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Earl Russell: For the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, perhaps I may put it more simply: Liberals tend to support each other.

Lord Bruce of Donington: All elections in the United Kingdom depend ultimately upon individuals turning up at polling stations and putting their cross against whichever candidate, or in this case whichever party, they favour. This involves a considerable amount of work. If one has a region that covers perhaps 11 or more parliamentary constituencies the question is: who will provide the mechanism, the will and enthusiasm to vote for candidates on a list? I am sure that the following remark applies equally to the Conservative and Liberal Parties as to my party. The people who do

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the work are members of the Westminster constituency parties. They address the envelopes, organise meetings, do the canvassing and provide transportation to encourage or help disabled people to get to the polls. Let us assume that an election is for a region as a whole on the basis of a list. That help must be provided by individual members of the constituency Labour parties. Fundamentally it is to the Westminster Parliament that individual party allegiance is given. This applies even more vividly in local elections where there tends to be closer proximity between the candidates and the electors.

What will happen in a region that comprises 11 constituencies? Certain legal considerations arise where there are overlaps, and I shall touch upon that matter in a later amendment. How will all of this be mobilised? How will it be done? Will all of the constituency party workers be provided at party expense with mobile telephones so that they can be contacted at any time by whoever organises the matter in the region? My fear is that if it proceeds on that basis it will be difficult to arouse the enthusiasm of the individual Westminster electorates, who elect their own Members of Parliament to Westminster by name, for a regional list.

Lord Evans of Parkside: I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. He may have been misled in referring to a region consisting of 11 constituencies. For example, is he aware that the new north-west Region, which includes Cumbria, comprises more than 80 Westminster parliamentary constituencies, not 11?

Lord Bruce of Donington: I am aware of that consideration. I cite my noble friend in support of this matter. The answer is that it will be very difficult to arouse any enthusiasm for elections to the European Parliament on the basis of a list. If that occurred and the outcome were derisory in terms of the percentage of the electorate voting--if turn-out was very much lower than on the previous occasion--it would tend to bring the whole question of democracy into disrepute. This is something that we ought to beware of.

We tend to regard the influence, or shall I say the direction, by party headquarters and by the leader of the party with a degree of benevolence which follows our own political convictions. Most of us, for example, would prefer to have an organisation based upon Millbank rather than possibly the square in which the Conservative Party has its headquarters, but it is entirely beside the point because it is simply not democratic. We are living at a time--one only has to read the daily and weekly newspapers to realise this--where increasingly policies, including details of policies, come from the top. They are supported by the machine, and the lower orders in the constituencies are supposed to conform and are in fact discouraged from disagreeing with anything emanating from the party machine.

In my time--a long time ago, possibly before the war--that kind of policy was called democratic centralism and was said to contain the characteristics of the then Communist Party. Are we not getting

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dangerously near to a revival of the hated democratic centralism which was the hallmark of the British Communist Party? In my view--I do not speak for anyone save myself--we are getting dangerously near to that state of affairs. Dissent is still the mainspring of democracy. There is unanimity only in the graveyard, because there they cannot argue with one another.

What we seem to be doing--unconsciously, I hope, rather than as a deliberate effort--is beginning to build into the British political structure and British democracy all the worst characteristics of Russian communism: that is to say, policy from the top and no dissent from below, except under severe disapproval from higher up. That is one of the reasons why I dislike the depersonalisation politics. You can work up some affection for, or some dislike of, a person. You can dissent from their views or you can agree with them. You can exhibit varying degrees of emotion for their ideas and possibly for the presentation of your own. However, to have to argue with a machine the whole time and to have to dissent when a machine, by its own definition, can never be wrong, is a total abdication from what I have always believed to be the finest things of British democracy. Therefore, I hope that the Government will take some account of this view, which may in fact not have occurred to them because, as Mark Antony would say,

    "They are all honourable men".

4.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This has been an interesting debate. It started off with the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, who said that it was a good Bill. I am sorry to say that I cannot agree with him and I think I had better disabuse him of one or two facts before we go too much further. The fact that I have an amendment later on the Marshalled List, with my noble friend Lord Henley, in no way diminishes what I said about the Bill on Maundy Thursday, on Second Reading, when I concluded:

    "I think this is a sad day for Britain and for our parliamentary democracy, based as it has been down the ages on the Westminster pattern of constituency representation".--[Official Report, 9/4/98; col. 864.]

