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Mr. Sayeed: That casts some light on why the Liberal party, having said that it wants open lists, now says that it wants closed lists, but the right hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. I believe that, as the people realise how much contempt for democracy is revealed by the things that the Government are trying to do, they will demand of the Labour party more honest, more open selection and election procedures.

9 pm

The Bill may have a quixotic result. I believe that it has emboldened the House of Lords and enhanced its legitimacy. The Bill has shown the need for an independent second chamber. I believe that it will make the Government's life more difficult, and I am delighted with that.

Mr. Mitchell: I have previously abstained in Divisions on this measure. It was the most difficult form of abstention, because I always come along to abstain in person. I shall now air my indecision by giving the arguments for the abstention, although my indecision is less decisive than the indecision of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan).

At this stage in what looks like a futile argument, we need a futile gesture, because what is going on is a battle of prehistoric monsters--a virility contest between the Government and the House of Lords. I am too old to be into virility contests. I am a safe pair of trousers, of course--we all are, on the Labour Benches--but I am not a virility contest person. In this eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation--it is pink eyeball to pink eyeball, one from principle and the other from port--neither side is effectively right.

I am the biggest fan of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I hope that the Under-Secretary will transmit that message to him; it might do me good. The Home Secretary chose the worst possible form of proportional representation--which I support--for the Bill, perhaps deliberately, in the hope of discrediting proportional representation; whereas the House of Lords is kicking over the traces on behalf of the Conservative party, which does not want any PR at all, in the hope that the Conservative party will go out on a limb and support the hereditary peers. The Lords are scratching the back of the Conservative party by doing what they believe will please it--making a nuisance of themselves for the Government.

It is an argument in which neither side is right, and it is depressing in the extreme to watch the battle of mastodons going on at the expense of the European elections next year. The Government's majority is in single hundreds, it is true; we do not yet have total control, as we shall eventually, but we have a majority to do anything, and the hereditary peers are just having a bit of fun--a last fling before extinction. It is not really Lords versus Commons; it is the hereditary peers versus the hereditary believers in first past the post. Most MPs believe in first past the post because they believe that any system that elected them must be the wisest, most effective system available.

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It has been suggested to me, in the friendly discussions that one has with Whips--I am a big admirer of my personal Whip--

Mr. Benn: Put him on the list.

Mr. Mitchell: Perhaps they will put me on the list.

It has been suggested that I should regard this as a battle between Lords and Commons, and that I could do myself a bit of good by voting with the Government this time. [Laughter.] Labour Whips do give us helpful advice; that is what they are there for. As Opposition Members are laughing, I want to make it clear that the Labour party is not a party of control freaks--I am authorised to say that.

We should therefore decide on the basis of the argument, but the argument has been extremely confusing for someone like me. I always admired the Liberals as men and women of principle--a party of principle--but after admiring them for that for 18 years, it is terrifying to see how cheap they come now. We used to say in the back row of the Glenroyal cinema in Shipley that some girls were easy and some girls were not. The Liberals are easy: a few crumbs from the table of power, and they will throw away their principles on terrorist legislation, on proportional representation and on open lists. That is cheap.

I want the same thing myself. I would like a bit of power too, so I can understand the Liberals taking that approach. My friends, my fellow executives of the Labour campaign for electoral reform, in which we have all fought together, will tonight take a firm stand and say that we shall hold the Government to the review. We shall be really tough about the review, after the election is over.

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) has confused me with the argument that we should have closed lists because the people cannot judge, except on a party basis, but that the parties should choose on the basis of one member one vote. They have not done so, which to my mind destroys the argument for closed lists. I could not follow that argument.

Mr. Linton: My hon. Friend has a short memory. I said at the beginning of my contribution that I would prefer an open-list system, but I gave the rationale for a closed-list system.

Mr. Mitchell: I had not understood for the wrong reasons. Now I do not understand for the right reasons.I am much happier with that situation.

There is one simple principle on which we should judge the argument between a closed list and an open list, which is that the electorate will resent having a closed list imposed on them. They will resent not being able to make any choice at all. It is not a burning issue. Most of them will not bother to vote in the European elections. They will stay a mile away, and rightly too. European elections are boring.

If voters are told that they do not have the power to choose, they will mostly vote on party lines. I am sure that they will want to vote for us--we are extremely popular, we are a good party, and we have a leader who

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throws his cloak over the whole party. We shall do well in the elections, but we are telling the electorate that they cannot make any choice--they must vote as the party wants them to vote.

