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Mr. Hughes: A last intervention?

Mrs. Shephard: Yes, certainly.

Mr. Hughes: I am always happy to offer a menu that might enlighten the right hon. Lady.

There is one other matter. Has the right hon. Lady considered the fact that, if we keep the first-past-the-post system, her colleagues and her party are likely, in the present political climate, to suffer badly? If she has not considered that, will she add it to the list of alternatives? The first-past-the-post system was not a wow and a success for the Conservative party in Scotland or in Wales at the general election, and it did not appear to deliver huge electoral success in England either. I say this in all seriousness: has she reflected on the fact that it might be wise--if she wants her party and the 25 per cent. of voters who vote Tory to be represented fairly in London--to change her views now rather than be forced to change them after another electoral defeat?

Mr. Forth: What a disgraceful suggestion.

Mrs. Shephard: It is indeed an extraordinary suggestion. It reveals more about the hon. Gentleman and the way that he and his party operate--and, indeed, think--than he perhaps would have wished. I repeat that our principle is that electors should be able to vote for people, not parties, to influence the outcome of elections.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the system that he has proposed as his choice for the Government to consider this evening was condemned by the Jenkins commission on electoral reform. We believe that its findings have been kicked into touch by the Prime Minister--the Minister may tell us more about that--although it was set up by his Government. The commission said:

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    That charming hyperbole comes fittingly from its author.

The plethora of voting systems and arrangements to be put in place will not help the clarity of the electoral system in London. We should reflect on the fact that Londoners will be asked to vote for their borough councillors--using the first-past-the-post system--every four years, and for the mayor and assembly every four years, but with a supplementary vote and additional- member systems of which the assembly system is a part. A variety of systems may be used if the Government accept the Liberal Democrat amendment.

Mrs. Lait: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the proposal that we should vote every year in London for our local authorities?

Mrs. Shephard: I am coming to that. In the other three years, Londoners may be asked to vote for a third of their councillors annually, possibly under the first-past-the-post system or perhaps under an alternative system yet to be announced and subject to the result of a referendum--which may or may not take place before the next election--on the system proposed by the Jenkins commission. At the very least, the Government should pause before they compound the confusion that they are creating.

The election proposals in the Bill diminish the accountability and transparency of the important new form of local government that is being set up in London. The diminution of accountability and transparency is more grave because it stems from a fresh start or experiment. Powers will be removed from the boroughs and a body will be created, the members of which will perforce be remote from the public whom they are elected to serve.

In the name of good accountable government for London, I commend the amendments to the Committee and hope that it agrees to divide on them at the appropriate time.

9 pm

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea): I shall not detain the Committee for long, but I wish to speak against the amendments, which I hope will be resisted.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is used to being a voice crying in the wilderness. For many years, he was the sole Liberal Democrat in London. He has now been joined by a few on the outer periphery, but he is still the only Liberal Democrat in inner London. Thus he will be used to the position in which he finds himself on the single transferable vote--the protagonist for a system in which nobody in this country has ever shown much interest. It is a British invention that has been exported, but has never been appreciated or adopted in its home country. Unlike many of our other inventions, that has happened for good reasons. It has been exported to Ireland and Malta, and the Australian Senate conducts its elections using that system, but it has found no firm foothold in any other country because it has enormous faults. Those become apparent when one looks at the experience of other countries.

The first main fault of the single transferable vote system is that it sets candidates of the same party at each other's throats. That becomes obvious when one studies Irish elections. It is in the interests of a Fianna Fail

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candidate not only to oppose Fine Gael candidates in the same constituency, but to poach votes from other Fianna Fail candidates--allegedly on the same ticket. Party colleagues will thus take a position on local issues designed to persuade Fianna Fail supporters to put them rather than party colleagues at the top of their list. It may be a form of democracy, but it promotes internecine warfare within political parties. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats wish that on the rest of us, but we can see the system's failings.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey says that the system gives choice within parties, and quotes the example of voters who might want to choose more women candidates or trade unionists, or perhaps a friend of theirs. If that were the only effect of STV it might have something to recommend it, but we know what happens in practice. The effect of the choice given to voters through STV, whereby essentially one can vote for only one candidate at a time in a multi-member constituency, is that people choose the candidate whose view is closest to theirs. The result is that candidates on the left or right wing of a party do better than those in the centre because they attract votes from supporters of other political parties. The effect of that can be seen all too clearly in Ireland.

