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Mr. Allan: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman took part in the democratic exercise to select his party's candidate. I hope that he will confirm that the Conservatives have selected candidates who will serve the public in a genuine spirit of public service, and not be merely party hacks. Some of the tone of the debate is insulting to candidates, because it suggests that they will have no notion of serving the public in their larger regions. That is not true in the Liberal Democrat party.

Mr. Loughton: That is a bit rich, given that the Liberal Democrats used a hybrid zipper system to choose a small number of female candidates. They feel guilty because they so dismally failed to get many female MPs elected at the last general election [Interruption.] The Conservative party made no pretence about trying to fix the list. In the London region, a woman who is certainly no party apparatchik came top of the list, and good luck to her. Her name is Villiers--I shall give her that extra bit of publicity to promote her chances at the election next year. There was no prospect of party apparatchiks getting any favours. In fact, the list shows that the opposite was true.

It is appropriate that, on 6 December, we celebrate--or perhaps do not celebrate--the 250th anniversary of Pride's purge. Under Cromwell, Members of the House who happened to be out of tune with the Commonwealth Government of the day mysteriously disappeared from these Benches. We have a lesson to learn, because,250 years on, history seems to be repeating itself on the Labour Benches.

I return to this little chink of light. On 12 November 1997--a year ago--the Home Secretary said:

Let them prove that this evening. They have repeated the absurd suggestion that all will be well because we will have another review. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, the review will take place after the changes have happened.

Can any Labour Member name a European country that changed its electoral system and six months later had a review about changing it back? It does not happen like that. The right thing to do would be to keep the status quo until next year's elections, and then review it--if that really is the Government's intention.

It is absurd to insist on a closed-list system that, in the end, would probably make little difference to the way in which party votes fell. Moreover, there is no need to fall into line totally with other European states for the purpose

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of these elections. There is a multiplicity of different electoral systems. As I have said, we do not even have a commonality between the parties in regard to the way in which candidates are selected--although, if we are a progressive House moving towards more democratic accountability, I expect that the Conservative model will be emulated by all the other parties.

9.30 pm

Another absurdity is that the Labour party's manifesto at the last election expressed no preference for a particular type of proportional representation. Labour cannot even claim that it is only living up to its manifesto commitments--although we know that it is not very good at doing that, anyway. Besides, the proposed system goes against the Jenkins report. Conservative Members disagree with the thrust of that report, but the one thing to which it holds dear is an open-list system and some contact with the individual Member. That, at least, Lord Jenkins has tried to preserve.

The truth is that this whole debate has become a convenient way of bashing the House of Lords, just as foxhunting was some months ago. In fact, the noble Lords are doing their job, and doing it rather well. They have been representing the views of the electorate rather closely--on student tuition fees, the age of consent and, in this instance, the people's right to vote for people, not parties. But, if we are to accept what we are being fed by the Government, their Lordships have already been dismissed. They have already been summarily executed.

Labour Members might do well to listen to some of the wise words that were spoken in the House of Lords just a few days ago. Lord Shaw said:

He is right. The idea that anything said in the House of Lords does not matter is absurd. It is ironic that the unelected Lords should be most in tune with the democratic principles that are held dear by the majority of democracy-loving people.

It is time to show that the Home Secretary does listen, not just to the majority in the upper House but to the silenced voices on his own Benches, and elsewhere among the majority of his own party members in the country at large.

Mr. Barnes: I wish to make only two brief points. One relates to the peculiar argument advanced by the Home Secretary and Liberal Democrats, that there can be such a thing as a closed list of one. I accept that one person can be foisted on the electorate, just as a list of people can be foisted on the electorate. They can be foisted by a decision of the party--by one member, one vote, or what you will--or by the bureaucracy of the party. Both lists and individuals can be foisted on people who will not have much choice if they want to vote for the party concerned.

The phrase "a closed list of one", however, is very odd. I do not have a very good memory, so when my wife sends me shopping, she gives me a list. Even my memory, however, is not so bad that my wife will give me a shopping list containing only one item. I therefore found it strange that an argument should be advanced whose aim

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seemed to be to confuse the two systems. It is not logically possible to have a closed list of one. It is neither false nor true to say that it is possible; the idea is simply meaningless nonsense.

A closed list means something in comparison with an open list, and there is no way in the world or in logic that we can have an open list of one. As we have agreed, one candidate can be foisted on people whatever the method that has been chosen, so I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Liberal Democrats will stop speaking in ways that are entirely meaningless. If they mean to say something else--this is the point that I first made--about it being possible for people to be foisted on the electorate, whether as individuals or as candidates on the lists, they should say that, but they should not try to invent a type of language that finishes up saying nothing.

Mr. Allan: Aside from the semantic argument, we are simply trying to make the point that there would be an alternative, and it is the logical outcome of that proposed by the proponents of the amendment. To follow the same logic that they are using in this debate, in first-past-the-post elections, each party should put forward a list of several candidates, and the highest one should get selected. I apologise for any semantic confusion that was caused.

Mr. Barnes: It is a matter not of semantics, but of meaning. I do not think even politicians should say things that are meaningless, although they happen to feel that they say something. It may be that, in the era of spin doctors, we are given to that, but we should be considerably aware of it.

My second point is about why I am abstaining on all this to-ing and fro-ing with the other place. It is because I oppose lists, whether they are open lists or closed lists. I agree that a closed list can emerge because it has been democratically determined by membership within a party, by delegatory or by individual vote means; it can also be foisted on people.

Nevertheless, a closed list is presented to people, and there is no opportunity to make any choice between the half dozen or so candidates that are presented. However, if we had an open list and we could choose between the half dozen, that would produce other problems. As occurs with the single transferable vote system in the Republic of Ireland, members of the same political party would be in contest with one another to get higher up the list and to get the vote compared with someone else.

I do not think that that is a good thing for political parties, or for democracy generally. We can fight each other enough within the Labour party without organising it for electoral arrangements. Why should we institutionalise conflict? The conflict that the Conservative party had, and still has, over Europe--why should we extend that to the ballot box, to allow the choice then to be made by the electorate in going for one person or another? It is a matter that the parties need to sort out by their different representatives as to what their general position is, which they should then put before an electorate.

Therefore, I do not like lists. There are other forms of proportional representation in which lists are not things that are put to the electorate. Lord Jenkins' report refers

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to a system that the Hansard Society suggested on one occasion, that of the fastest loser. We can top systems up out of the votes that have taken place in constituencies by the people who came nearest to taking those seats in the election.

Something like that might be possible. It does not refer to the situation that is before us now, because we have no choice. Those of us who dislike this type of proportional representation, or think that first past the post is better than some other forms of proportional representation, have nothing else to do in these debates but to continue abstaining in a principled way--something that the Liberal Democrats used to know about at one time.

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