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Mr. Forth: There would be if the hon. Gentleman was not here.

Mr. Hughes: I do not think that that is true, although the right hon. Gentleman might like it to be true. I do not know what his view is, because he is always a maverick, but even his party wants to change the electoral system. I shall first issue a disclaimer to the Committee. As I have said before, I am not obsessive about electoral systems or electoral reform. I do not hold the view that there is a perfect electoral system in the world, nor do I think that there is an absolutely imperfect electoral system. All electoral systems are better or worse than one another. We have to select one according to a combination of the wisdom of experience and the objectives for which we set up elected bodies in this country. I shall describe the amendments--I need not do so at length, but different amendments have been grouped together. I shall then argue that there is a strong case, even at this stage in the proceedings, for reconsidering the electoral system that the Government have chosen to put before the Committee. After about 18 months of this Administration, we come to this debate with interesting recent experience which is relevant to the issue. Liberal Democrat Members welcome the new Government's willingness to be much more open-minded than their predecessors about constitutional matters. It is interesting that now that the Conservative party is in opposition and has no Members of Parliament in Scotland or Wales, a gradual conversion is taking place among Conservative Members. I did not leave the Committee during the previous debate to listen to a lecture, apparently entitled, "The British Way", which may have been given elsewhere in the City of Westminster. However, I understand that even the person who may have given that lecture now accepts that the most recent election was a watershed, and that the Conservatives have to move on and realise that the old order is changing and giving way to a new order. We welcome the Government's clear commitment--which we helped them to make when they were in opposition--to reconsider electoral systems. We are looking forward to changes in those systems in Scotland to govern the first elections to the Scottish Parliament and, in Wales, for elections to the Assembly. We welcome both of those innovations. Last year, a new electoral system was used for elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which we also welcomed. There are interesting differences between all those systems and organisations. The Scottish Parliament system was the result of a consultative process. There were meetings between the Labour party, the Scottish National party, my party and, at the beginning,

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the Conservative party. Not all the parties stayed the course; some withdrew. The trade unions and Churches were also involved. There was an attempt to come to an agreement in the Scottish convention. The electoral system in Scotland is the product of that. When we debated the Scotland Bill in the House and in Committee, we supported the proposals that we had agreed to in the convention. The difference between Scotland, which has a proportional system, and London is that we have not had such a convention in London. I slightly regret the fact that the Government did not see fit to hold a pre-legislative convention to find out what agreement there was. We must all take partial responsibility for that failure. I recognise that there was a Green Paper containing proposals that marked a change in the Government's position. The Welsh Assembly will also be elected using a proportional system. That proposal did not arise from a convention--the Government were persuaded of the merit of the case. The system chosen was not the one that we would have devised, but it is certainly better than the system that the Government inherited in Great Britain generally. No one disputes the fact that the proportional representation system that was adopted and implemented for the Northern Ireland Assembly was the only way to secure people's participation in the electoral process. One hopes that has been a contributory factor in paving the way towards the resolution of Northern Ireland's conflicts, which have gone on for a long time. The postscript to that point is that Northern Ireland has for some time had a system based on electoral reform and one other than first past the post. Like the Irish republic, Northern Ireland has found that reform convenient and helpful. That is the recent history of legislation for domestic representative bodies. Just before Christmas, we debated the final chapter of that legislation--the electoral system for the European Parliament. Again, to their credit, the Government changed their position and accepted that a proportional system should be used. After much huffing and puffing and an attempt at the other end of the corridor to blow the House down, it was accepted that the democratically elected, representative House should prevail, and there will now be a proportional system of election for the European Parliament. That debate has a subplot, which will be raised in reference to the amendments. If a proportional system incorporates a list system, should one have the famous open list or the closed list? The experts will say that there are many subplots. Belgium has produced a version of the list system. Chocolates, chips and electoral systems are clearly the products of that fine kingdom. There are d'Hondt versions and many others. The basic question for a simple person like me is whether to have an open list, which means that people can choose the position of candidates on the list, or a closed list, in which people can take or leave those positions. Liberal Democrat Members have always argued that, in a list system, it is always better to give people freedom of choice so that the party does not impose its choice.

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We have made progress. In all the electoral legislation discussed in this Parliament, the Government have introduced a proportional system. We welcome that. The respective systems are not the same, but that is not inappropriate for two obvious reasons. First, self-evidently, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are different, and elections for a European Parliament are for a different kind of body. Secondly, the argument that the system in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales must be used in London does not apply because unless electors in London very cleverly arrange their affairs, they do not have a vote in elections in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. The existence of another system in one of the other three countries in the United Kingdom is not an argument for having a similar system in London. As for London, I pay tribute to the Government, the Secretary of State, who is absent but who is responsible for the Bill, and his Ministers. When we started the debate on London, there was no commitment to proportional representation. It was an open question and the Government consulted on it. They then listened to the overwhelming response of the respondents--many were not political parties or members of political parties, but included lay organisations as well as those concerned with elections--which was that London needed a proportional system. It is a good thing that the Greater London assembly, whatever its size--a subject that we have just debated--will have a political proportionality. That is welcome for one overriding reason, namely that London is a very large electoral village as well as being the capital city.It contains communities that are very different, geographically and in terms of background. In order to have a spread of representation, we have to make sure that two things happen. First, as was said earlier today, we must ensure that the voice of the Kent part of London, the Surrey part of London, the Hertfordshire part of London, the Essex part of London as well as that of the old Middlesex part of London--the largest component--is heard and is heard in different ways. The Minister and I both live south of the river but where he lives, people's county cricket team is Kent whereas mine is Surrey, and across the river people's county cricket team is Middlesex. All these people who are part of Greater London must have their important history reflected.

8.30 pm

Secondly, a proportional system--the better the proportionality, the better the system--will allow the creation of an assembly that is balanced in terms of gender and background. For example, the large black community should be able to have black representatives, and the many Asian people in London, some of whom have been citizens here for two, three or four generations, should be able to identify with representatives from the same cultural background. None of us would deny that the objective of the system must be to ensure that the cosmopolitan basis of London is represented.

Ideally, we want a system that allows people to choose not only between parties but within parties, and to choose individuals who are not members of any party. I hope that one of the results of this exercise will be the election of some independents. The hon. Member for Tatton

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(Mr. Bell) has shown what a great contribution an Independent can make to a legislative and deliberative assembly. Others have done the same--A. P. Herbert is one who springs to mind from my reading of contributions over the years.

Voters should be able to choose between people in the parties. I hope that we maximise the opportunity for that. For example, a Conservative voter in an outer-London borough, or in my borough, might want to make sure that there are more women in politics. It might be something about which that voter feels strongly, and he should be allowed to say that he would rather have a woman represent him than a man. A young voter might think that there should be more young people in politics. He might not have made up his mind what party he supports, but if he finds a young candidate who seems to be on the ball, he might vote accordingly.

People might also vote for a candidate according to experience and profession. A trade unionist might think it important to elect someone who got his hands dirty doing real work rather than someone who has been only a manager or an administrator. I met people from the pensioners lobby today--I am sure that they will say it is important to include some pensioners in the assembly. Those are our objectives. Before dealing directly with the amendment, I wanted to outline the common ground that exists between us and our common desire to make sure that, whatever disagreements we may have about how we get there, we end up with a body that commands the confidence of people from Bromley to Barnet and the confidence of people of all ages, cultures and ethnic backgrounds.


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