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Mrs. Dunwoody: When I was a Member of the European Parliament, one of the constant arguments between myself and other Members of the socialist group arose from their saying that we should have proportional representation and a list system. Their constant complaint was that the British were the only people who did not have the name at the top of the list of a very well-known socialist politician. They said that that was the only way in which they were able to obtain any sensible vote. They asked why we could not at that time have someone such as the gentleman they called "Nail Kinnock" at the head of our list.

I had some difficulty explaining to them that even the most inadequate of our elected Members had a direct connection with the area which they were elected to represent. That was something that they found extremely difficult to understand. Having worked for many years on the continent, I understood their confusion: their system has always been party-controlled and party-based. For example, the Dutch system has both religious and political divisions, so I was one of the first people to work for both a socialist and a Catholic radio station.

The link between voting for a person and voting for a candidate is important. We are all here because of our commitment to our party. I have been a member of the Labour party since I was 16 years old, although I sometimes wonder which Labour party. The other day, my lovely Deputy Chief Whip suggested that I had one of my own, which was a bit rotten of him.

9.15 pm

Although we are all here because of our party connections, in our system of government people connect parties with individuals. Individual Members of Parliament take the flak in their constituencies for the views of their party, and take their constituents' views back to the elected Chamber. They have a direct link with a geographical area, and are regarded as the representative of that area. It would be a dire day if we were to lose that.

I have argued about this matter within my party, and I understand those who said that, because an undertaking was given many moons ago that we would move towards the same system as the rest of Europe--this is really all about conformity of electoral systems--we would have to come up with a system that was different from the one that we operated. I was prepared to argue about that, but I lost the argument within my party.

I have grave reservations about the idea that, in the final analysis, the electorate should not be given the ability to decide their own candidate. That is why I have abstained on this Bill. Candidates come in all shapes, sizes and types--some admirable and some not quite so admirable, some well known to the electorate and some building a reputation.

My objections to the Bill do not stem from the Labour party's behaviour. The Labour party has got itself into a hole, which is not altogether unusual in my lifetime, and I should like it to stop digging. If it persists, I simply want to put it on the record that I firmly believe that, when the electorate vote for me they show great intelligence, ability, understanding and sensitivity, whereas, when they

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vote for anybody else, they show a great inability to understand political issues. The reality for politics in this country remains that the electorate should decide.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Will the hon. Gentleman--I mean hon. Lady--give way?

Mrs. Dunwoody: I am very fond of the hon. Gentleman. If he has not yet learnt that I am not a man, we are in trouble.

Mr. Winterton: I am grateful for the hon. Lady's tolerance. Will she be frank enough to admit to the House that, two or three elections ago, she should have lost her seat, because, in normal circumstances, the swing would have had her well defeated in Crewe and Nantwich? However, I am happy to say from the Conservative Benches that, because of the respect in which she is held as a result of the wonderful work that she has done for her constituency since she was first elected, she won the seat. Does she believe, as I do, in trusting and respecting people because they know what they are doing?

Mrs. Dunwoody: I frequently explain to people that my constituents may say, "She is an unfortunate person with unmarried parents, but she is our unfortunate person with unmarried parents." That is quite important in elections.

I feel very strongly about this matter. I speak tonight not because I believe that we are being asked to choose between an inadequate system and an even more inadequate system, but for a very different reason. I saw the effect of list systems on the European Parliament and the control that all political parties exercised. I explained time and again--wrongly, it now appears--that we would find it difficult to accept that system in Britain, because we had a genuine commitment to a constituency link and we believed that the individual was tremendously important in our system of government. I believe that very strongly.

I shall not vote tonight, which is unusual for me, because it is the coward's way out. I want to record my deep worry about the breaking of that link. Whatever we think of the electorate, on the whole they come up with sensible results. Sometimes I like the results, and sometimes I hate them, but I support the right of the electorate to decide those results.

Mr. Loughton: This has been an entertaining debate, which has often been about something else, but the issue that we should have been debating--put in its simplest terms--is the people's choice against the party's choice.

Despite the constant debating of the subject, wherever I speak to well-informed people, I am amazed that the vast majority are blissfully unaware that they will not be able to vote for the candidate of their choice when they go to the polls at the European election next June. There is enormous ignorance of the reality of what is being debated and of what will result if the Bill is passed in this form.

People in this country like to think that they have some control over the candidate who represents them, that they have a link with that representative, that they know their representative's name, and that, if push came to shove, they could speak to, or get rid of, that representative.

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That may be a slightly rose-tinted view of the way in which our democracy works, but most British people take comfort from that state of affairs. Suggesting that they are not up to the job of selecting their first-choice candidate to represent them--in Europe, in Wales, in Scotland or in Westminster--shows utter contempt for the ordinary people of this country.

The Home Secretary argued on numerous occasions that all that is pointless, because candidates will be virtually anonymous in these huge European regions, and are virtually anonymous as Members of the European Parliament for the smaller constituencies at present, but that they will be wholly anonymous in a constituency which--in my part of the country, for example--will encompass 5.9 million people and elect 11 representatives. Goodness knows where someone will go for a surgery to see one of the MEPs in such a large area.

That is a fallacious argument, however: it suggests that, because they will be anonymous, we may as well condemn all MEPs to a lifetime of anonymity through being a person on a closed list. That will not improve the turnout at European elections, which has been the raison d'etre for reforming the system. It will make people feel more detached and more remote from their MEP, whom they could not vote for as a person.

As many hon. Members have said, the problem is that many of the least anonymous candidates in the Labour party tend to be those who are most out of line with Millbank tower, which is what the argument is about. The closed-list system is designed entirely to suit the internal machinations of the governing party.

We have heard about the strange goings on behind closed doors in respect of the Welsh list, after which the top candidate chosen by members of the Labour party in Wales mysteriously dropped well down the list. A small number of regional representatives and members of the Labour party national executive committee decided who went on that list and in what order.

Do I detect a small chink in that control freak mentality, at least in Wales, with the story that the members of the Labour party in Wales may get one person, one vote, to select the leader of the Welsh Assembly, should he or she happen to be a member of the Labour party? If that is the case, it is a welcome development, albeit late in the day. It follows the example set by Conservative Members many months ago, when we went for one person, one vote. All the candidates on Conservative party lists up and down the country were selected under a system whereby every member of the Conservative party in each region had the opportunity to cast an equal vote for a candidate to decide where on the list they were placed.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that is nonsense? In my part of the world, members from Berkshire had to travel to a caucus meeting in docklands to deselect their MEP. It was not one member, one vote. Only one party has offered that system: the Liberal Democrat party.

Mr. Loughton: If the argument in favour of the legislation is that a bus journey to docklands is too far, that is a fairly sorry state of affairs. It was not a caucus meeting; every paid-up member of the Conservative party in the south-east region was able to attend the meeting and cast an equal vote.

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I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will reply to the question I posed earlier. How many members of his party had an equal vote in the selection of the Labour party candidates who will be set against the Conservative party candidates in my region? Can we count them on one or two hands? We cannot count them, because we do not know who selected those candidates, how many people made the selection and on what basis. Perhaps they used a ouija board. Did they get pager messages from Millbank tower? Did the Prime Minister appear and say, "These are the people I want to appear on the list"? We do not know.

The Labour party has dismally failed to tell us how it selected its candidates. How Labour Members have the audacity to claim that they have a better system than the wholly democratic one person, one vote system used by the Conservative party beggars belief.

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