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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to go on for so long.

Mr. Linton: My hon. Friend anticipates my point.I was arguing against a system whereby a party took upon itself the job of managing the transition. Glyn Ford, who represents a seat in the north-west in the European Parliament, actually comes from Stroud, so it would not

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have been at all difficult for him to win the selection that he has got--that of No. 1 on the list in the south-west--under a system that allowed the party members to choose democratically. It could have been done democratically, instead of being managed by the party.

I have always said that it is a mistake for parties to get involved in managing the transition. That is nothing new--I told the national executive of my views when it asked for them, and I wrote publicly on the matter at the time. I shall continue to argue that case, but the issue involved is entirely different from that of open and closed lists.

Mr. Llew Smith: We now know the birthplace of Glyn Ford and how that justifies his going to the south-west. Can my hon. Friend now tell me the birthplace of the person who is No. 3 on the list in Wales?

Mr. Linton: I am arguing on the same side as my hon. Friend--in favour of a democratic decision on the selection and ranking of candidates. However, the issue of open and closed lists is quite separate. All the discussion about control freaks, centralisation and party bosses is totally irrelevant to the issue of whether we have open or closed lists.

One of the better aspects of the report of the independent commission on the voting system is that it advocates voting on open lists, but within counties and smaller units. The level at which open lists will work worst is in large regions, where the possibility of voters being familiar with the characteristics and politics of each of the candidates on a long list of up to eleven people is remote.

Mr. Benn: Take an individual candidate--Michael Elliott for London, who has been a Member of the European Parliament for 14 years and who has been put at the bottom of the list. Despite the fact that, in three European elections, the people of his constituency have chosen him to be their MEP, the party machine has put him down to the point where, unless everybody votes Labour, he will not get back. What is the justification for that?

Mr. Linton: My right hon. Friend has mistaken my argument. We are entirely as one on that issue. During the consultation period, I wrote to the NEC to say that the question should be decided by OMOV. What is more, I would chance the view that the members of London voting in a one member, one vote ballot would have resulted in much the same listing as was obtained through the panel. The point is that it should be done in a democratic way. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend on that point. I am simply trying to make it clear that the issue of how parties select their candidates is totally different from the issue of open or closed lists. Germany, France, Greece, Spain and Portugal use closed lists because they recognise that in European elections, when electoral regions are largest, the open-list system works least well.

I ask the House to see the issues in perspective. We are about to pass a Bill that will bring about a huge change in our voting system and hugely increase the choice for voters. It will mean that Labour voters in Surrey and Conservative voters in Glasgow will, for the first time,

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have some chance of having a representative of their own party in the European Parliament. It will enfranchise millions of people in this country.

Mr. Swayne: Has the hon. Gentleman not given the lie to his whole argument by saying that the voter will have, not his representative, but the representative of his party in the European Parliament?

8.45 pm

Mr. Linton: It is about time that hon. Members had the humility to recognise that when the good denizens of New Forest, West put their cross against the hon. Gentleman's name, nine out of 10 are not expressing their personal admiration for him. I am sorry to have to tell him that they are probably expressing a preference for the Conservative party. Although, as I have said repeatedly, it is good if a system allows the voters to have some influence on candidates as well as parties, we must start from a clear understanding that nine out of 10 voters, or probably 99 out of 100, are making a choice between parties and Governments, not between individuals.

Although the issue of whether we have semi-open or closed lists in European elections is important and worth debating, and I have opinions on it, by comparison with the thrust of the Bill it is a tiny issue. This is the Opposition's attempt to stir up the mud to cloud the overall issue.

The parties have 300 candidates in place. The Bill went through the House of Commons last time by a majority of 307 to 125. The system is already used by the major countries in Europe, including Germany, France and Spain. To take opposition any further will merely expose the Conservative party's opportunism. At any time in the past 100 years the Conservatives could have proposed multi-member lists in first-past-the-post elections.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire said that such a system cannot be applied to first past the post. Of course it can. We could easily have more than one candidate standing in the first-past-the-post system and allow the voter to choose between candidates of the same party. We prefer not to do so because it might split the vote, as Conservative Members know full well and they would not risk that. Technically, however, it is perfectly possible. In the past 100 years, the Conservatives have never expressed any interest in or support for open lists.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument with interest but also with difficulty because he appears to be riding the fence, and that can be very painful. As one of those Members who perhaps falls into the 10 per cent. that he referred to in response to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), can I ask him whether he is trying to enfranchise the people of this country or the political parties and establishment?

Mr. Linton: It is well known that even Mr. Brian Redhead voted across the party divide for the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) because of his admiration for the hon. Gentleman's constituency work. It is sad to say, however, that even allowing for the fact

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that many people in Macclesfield no doubt admire the hon. Gentleman's work for the local hospital and so on, most of them vote for him because he represents the Conservative party. His Front-Bench colleagues may not agree.

Mr. Mitchell: It might be better if the name of the hon. Member for Macclesfield were not printed on the ballot paper. The logical conclusion of my hon. Friend's argument is that we print only party names, not those of candidates, and we pick the candidates afterwards. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There is far too much background noise in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman who is speaking should be heard properly.

Mr. Linton: My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) knows that it is a dilemma of every electoral system that although we put forward candidates, most people are choosing parties and Governments. Of course it is important to keep the safety valve of having candidates as well as parties, which gives the people the possibility to choose one without the other. However, we must face the fact that under our existing system of first past the post, people must go to extraordinary lengths to remove Members such as the hon. Member for Macclesfield--not that they would want to do so--or the hon. Member for New Forest, West. There would have to be a revolution in the New Forest before so many people swung away from the Conservative party that New Forest, West went Labour. I look forward to that very much but it is unlikely to happen.

Semi-open lists, which we are offered by the Opposition, would make very little difference. The Under-Secretary will correct me if I am wrong, but in all the time that such lists have been used in Belgium, there has been only one known instance of a candidate in a lower position being moved up by the votes that he or she received on the open list to be elected when that person would not otherwise have been elected. There may have been two cases at the very most. The issue is a dot and comma in the electoral system that we are discussing. The House should remember that compared with the issue of whether the Bill is passed, the newly discovered question of open and closed lists, which the Opposition are still trying to get used to, is tiny and should be put in perspective.

Mr. Sayeed: It is customary to respond to the preceding speech, but I found the speech of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) so confusing and internally contradictory that I do not intend even to try to respond to it.

As this bad Bill has shuttle-cocked between the two Chambers, the same old lags on the Labour Front Bench have made the same old tired and specious arguments. Government supporters have been laggardly in coming forward and supporting what the Government are trying to do. Even the Home Secretary today made a speech that was designed to fill a space rather than make a difference. He repeated the same old canard that the Bill's defeat in the Lords was the fault of those wicked Conservative hereditary peers.

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