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Mr. Allan: I do not disagree and the hon. Lady has moved me to my fourth point, which is the high principle on which the Conservatives have been working. That report probably reflects what happened with the Scottish and Welsh decisions. Conservative peers went to the limit and died in the ditch because closed lists are of such fundamental democratic importance and the principle cannot be breached, but they allowed the Scottish devolution Bill through, although I do not believe that the Labour party manifesto mentioned closed lists in connection with that measure. They also allowed the Welsh devolution system a passage and closed lists were not mentioned then. As the Home Secretary pointed out, they supported the system for Northern Ireland, for which closed lists were put forward.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) rose--

Mr. Allan: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I am sure that I will enjoy his contribution.

The Conservative spokesman in the other place, Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish, seemed to recognise and accept in Committee that closed lists were not an insurmountable constitutional principle that they could not cross. He said that the Conservatives accepted that the Bill would be enacted as it was and that the most important thing was to have a review thereafter. However, amendments tabled in a spirit of compromise and co-operation in this House, were rejected because that acceptance seemed to disappear when the Conservatives felt that they could kill the Bill.

Mr. Swayne: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the debate about closed lists came alive only after the

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Scotland Bill had gone through? We began, then, to see the Labour party making its selections, and it was that example that brought the issue alive. Has the hon. Gentleman read the report of the Scottish Affairs Committee?

Mr. Allan: I know that the Conservative party can be rather slow on the uptake. The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that the Conservatives had no knowledge of these issues before, and that the light has slowly dawned as we have gone through months of constitutional reform. If that is how the Conservative party works, I suggest that its members do their homework before Bills start rather than waiting until the very end to understand the issues that they have debated.

The opportunism of the--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. I must be able to hear the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Allan: The opportunism of the Conservative party has been breathtaking. I have heard it described as casuistry. I am not exactly sure of the definition of that word, but in Sheffield, we call it twisted. The Conservatives' twisting seems to have taken them to breaking point, and the stand that was taken--so nobly, so bravely--in the other place appears to have caused a rupture within the parliamentary party in the Lords. I hope that that signals that the Bill will, after tonight, receive an easy and sensible passage, despite irresponsible statements by Conservative Members, including the Leader of the Opposition, that they would seek to obstruct the will of more than 60 per cent. of the British people who voted for parties that supported a proportional system for the European elections. I hope that the Bill will proceed, and I urge the House to give it a fair wind.

8.21 pm

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I apologise to the spokesmen on both Front Benches for the fact that I probably shall not be here to listen to their responses, but I shall read them with great interest. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) previously devoted three paragraphs of Hansard to requesting a speech from me. I am not accustomed to being in such demand, so I have hastened to oblige him. In the right hon. Gentleman's speech tonight, I heard more Labour speeches quoted than appear in a typical Millbank press release. We are grateful that he takes such interest in what Labour Back Benchers say. Long may it continue.

Unlike many hon. Members who have spoken against the Bill, I have lived and campaigned in countries that have had both open and closed lists. A point not much discussed is the effect that the open-list system can have on candidates. A candidate in an open-list system must not only assist the party, but ensure that he or she, personally, does better than other candidates on the party's own list. In practice, each candidate is forced to fight an expensive personal campaign in the media to persuade people to vote for him or her rather than the other candidates.

That has produced perverse results across the continent in areas in which the open-list system is practised. In effect, the system introduces the free market to

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democracy. We all favour openness and freedom, and, as new Labour, we all favour the free market, too. However, I do not think that many people favour a system that introduces a bias towards wealthy candidates who are able to attract support from wealthy backers.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Putative Members of the European Parliament have limits on their election expenses, and those will not change. Wealthy backers cannot fund candidates to fight each other in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Palmer: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point. It is possible to impose limits on both individual spending and party spending, and that is envisaged in the Bill. However, that gives a bonus to well known and wealthy candidates who are able to make themselves known before the election. That system naturally appeals to, say, Lord Archer, or to Conservative Members who have the resources and the contacts to make it possible that their individual campaigns can become known even before the election starts.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): It is absurd to say that only money buys votes. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge the many other ways of becoming well known? One can work hard in one's constituency, deliver leaflets, run campaigns and get into the newspapers. None of that requires vast sums of money.

Dr. Palmer: I agree that those are relevant factors, and few Members of Parliament are unfamiliar with the type of activities that the hon. Gentleman mentions. However, he must agree that money has talked ever louder for political parties in British politics in recent years. With an open-list system, we would extend that so that money would also talk for individual candidates.

It is unsurprising if that idea sounds familiar, as it is a concept that used to apply in British politics. If you were a candidate in the 17th or 18th century, you could hope to succeed only if you were funded or had the ability to make yourself known more widely than poor candidates or people of limited income who had no friends. It may be natural that that system should appeal to hereditary peers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should avoid using the word "you", as that brings the Chair into his argument.

