Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: One second. I always try to ensure in these debates that more information is imparted. Cambridge, Massachusetts, has a system of proportional representation, whereas Louisiana, reflecting its French heritage, has a majoritarian system similar to the one that operates in France.

Mr. Linton: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Before he is given the golden anorak award for being the greatest expert on counting systems, will he accept that the correct name for the d'Hondt system is the highest-average system and the correct name for the Sainte-Lague system is the rounding-up system? The habit of naming such systems after their inventors rather obscures their simplicity.

Mr. Straw: I am afraid that I shall give my hon. Friend only a bronze award for trying, as I do not think that he is correct. The principal difference that has concerned hon. Members lies in the numbers in the divisors. The d'Hondt system divisors go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, the unmodified Sainte-Lague system divisors go 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and--as everyone will recall--the modified Sainte-Lague system divisors go 1.4, 3, 5, 7, 9. Hon. Members should know by now--I am happy to give an anorak to anyone who can tell me--why the modified Sainte-Lague system starts with 1.4.

Mr. Linton: I shall be receiving the silver anorak award. Those mathematical formulae only obscure the point that a divisor of 1, 3, 5, 7 is another way in which to describe the simple process of taking an average, as hon. Members will discover if they try it on the back of an envelope--it is the process by which one rounds up. The point of starting with 1.4 is to avoid what was discovered to happen when the system was first used--that a party with only 5 per cent. of the vote could have its vote rounded up to 10 per cent. and so win a seat. Starting with 1.4 provides an effective threshold.

Mr. Straw: I award my hon. Friend a second-hand anorak for that. As we all know, 1.4 is the square root of two.

gone for the Belgian system. In the event--and for the reasons that I explained in February or March--we decided not to do so.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): What is the point of having regions at all? If the people will not play a part in deciding who is elected, why do we not have a national list and a national voting system?

Mr. Straw: We could have a national list, and it is perfectly fair to say that some European countries have such a system. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that there has not been a great deal of argument about this point. However, we judged that it was better and fairer to operate the system in regions, but to have national lists in Scotland and Wales. It is a balanced argument--it is not a huge issue of principle one way or the other. A national list would increase the chances of a small extremist party gaining not only support, but Members. That would be an argument against it, but this is not an issue on which people have been engaged.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): By-elections are a subject close to my heart. I cannot see how it can be democratic that, three or four years into a term, the electors of a region do not have the opportunity to choose--if they want to--someone from a different party. I also wonder what would happen in the case of someone

crossing the Floor, as it were--I do not know what one does in the European Parliament. Would that person have to resign his seat?

Mr. Straw: That matter will come up in discussion on the amendments later. The hon. Gentleman's point would be entirely fair if what we were sustaining in the European Parliament was a Government. I readily accept that by-elections play an important part in regulating the conduct of the Government, and in giving the electorate an opportunity--on the random, but reasonably frequent, occasions that they arise--to send a message to the Government and to Opposition parties. However, those arguments do not apply in terms of a representative Assembly. It is not the case that by-elections in the countries concerned have caused difficulty, and I do not think that they will here.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): There was one that was lower.

Mr. Straw: I bow to the hon. Gentleman's superior wisdom.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No, with great respect; I am just about to finish.

##### 7.58 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): I can see why the Home Secretary is so keen on a guillotine. Even by his own standards, that was not a persuasive speech. Calling in aid the constitution when he is bludgeoning the Bill through in a few hours will not persuade even his most uncritical supporters. Nor do I think that any of us finds his argument on Northern Ireland at all convincing, given the situation when my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the then Prime Minister, made it clear that the system was for the special circumstances of Northern Ireland.

Parliament has spoken against it. However, let me tell the House who has done the best destructive hatchet job on the proposals in the Bill.

That, of course, is precisely the case that we have put throughout the debate.

I am not sure that I go all the way with that argument, but as it is directed at Liberal Democrats I will not quibble over the details.

I have debated the Bill four or five times--it seems more--and even I have not adduced Hitler in argument, but according to the Home Secretary, the "inconvenient little fact" is that Hitler

"rose to power in the Weimar republic which used a very respectable system of PR. I do not suggest that any other system would have prevented his rise. I do assert that PR did not prevent it--yet moderation and stability is the large and wild claim made for this system by our own centre parties."

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I do not believe that any Minister could have more effectively demolished the case for a Bill that he has introduced. The Bill does all the things that he previously condemned. That is why it has been so condemned by his colleagues. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) took courage this afternoon and made a speech that I believe was intended to be in favour of the Government, but she must be joking if she thinks that the Bill has been overwhelmingly supported by her colleagues.

In case we were in any doubt, the hon. Member for Walsall, North reiterated his position. He said:

"I am not in favour of the closed-list system, I have never voted for it and I do not intend to do so tonight."--[Official Report, 10 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 222-28.]

On 16 November, the closed-list system was effectively demolished bit by bit by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. He was supported by the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) intervened to support the Government--I think--but his support was qualified by his later confession. When challenged, he said:

"I would prefer an open-list system, but I gave the rationale for a closed-list system."--[Official Report, 16 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 701.]

Not perhaps the most overwhelming support in principle that we have heard.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) sought to make a helpful intervention. He proclaimed:

"The closed-list system ensures that women and people from ethnic minorities can have their rightful place in the list."

Unfortunately for him, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was sitting directly in front of him at the time. She said:

"As a woman from an ethnic minority who succeeded under first past the post, I ask my hon. Friend whether he thinks that the closed-list system proposed tonight would be passed in the House on a free vote."

The hon. Member for Swansea, East rather weakly replied:

"I am not a Whip . . . and my arithmetic is very bad, so I would not like to answer that question."--[Official Report, 18 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 979-81.]

So it goes on. The prize for the most fatuous comment and stance goes, I regret to say, to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan). Attempting to define the Liberal Democrats' position, he said:

"My party's position remains consistent. Our preferred option is neither a Belgian nor a Finnish model, but one closer to home--the Northern Irish model of the single transferable vote."--[Official Report, 27 October 1998; Vol. 318, c. 183.]

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The hon. Gentleman spent the whole debate voting for the closed-list system.

The Government are putting power into the hands of the party, not the public. Outside candidates, with no local roots, are being "parachuted in", to use the Home Secretary's phrase. The public are being given no choice. The Bill does away with the public's right to choose a candidate and abolishes by-elections if a candidate resigns or defects.