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Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) may have struck a chord with the House--perhaps he will also with future electorates and Labour party candidates--by being so confident as to say that he, like other Labour Members, will abstain in today's Division. If a closed-list system were ever introduced for elections to the House, I am not sure that they would feel quite so confident in making such a statement.

The Government are today stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the open list, and the hard place is the current first-past-the-post system. The Home Secretary said that Conservative Members should follow Lord Bethell's advice, which was published in an open letter in today's The Daily Telegraph. I wonder whether the Home Secretary and other Ministers would like to follow the advice given by Mr. Henry McCubbin--who was the former Labour Member of the European Parliament for north-east Scotland from 1989 to 1994--in a letter to my noble Friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.

Mr. McCubbin wrote to Lord Mackay--the letter was used last week in a debate in the other place--that Rule 2 of the European Parliament's rules, under the heading "The independent mandate", clearly states:

Therefore, that honourable gentleman, who--in his own rather eloquent words--had dropped out of the "comfort zone" and been excluded from the closed list, would stand to gain quite substantially if the House votes, and the other place continues to vote, for an open list system.

Mr. McCubbin wrote to my noble Friend Lord Mackay simply to say:

and has written to the Lords to

    "support the Lords amendment to provide for open lists"--[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 November 1998; Vol. 594, c. 849.]

in the hope that sufficient peers would follow that suggestion.

I am one of only three dual mandate Members and, on personal experience, can put Ministers' minds to rest on the matter of voter recognition, which certainly exists. On leaving this place and arriving on a train, at 12.30 in the morning, at the constituency of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), I was picked up by a taxi driver who was rather concerned that I had nowhere to stay that night. However, when I assured him that I was not only the Member of Parliament for the Vale of York but a

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Member of the European Parliament for that constituency, he got part of my name right and called me Anne. He could not quite get the second part of my name right, but then he was not voting that night.

If a taxi driver in Colchester town knows who his MEP is, that is good enough for me.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has struck a chord with the House today. We know that the only beneficiaries in the House today are the Members of one small group--the Liberal Democrats--and that the proposals are the prelude for proportional representation being introduced, perhaps on a similar basis, for elections to the House.

If first past the post has been and still is good enough for this place, why should it not be good enough--as it has been since 1979--for electors to the European Parliament? What are Ministers so afraid of? They speak so often of Labour being the people's party and of creating a people's Britain. This is the one occasion on which we can allow voters to make the people's choice. Let the people choose.

It is not really a question of the Lords versus the Commons. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) said today, throughout this whole experience--my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) called it "the shuttlecock procedure"--the Lords have been more in tune with voters than Ministers have. Ministers are so out of tune on the matter, that, on reflection, they may want to leave the rock and the hard place and join Conservative Members in voting for nothing more simple or clear than an open list. As the Lords stated, electors should be able not only to vote for a party but to state their own personal preference of candidate. Let the people decide.

9.45 pm

Mr. Stephen Twigg (Enfield, Southgate): We have heard a great many romantic notions from Conservative Members about the present set-up. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) was identified late at night, at least by her first name, by a taxi driver in her European constituency.

Listening to Conservative Members, one would believe that this country had the highest turnout in the European Union at the European elections, rather than one of the lowest, and that everyone knew the name of his Member of the European Parliament. I would stick my neck out and say that the majority would not know the name of their Member of the European Parliament. I would make an exception for my own excellent MEP, Pauline Green, the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament. I am delighted that she is also No. 1 on the Labour list for London, and look forward to her continuing to represent the people of my constituency in the European Parliament.

I shall concentrate on three points. First, it is worth reminding ourselves of the Bill's purpose, which is to give fair representation to voters across the country. I contest the view that the beneficiaries of the proposed system will be any one political party. I think that the beneficiaries will be voters who do not currently have a voice in the British delegation to the European Parliament, whether they be Liberal Democrat voters in Greater London, Labour voters in many of the home counties or Conservative voters in Scotland and Wales. The Bill deals

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with what the Jenkins report identified as electoral deserts, which are those large parts of the country where significant groups of voters have no representation. It is for that reason that the Bill should become law as soon as possible.

Secondly, when we debated the Jenkins report in the House a couple of weeks ago, hon. Members of all parties accepted that there is no such thing as a perfect voting system. Every voting system has its advantages and disadvantages, and we should bear that in mind tonight.