Dr. Palmer: I am grateful for that correction.

It is perhaps natural that a hereditary peer would appreciate such a system on the grounds that what was good enough for his ancestor is good enough for him. However, in Britain today, we seek advancement for individuals according to their talents, and through the activities mentioned by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton). It would be a great shame if we gave an incentive to individual self promotion among candidates.

Political parties initially evolved for two reasons. One was so that people might coalesce around certain ideas and promote them when in Government. The other was that parties enabled individuals to seek and gain office purely through the power of ideas, with the political and

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financial support of the party. That has enriched British politics to an extent that would have been unimaginable if individual candidates had been forced--as they would be forced under an open-list system--to promote their own cause against the causes of other candidates from the same party.

We should recognise that some peers have genuinely been led to believe that the open-list system is more democratic. The phrase itself appeals to the fairness of individuals.

Mr. Lansley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Palmer: I shall carry on for the moment.

Everyone likes the idea of being open, and everyone likes the idea of choice. However, the Conservative party has grossly misled the majority of peers into rejecting the Bill five times, knowing that the open-list system would give an overwhelming advantage to the type of candidates that the Conservatives seek to promote--those who have the finance and connections to promote themselves. I urge the House to support the Bill.

8.30 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): It is liberating, in a sense, to escape the narrow terms of the amendments that detained us over the past few weeks and return to the principles that are contained within the Bill. I am very much against the basic principle of the Bill. I am not sure why we should be presented with such a Bill. As I said when we debated the Bill in the previous Session, at the risk of repetition, the fact is--[Interruption.] I understand that the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) has disappeared from the Chamber and that that is the occasion of some mirth.

The principle that there should be elections to a European parliament is one with which I do not agree. The European Assembly cannot be a parliament because a parliament represents a people and there are no European people--there is no European people. Therefore, there should not be elections to the European Assembly.

We arranged our affairs much more satisfactorily when we nominated Members of this place to the European Assembly. Having moved on from that situation, and having adopted a system of elections, I cannot understand why we now seek to adopt an even less eligible system of election. Constituencies have been replaced by regions that bear no correlation to any understanding that anyone would have in my constituency, for example, of the region in which he lives. There seems to be no logic that our regions should stretch from the Isle of Wight to Milton Keynes. Equally, why should this region be represented by 11 Members of the European Parliament, treading on one another's toes, interfering with one another's responsibilities and creating nothing but confusion?

We move on to the particular form of election that the Government have brought before us, which is based on the closed list. It is instructive to refer to the Scottish experience. Labour Members are right to draw attention to the fact that we have not suddenly found that our electoral system has been polluted by the closed list. They are right to say that under the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1997 elections will take place on a closed list.

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It is unfortunate that the debate has been guillotined. Time is a huge factor in bringing reasonableness to bear on these issues. Although Labour Members traipsed through the Lobby on the Scotland Bill, as it then was, in favour of a closed list, we now find what the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs reports on its study into multi-led democracy. Paragraph 91 reads:


The Select Committee then refers to the fact that in Bavaria such a system is used and that up to 30 per cent. of the voters interfere with the party-list precedent and change it.

Nevertheless, the Select Committee, with seven Labour Members, produced such a report. Paragraph 91 was the subject of a Division. Of the seven Labour Members, only two voted against the inclusion of the words to which I have referred, given that they had a preference for a closed list.

As for whether the Bill would have been enacted if there had been a free vote, the arithmetic is clear. We do not need to be experts to discern what would have happened. The Bill would have been thrown out. The passage of the Scotland Bill in Committee is instructive when we consider the voting method that has been chosen in European elections. We must return to our old friend Mr. d'Hondt. It is all very well to be told that the answer to the electoral system is 1.4, because that happens to be the square root of two, but that leads one to wonder what was the question that gave rise to such an answer.

I said to the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office that one of the advantages of our existing electoral arrangements is that, by and large, people understand them. They understand that a cross put in a box, when added to other crosses, can give rise to a result that most people accept and understand. When I said to the Minister that no one would understand the system that was being imposed, he said: "The voters do not have to understand the system so long as the returning officer does." What will that do for voter turnout and confidence in our electoral system? That is the essence of the argument against changing to a proportional voting system. I regard it as a monstrous system.

It all very well for Members to say that the House accepted the proposed form of voting when it discussed, as it then was, the Scotland Bill and the Government of Wales Bill. It is true that it takes time for the ramifications and implications for such a voting system to become obvious. It was not until the Scotland Bill and the Government of Wales Bill had passed through the House and the Government were under way with their business of selecting candidates that the weaknesses of the system became apparent. As soon as we saw the cronyism and the way in which long-standing members of the Labour party were shabbily treated, it became clear that the proposed voting system would be a gift to arbitrary power. It is a gift to party managers and party machines, and a gift that we seek to remove. This is our second opportunity to do so and I think that we should take it.


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