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Mr. Linton: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the case of the proposed Labour list in the west midlands, no one will be asked to vote for a well known soap opera star just so that other candidates will be elected on his coat tails? People will be voting for a party, and that candidate will be elected according to his order on the party list. The position would be quite the reverse under the scheme--the Finnish system--that the hon. Gentleman is proposing, as the person in the first position on the Conservative list--be it Lulu, Lord Archer or someone else--would carry on their coat tails people for whom no voter had expressed any preference, simply because he or she was sufficiently famous and attractive in their own right to win votes in sufficient numbers.

Mr. Lansley: The hon. Gentleman is right about that. However, he is highlighting a distinction between closed and open lists that supports Opposition Members', not Ministers', argument. The hon. Gentleman has made it clear in previous speeches that he is in favour of open lists--at least the Belgian list system, which would offer some of the benefits of using the attraction of specific candidates, whether they occupy the first, second or third position. That leads to the question of why the Government are proposing to use a closed-list system in which the only preference that voters can express is between parties, whereas they are including on ballot papers parties' candidate lists. What is the point of doing that?

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The point is that, in the west midlands, for example, the Labour party believes--erroneously--that it will be able to use the name of a well known soap opera actor, thereby augmenting its vote.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Before my hon. Friend moves on, there is a point that requires amplification. Is not the practical effect of the closed-list system the outcome that parties would tend to transport into the European Parliament--or any other body, if the system were to be extended--people of whom they hold a high opinion, and who would not want the inconvenience of having to serve an electorate in any meaningful or real way?

Is not the truth that that would be a step back to the time before the passage of the 19th century reform Acts, when places in Parliament were in the gift of notables, whose favourites were elevated to Parliament without having to do any of the hard graft? Is that not the real issue? The issue is not, as the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) suggested, about an opportunity for famous people to drag others with them. It is about an opportunity for famous people--in the sense that they are famous in their own party--to be given the opportunity without the hard graft of properly standing for election and making themselves accountable to the electorate.

Mr. Lansley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Liberal Democrats have been trying to argue that we should distance the way in which the Labour party has selected its candidates from our debates on a closed list, as if they were separate and unrelated issues. However, the way the Labour party has selected its candidates is the precise issue. A closed list has enabled the Labour party to select candidates as it has, in what it believed to be the secure expectation of contesting the European parliamentary elections with candidates in the order decided by the party apparatus, rather than requiring it to insert Labour party members' preferences into the system.

On ballot papers, although there will be an opportunity for voters to express a party preference, the Bill will not allow voters to express a preference between a party's candidates. Moreover, voters would not be able, if they were so minded, to express a preference on an issue, thereby elevating it above party. The bishops in another place, for example, were rightly very exercised by the desire of some voters to use the vote that they cast by reference to issues of conscience. Some voters put issues of conscience above party when electing representatives. Under the Bill, that will not be possible.

Since our most recent debate on the Bill, the Home Secretary--whom I am pleased to see return to his place--has asserted, on 26 November, that it was compatible with the European convention on human rights, which we have also debated. This is the first time the House has debated a Bill on Second Reading in the light of the requirement that Ministers should say whether it is compatible with the convention.

Article 3 of the first protocol of the convention says:

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    The Home Secretary made his statement on the compatibility of the Bill with the convention not by answering a question in the House or in the Votes and Proceedings of the House; presumably he simply signed a piece of paper in the Home Office to that effect.

The Home Secretary has not explained why the Bill is compatible, even though I raised the issue during the debate on the guillotine motion. The aim of the convention is for voters to be able to express their opinion freely. That opinion is not expressed exclusively between parties. The bishops in another place made it clear--as have we, time after time--that the expression of opinion by voters between--

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman and several of his colleagues have raised issues during the debate and addressed questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or to me. It appears that they do not intend to allow us time to respond. Is it in order for him to carry on in such a way that we shall not have an opportunity to respond?

Mr. Clappison: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the light of the Minister's request for further time, given that the Government have underestimated the time required for the debate, is there any way in which the Government can be assisted to reverse their guillotine motion and give us time to debate the Bill properly?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. Although the debate is time limited, the length of time that a Member speaks is not. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has the Floor.

Mr. Lansley: I might have been able to make more progress if the Minister had not interrupted me on a point of order. Labour Members, including the Home Secretary, have said that there is nothing new to be said about the Bill, but lo and behold there is something new and they do not want to hear it. The Home Secretary knew that compatibility with the European convention was an issue, but he failed to address it, just as he failed to say whether he believed--regardless of whether it is in the legislation--that there should be a review of closed lists. It will fall to be debated in another place, as has happened too many times on the Bill, where Ministers will have to answer questions that have been raised here and should have been debated here--but for the fact that the Government have prevented us from doing so.

Mr. Loughton: Many new points have been raised during the debate. Is my hon. Friend aware that only last week 17 angry churchmen, including archbishops, bishops and the chairman of the conference of Methodist Churches, expressed their great anger to the Prime Minister that conscience was being squeezed out by the Bill? No one will be able to vote for a candidate on a matter of conscience.

Mr. Lansley: My hon. Friend illustrates the point with force. The European convention gives voters the right to

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choose the members of their legislature. As the bishops rightly say, some voters may want to express their free choice on a matter of conscience. Moreover, some people distinguish between candidates of the same party on ideological grounds, but that will not be possible under the closed list system.

Mr. Beith: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the first-past-the-post system, which he favours and to which we would return if the Bill fails, is open to challenge in the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that it does not allow the voters a choice between candidates of the same party?

Mr. Lansley: I am not saying that, as the right hon. Gentleman and the Home Secretary know. Saying that first past the post is a closed list of one is a red herring, as that system is devised to secure a different objective--a relationship between an elected representative and a defined geographical area. As the Home Secretary made clear, regional electoral areas are being created only for proportionality. Regions could offer voters the opportunity to choose between candidates, but the Bill will deny them that opportunity.

What will happen if, before the European elections, people go to a court to seek a declaration of incompatibility between the European convention and the legislation on the grounds that their right to choose a particular candidate as a matter of conscience will be frustrated? The Home Secretary has chosen not to recognise the consequences of the Human Rights Act 1998, but he should tell us--not through the medium of his Minister of State in another place--whether he intends to make secondary legislation using the Henry VIII powers in the Human Rights Act to change the voting system at the last minute if it is found that there is incompatibility.

I am surprised that no Labour Member has been sufficiently acute to have asked whether any of the five European countries that use closed lists have discovered that the system is incompatible with the European convention on human rights. In fact, no country has done that yet, but only because the matter has not been brought to court. As a consequence of the timetable, we are debating an issue--

It being four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to the Order [this day].

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 315, Noes 123.

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