectures about centralism from the Conservative party. Some of us remember when the Conservative party was in power, and the Stalinism of Conservative central office knew no bounds.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): Does the Home Secretary agree that, under the system that is proposed by the Conservatives in their amendment, the single biggest factor in whether Lord Bethell got elected was whether he was listed as Bethell, Lord or Lord Bethell?

Mr. Straw: That is likely to be the case, but even though Lord Bethell has the advantage of being at the top of the alphabet, a problem from which I have suffered all my life, being near the bottom of the alphabet--look where it has got me--he is firmly against the so-called open list.

The suggestion that the closed list is anathema to our British way of politics is synthetic nonsense. All of us were selected for closed lists--one party, one candidate. That is how it works. A Tory in Sutton Coldfield, a Liberal Democrat in Berwick-upon-Tweed and a Labour supporter in Blackburn have no choice whatever of party candidate. It is take it or leave it. It is no good saying that that is an inherent characteristic of single-member constituencies; it is not. It would be feasible to devise a system for single-member constituencies where each party had to offer two or three candidates, and the voter

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separately chose the winning candidate from the winning party. Is that what the Conservative party now wants for Westminster? That is the logic of its position.

As to how the closed-list system works out in practice, although we believe--I have made this clear--that it has inherent advantages over any other variant, we do not suggest that this debate should be Parliament's last word on the subject. It was for that reason that, last week, I moved that there should be inserted in the Bill an amendment stating that a statutory review should be carried out into the new system.

I think that that proposal had general approbation, but questions were raised about the review. One was as to who should conduct it. A second was as to whether the review could deal with the principle of closed lists, as well as their operation.

On the first question, I undertake that there will be consultations with the Opposition parties about who should undertake the review. The amendment makes it clear that, formally, the appointment will be a matter for the Secretary of State, but I recognise that the review will be far better if there is agreement on who should undertake it.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): May I re-emphasise the issue that I raised last week on the review? Will there be a role for the Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, because the lists for the European elections are separate? Will there be a determination to ensure that there are representatives of those bodies on that review?

Mr. Straw: I understand the hon. Lady's concern.I undertake to consult her about that. We have not made decisions yet about how many people should conduct the review, but I accept her point that there should be a proper input from Scotland and Wales. I think that the review will have to take place in advance of the formal establishment of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, but I take her point and I hope to meet it.

On the second question, the amendment proposed last week spoke of the "operations" of the new system. I told the House that I took that to include the principle behind the system, but the new Government amendment makes that clear beyond doubt. Subsection (2) states:

Overwhelming though the arguments are on their merits against the open list, and in favour of the closed list, this issue has now gone beyond that. It is now about Lords versus Commons, about whether a Labour Government, elected just 18 months ago with one of the strongest popular mandates this century, should be blocked from meeting one of their promises to the electorate by a Conservative Opposition who suffered their greatest defeat this century. It is about whether democracy should be defeated by aristocracy--by the in-built majority of hereditary Conservative peers appointed to the other place not because of their own merit but because of the accident of their birth.

I think that the public will find it extraordinary that, for a Conservative party seeking to modernise itself for the next century, Tory Whips in the other place are dragging out hereditary peers to stop the Government securing the clearest of manifesto commitments. For Lord Cranborne

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to argue--as he did yesterday--that we did not say exactly which list system we would use is to take sophistry to its extremes. It was highly probable that we would use a system used by most voters in the European Union--the closed-list system--and inherently improbable that we would fetch up with the Conservatives' strange alternative of last past the post. Moreover, I have no recollection of any Tory, at any stage during the general election campaign, ever raising the issue--perhaps because fresh in their minds was the memory that they had used the closed-list system in Northern Ireland.

As long ago as 1791, in "The Rights of Man", Tom Paine said:

There is no rule of politics or history stating that political parties are bound to survive, however distinguished may be their past--as is the Tory party's. Last Friday, the Adam Smith Institute and MORI published the results of a detailed survey of the attitudes of young voters--of the so-called "millennial generation"--who will reach the age of 21 around the turn of the century. The survey made dismal reading for the Conservative party. Only 12 per cent.--one in eight--of those questioned said that they would support the Conservative party.

If Conservative Members want some explanation of the reason why they are regarded as irrelevant to Britain's future by so many of those who are Britain's future, they need look no further than the unedifying pantomime of their party's behaviour on the Bill, in which they seek to use an undemocratic and unelected institution that is locked in the 18th century to block the will of the elected House.

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