Thirdly, at an earlier stage of our consideration of the Bill, we considered proposals, put to us by the Liberal Democrats and endorsed by organisations such as Charter 88, for a partial open system--the so-called Belgian system. Many of us felt that that option had merits, and said so in this place and elsewhere. Unfortunately, we did not proceed with that proposal. I welcome the Government's proposal for a review, which will enable us to consider the issue again after the elections.

Mr. Lansley: Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that, should the Government choose to do so, they could, with their order-making powers, get something very close to the Belgian system by using the open-list system set out in the Lords amendment?

Mr. Twigg: That point was not made by the hon. Gentleman or any of his colleagues when the proposal was before the House. The hon. Gentleman's proposal and that being considered now are very different. The Lords proposal is essentially a wrecking amendment from people who want the first-past-the-post system to be retained in the European elections.

I want to take up the point about closed lists of one. It is appropriate to talk about the first-past-the-post system as a closed list of one. The purpose of an open list is to enable the voter to have a choice of different candidates, including different candidates from the same party. The argument against a closed list is that it does not give that choice. For example, a Labour voter in my constituency who does not want to vote for me either has to vote for me with gritted teeth or does not vote Labour. It is therefore perfectly legitimate to argue that we have a closed system with first past the post.

Mr. Barnes: Will my hon. Friend say how we could have an open list of one?

Mr. Twigg: Of course we could have a system whereby the parties offered a range of candidates and the voters were allowed to decide among them. The logic is the same as that deployed by those arguing for the Lords amendment. [Interruption.] I am being asked to wind up so I shall do so.

We have an opportunity to pass a Bill that will be an important part of the Government's constitutional reform programme. We have an undertaking in the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that there will be a review and that Opposition parties will be consulted. That should be welcomed. The House of Lords has had its chance. The will of the House of Commons should prevail. The Bill is a significant democratic reform, which I hope will be supported by hon. Members of all parties.

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Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): We have had a good debate, and a good-humoured one. We have gone over well-trodden ground, but we have once again heard widespread concern about and hostility towards the Government's proposal for a closed-list system. It is striking that the hostility has become greater and greater during debates on this matter, not least on the Government side of the House. We have heard hon. Member after hon. Member speak with great feeling against the closed-list system and in favour of the principle of the open-list system. I have listened carefully tonight to each speech from the Labour Benches, and not one of them favoured the closed-list system in principle over the open-list system.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) gave a speech that the House enjoyed. He set out his five principles of democratic choice, as he put it, and it was clear that the system proposed by the Government did not fulfil any of his criteria. In particular, he rightly said that it is impossible under a closed-list system for a voter to use the ballot box to get rid of a Member of whom he or she disapproves.

I thought that the hon. Member for Battersea(Mr. Linton) would be a supporter of the closed-list system when he began to speak. However, he said, during his speech and in clarifying an intervention later, that he favoured the open-list system over the closed-list system. His logic was not entirely clear, but I do not want to be unfair to him. I did not follow his point about the danger of having members of other political parties voting in a party's internal elections of candidates. There is no risk of our having anything like the American system in which, for example, Republicans can vote for Democrats. There is, at least, no risk of that in the Labour party, which will not allow even its own members to vote to choose a candidate. Late in the hon. Gentleman's speech, it emerged that he has serious concerns about the way in which Labour is proceeding, and that he has protested to the national executive committee.

The House also enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). I gather that he is now communing with a cup of tea, but we understood his strong feeling against the closed-list system. He said that he would abstain, but that the closed-list system is futile and will, in his words, cause festering resentment. The Home Secretary will have been pleased to hear of the hon. Gentleman's personal admiration for him. The hon. Gentleman also said that he was a safe pair of trousers. Notwithstanding all his efforts to get into his party's good books, however, the hon. Gentleman could not bring himself to support the closed-list system.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich(Mrs. Dunwoody) spoke with considerable passion about her support for the open-list system, and about the need for the electorate to have a direct link with its representative. The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) also spoke passionately on that theme.

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg) seemed at one point to be a late entrant as a supporterof the closed-list system, but even he managed--

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diplomatically--to qualify his speech. He said that he would have preferred the Government to take another course, and that he preferred the open-list principle.

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