That will produce a festering resentment, which will do us no good. It is a basic flaw in democracy. We cannot say that to the people. We should maximise choice. They will resent it if they feel that they cannot pick and choose within the list when they know enough about the candidates to pick and choose.

I have aired my agonising indecision. I shall leave the Chamber for a little while to commune with destiny.I shall be sitting in the Cafeteria downstairs, eating my sausage and mash, and awaiting offers. After 18 years in futile opposition, I would like a bit of power. My ambitions are higher than those of the Liberals, because I want to be a PPS. I intend to contemplate my vote, eat my sausage and mash, and hope that somebody comes down to see me.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: I am glad that there is no ruling from the Chair that we are not allowed to be amused by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). He made the speech by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) look no better than it was when we first heard it, and he has made the speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), which looked good by comparison with the speech from Battersea, look not quite as good as it did after we had heard only the latter.

We have heard from hon. Members that the voting system is a bit of fun, that it is a tiny issue, that being able to vote for an individual is something to do with a safety valve, and that it is a dot and a comma. It will be the first vote in this island in which not a single voter will vote for a single candidate, and not a single candidate will receive a single vote from a voter. That is more than a dot or a comma.

It is also worth noting that the Government would intend that in most cases there would not be by-elections. If that applied to this House, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby would never have been chosen by the control freaks to stand in general elections. His constituency party was looking for someone in a by-election to hold a seat that it thought it might lose. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) was another by-election entrant, and sowas I.

One of the disadvantages of a party-list system, or even of the big multi-constituency system, is that we begin to lose the opportunity between elections of understanding what the voters are thinking. I shall give one example from outside my constituency at a local level. Even though the Labour party is apparently standing with more than half the popular support, it cannot put up candidates in many of the south-coast by-elections. When one considers the swings from the Liberal Democrats, say, to the Tories in the area which I represent in part, real votes being counted encourages putting forward good candidates whom the voters like and tells us something about the way the wind is moving between the parties.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) said, we are not now debating whether to have the first-past-the-post system in single-Member constituencies. The Bill is not about that. The test is the simple one of why, when the

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Prime Minister last Wednesday defended the closed-list system, not one of the independently minded Back-Bench Labour Members nodded agreement to what the right hon. Gentleman was saying.

If there were a secret ballot among Labour Back Benchers to give them the choice of an open system or a closed system, the vast majority would vote for an open system. If they were given a free vote, they would vote for an open system using their own names on the Division list. Instead, they are being told by their Whips to support the closed-list system for reasons which most of them do not understand. Perhaps we cannot assume that, because most of them are not speaking; but those who have spoken have shown that they do not understand. They have said clearly in most of the arguments that they would prefer to have an open-list system.

The Liberal Democrats have said that they would prefer to have more of an open-list system, which is why they will vote with Labour Back Benchers for something that they do not want. If the choice is, as the Lords Labour Minister said on the radio, whether one wants to vote with the hereditaries for what Labour Back-Bench Members want or to overturn their judgment and, for example, stand with cross-Bench Members of the House of Lords, I would go on the whole for those with some degree of independence rather than for those being controlled by the Whips--however engaging the Government Whips might be.

I suggest an extra question that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) might consider. His first five questions are good ones but I suggest that the sixth might be how much power we give to a few people. At present, I believe that the Labour Whips--I use them as a sort of cloak for the people round the Prime Minister--have too much power. They have persuaded Labour Back Benchers to vote for something in which they do not believe. They have also managed to persuade the Liberal Democrats to vote for something in which they do not believe either.

If the Government do not insist on having closed lists, that will be good for democracy, good for the House and good for the country. It might even start a tendency for those in other parts of the European Union to say, "Why don't we go more to smaller constituencies than, in some cases, the whole nation; why don't we go for smaller constituencies than the multi-Member mammoths?" We are facing multi-Member mammoths in this country.

There has been talk of the various ways of selecting candidates and where they stand on the list. I think that the Tory party has the best system of the three parties but in my view it is still a bad system. It would be far better to have Members of the European Parliament representing areas where they have a chance of getting to know the people and to be known by the people. That would be far better than having nine, 11 or even five Members for the same area.

I believe that when historians of politics write up this period they will say that what the Labour Government were doing was wrong. For those who have any sense of independence--I include the hon. Member for Great Grimsby in that category--I have some advice. If I were the hon. Gentleman I would return from my meal and, instead of being like a poached egg on a fence, vote for what the majority of his colleagues want. The hon. Gentleman's Labour colleagues will not vote for the open-list system but he should.

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