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Mr. Beith: Does the hon. Gentleman regard free personal care and no tuition fees as the kind of trouble that Liberal Democrats ought not to be making for the partnership Administration who have pursued those policies?
John Robertson: The Liberals will take credit for anything. We have to consider who is paying for the careand not only that, but who is not being paid for. When we talked about that kind of care, I had my reservations, butas with most thingsI am willing to wait and see. I waited to see how the list system worked, and it does not. As for the right hon. Gentleman's other point, I just disagree with him; I am sorry, but I cannot agree with him in any shape or form.
Time is of the essence, and I call on my friends in government to look at the electoral system, because what happens in Scotland today could happen in the United Kingdom tomorrow. The STV system for local government in Scotland is not a way of democracy, and it is not wanted. Only four councils in the whole of Scotland suggested that they would like it, and 28 said that they did not want it; the system would be an imposition on local government in Scotland. I do not particularly want to impose another system on the Scottish Parliament, but if I were given the chance to get involved in opening up the Scotland Act 1998, I would reintroduce first past the post tomorrow, with two elected Membersone man and one womanfor each constituency. I ask my hon. Friends to support me when I table an amendment that says as much.
Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I shall follow my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) in commenting on the proposals in the Queen's Speech to retain the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament, but, as my hon. Friend will not be surprised to find out, I shall take a different direction. I, too, must apologise to the House for having been away at a Select Committee for part of the afternoon, although I have tried to ascertain what comments have been made on the issue while I was away.
I support the proposals to retain the current number of Members of the Scottish Parliament, and if I have the opportunity to speak on the issue on Second Reading, I will expand on the reasons why. Today, however, I want to concentrate on the fact that the proposal to retain the same number of MSPs will undoubtedly have knock-on effects for the political system elsewhere in Scotland. When the Government take forward the Bill on Scottish parliamentary constituencies in the next few months, they will need to give the House some suggestion of how they will deal with those knock-on issues.
So this issue needs to be addressed. I have more confidence than do some of my colleagues in the voter's ability to understand different systems, but there comes a point at which one has to say that a system is getting too complex. If the electorate do not know who they are voting for and when they are voting for them, and if they do not fully appreciate the differences between the different systems, that in itself threatens their ability to hold elected politicians to account.
The system needs to be examined and now is the right time to do so. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland that the current system of electing MSPs is not achieving the intended results. By that I do not meanas some of my colleagues occasionally dothe election of a Labour majority under any circumstances. The system was designed to be truly proportional, whereby votes cast by the electorate are roughly reflected in the number of seats won by the different political parties. Instead, we are getting an "Alice through the looking-glass" system of proportional representation, with an increased use of tactical voting. The thing that was meant to be good about proportionality in electionsthat people vote for the party of their choice, rather than engaging in tactical votingis no longer applying.
Primarily, that is happening not because of the list system, but because two ballot papers are involved. The electoratealong with the political parties, the media and the political systemare increasingly regarding the list ballot paper, which in theory should balance out any disproportionality in the constituency element, as the second preference ballot paper. As a result, voters' second preference is being given almost as much weight as their first preferenceentirely the opposite of what any form of PR should mean. Unlike some Members, perhaps, I do not want the smaller parties to be driven out of the Scottish Parliament, but I do want them, along with the larger parties, to get the representation in seats that they ought to get, thereby reflecting voters' preferences. The current system is moving away from true proportionality and leading to a bizarre, inverse distortion of true PR.
John Robertson: Does my hon. Friend not accept that it is not right for 77,000 people voting on a ballot paper to receive zero representation? I could understand our having a single ballot paper and working out a system accordingly, but we have two ballot papers, including a specific paper for the party vote, and 77,000 people in Glasgow get absolutely no representation for that vote.
My hon. Friend suggests that one solution might be to retain the system of constituency Members and the list, but to have just one ballot paper. Presumably, the seats allocated on the list would then be awarded on the basis of the total votes cast on a single ballot paper in every constituency. As it happens, that was the system that I preferred when these matters were discussed some years ago. Unfortunately, my wise counsel was ignored on that occasion, as was often the case, regrettably. The other solutionit is supported by the Liberal Democrats and, I think, by the Scottish National party and an increasing number of Labour Membersis some form of single transferable vote for Scottish Parliament elections. There are arguments in favour of introducing that system as well.
The issue must be addressed quickly. We may have an opportunity to do so when the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Bill comes before the House, although it is very closely drafted. As I said at the outset, the Government need to address the issue and give an indication of how they will take the matter forward. Increasingly, people in Scotland want the matter to be addressed. There must of course be consultation among the political parties in Scotland and we should try to reach as much of a consensus as we can, in order to find a way forward. However, if we do not address the issue and change how the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament currently operates, we will discredit it. As somebody who wants the Scottish Parliament to do well and be successful, I do not want to see it discredited because of the inadvertent consequences of the operation of the electoral system. I hope that the Government will say tonightor if not tonight, when the Bill is introducedhow they will move forward on such issues.
Mr. Duncan: I certainly hope to keep it that way. The Minister has had a busy day, which is about to get busier. I must warn him that I have been informed that he used to serve on the Public Accounts Committee with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). If the Minister continues to do as well as he did this morning, he risks being labelled a protégé of the shadow Home Secretary.
The agenda that we have been discussing this afternoon involves a long list of Bills and the legislative programme will keep us busy. The issues that we are bound to discuss over the next parliamentary year will profoundly affect the lives of many people. As such, we all have a heavy duty to ensure that we make the best possible law. On the Opposition side of the Houseand, I sense, on the Government sidethat is what we all want to do.