Thus the second main failing of the STV system is that it blurs the distinction between political parties. What is the ideological distinction between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael? In the United States, the primary system blurs the distinction between political parties because it has the effect of turning a first-past-the-post system into another form of STV. People appear to be given a choice between parties and, within parties, between candidates. The inevitable result is that, within parties, there is competition between candidates of the same party and opposition parties attempt to steal votes from the other parties.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I know that the hon. Gentleman has had a long interest in this subject, and he makes some good points. May I put the counter argument? There is sometimes a benefit to the elector in candidates of the same party identifying themselves with local issues. It roots candidates within the local community, and prevents them from becoming too abstract.

The hon. Gentleman must be wary of taking Ireland as a example of where the differences are small. Unlike in most other European Union member countries, the party divide in Ireland has traditionally not been a left-right divide: it is based on nationalism and republicanism. The differences often have more to do with personality than with political philosophy. The other European countries that have proportional systems have not had that same confusion of party caused by a proportional electoral system.

Mr. Linton: It is true that the experience of Malta, which is the only other European country with that system, is very different. It has a much higher turnout. However, Maltese politics are a completely different kettle of fish, and family loyalties play an enormous part--even more so than in Ireland. Unfortunately, there are not enough exemplars of STV in Europe to show what would happen in this country, but they can warn us of the consequences.

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The hon. Gentleman's comments about the experience in Ireland bring me to the third main failing of STV. The failing of many proportional systems is that they take Members of Parliament away from direct reliance on their voters and make them less involved with their constituency. Under some systems, there are no recognisable constituencies. The fault of STV lies in the other direction. It is difficult to believe that one could go too far in that direction, but one has only to look at Irish politics to see that many TDs are in their constituencies for a majority of the time and pay only occasional visits to the Dail in Dublin.

It is ridiculous that a TD for Sligo spent his wholetime campaigning for an international airport in his constituency. As a monument to STV, there is now an international airport in County Sligo. STV encourages an enormously parochial approach to politics, so its failing is the reverse of most other PR systems. Nevertheless, it is a failing. One of the most important aspects of an electoral system should be that it establishes representatives who have solid roots in the constituency, and enables those representatives to devote time to what they are elected to do, which is to represent their constituencies in Parliament and to take part in decisions about the running of the country. STV has failed to do that, at least in Ireland.

We should resist the siren voices of the Liberal Democrats, who alone have held the STV flag aloft. The STV system has always been rejected in this country for good reasons. The Scottish convention considered it, but rejected it and adopted an additional member system. The Welsh also adopted an additional member system. I am sure that, if we had had a convention in London, we would have gone through the same arguments and come to the same conclusion. Indeed, the Green Paper tried to reproduce that process, and the same arguments were deployed by the Liberal Democrats and others. The result was the same as it was in Scotland and Wales, and it was decided that London should elect a mayor by a majoritarian system, but that the representatives should be elected by AMS.

I hear what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey says about leaving the door open to alternative vote plus. Powerful arguments will be made about that when the time comes, because it is a more recent development than the Green Paper or the White Paper. The Minister should examine that system, because it would have a great advantage. For example, London voters who vote Labour for their constituency representative in the assembly would not have to think about voting in another way in the second election. There would be no need for the tactical voting that bedevils our present system.

The most important thing is that we adopt the basic system proposed in the Bill. I have no problem with the closed list, and we must remember that every London voter will have a choice of candidates in his or her local constituency from whom to elect a local representative. The purpose of the 11 top-up members is to correct the anomalies created, inevitably, by any kind of majoritarian system, so that the representation across the whole of London more accurately reflects the parties' strength. It would be confusing one with the other if we tried to transport the choice of candidate into the other system; it would simply detract from what is essentially a correcting mechanism that requires a choice of party. Independents, of course, will still be able to stand.

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The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) holds on fast to the first-past-the-post system. She overlooks the fact that the mayor will be elected by a majoritarian system; not by first past the post, but a better majoritarian system--the supplementary vote, which will remove the need for tactical voting and will ensure that the mayor has the support of a majority of the voters, or very close to a majority. We will not run the risk of elections where three candidates split the vote and one wins by gaining 36 per cent. I do not understand why the Conservatives should hang on to such a system when a far-superior majoritarian system is on offer.

The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk said that the constituency members should also be elected by first past the post, but she fails to understand that an assembly elected in the same way as the mayor would provide no checks whatever on the mayor. The mayor is elected by a majoritarian system. It would be pointless to reproduce such a system for the assembly. We would end up with a mayor of one party and an assembly almost entirely composed of members of the same party, which would serve little purpose. The whole idea of having an assembly is that the mayor has executive power, but that scrutiny and checks are exercised by an assembly intended to more closely reflect the political make-up of the voters.

The voters will still have complete power to hire or fire the executive through the mayoral elections, by a majoritarian system. What we do not need is to reproduce all the failings of our present voting system twice over by having the constituencies elected entirely by first past the post.

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