I want to make quite clear to the noble Lord and his friends that while I may decide to discuss the finer points of the myriad of proportional representation systems, that in no way removes my objection in principle to any or all of them. My firm view is that the first-past-the-post system is the simplest and the best system whereby people can elect representatives to Parliament, whether that be the European Parliament with its limited powers, our Parliament down the corridor in the other place, or the parliaments proposed to be set up in Wales and Scotland. I am firmly of the view--in fact I am even more convinced, having heard some of your Lordships speak today--that the merits of our system are very considerable. I say that because what we are undoubtedly moving to is a system where people will not have a blind clue who their European Members are.

It was, I believe, the Minister who said that Mrs. Winifred Ewing in the Highlands and Islands seat in Scotland was an exception when I suggested she

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would be known by more people than would know their Westminster constituency MP. She may be at the top of the league, but I do not think she will be alone in being pretty well known. That constituency link is important because it means that people have local roots and local strengths and even if they cover quite a wide area, as European constituencies inevitably have to do, they still have some degree of pull.

My noble and learned friend Lord Fraser asked how could anyone, extremely well known in, let us say, the Grampian area in Scotland or Aberdeenshire--extremely well known and perfectly capable of being elected there for their party--have that same identification with people in Dumfriesshire or in the City of Glasgow, as Scotland will be one great big seat? I rather suspect that far from seeing an increase in the turn-out in European elections we will see a further decrease. I want to make that point clear.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, also said that time was pressing. I presume that was the reason why he made no attempt whatever to explain the system that he was suggesting to your Lordships. I do not believe that time is pressing on this Bill at all. It was Maundy Thursday when we had the Second Reading. I know that part of the Government's excuse for the Committee stage being held now is that we have had to wait on the Registration of Political Parties Bill. Having waited for it so long, when I went to collect it I thought I would need a large truck to carry it away, such would have been its size. But it is only a modest 11 pages long and it has been with us now for some weeks. So we could have had this Committee day some weeks ago. Therefore I am afraid the statement that time is pressing is not actually valid and it does not excuse the noble Lord from giving some explanation of the system he is putting up as an alternative to--

Earl Russell: Does the noble Lord remember, in his Second Reading speech, demanding with the utmost passion that this Bill be delayed until the Registration of Political Parties Bill was printed? Is he further aware that the resources of parliamentary counsel have been devoted to preparing Bills on Northern Ireland--a fact which, content or not, we must welcome?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Yes, I did say that. We have had the Registration of Political Parties Bill with us now for some weeks. It has already been amended in Standing Committee in another place. So it has been two or three weeks down there. I know that the reason for the delay in producing it was the preparation of Northern Ireland material, but the Registration of Political Parties Bill has been inevitable ever since the day the Government set out on the track of having the additional member system in Scotland and Wales and this proportional representation system in Europe. There has therefore been plenty of time; all the months that have passed since passed since the general election have been available to produce a massive 11-page Bill. We owe it to ourselves to look carefully at the Bill before us today, and I do not believe that time is pressing.

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The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made a good attempt to explain exactly how the Liberal Democrat proposal might actually work and pointed out rightly that we have three major amendments to discuss today in relation to first-past-the-post. As I said, the moment we move away from first-past-the-post and get people to agree to PR, they promptly fall out as to what system of PR they all favour. I have made my view clear. If there were a simple vote this afternoon--do you agree with the Government's proposal?--and there were no alternatives scattered around, the poor old Minister would be very lonely in the Division Lobby because not one single soul has supported the Government's proposed system. All have suggested that there should be variations to it. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, came the nearest to supporting the proposal. Let us put it that way. I did not think that it was terribly near, but it was the nearest.

We could have many variations. My amendment and that of the Liberal Democrats have a relationship to each other. There is a different one by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. The three amendments give us an opportunity to explore the matter to see whether there is any way in which we can all come together at a later stage to impress upon the Government what we think should be the alternative to their system.

I have already conceded that, given the manifesto commitment and the Government's majority, my preferred system cannot be put to the test. I suspect that after the Committee has talked about PR for a while it might be happy to rush back to the first-past-the-post system as a far easier proposition. But I am afraid that that is not to be.

We have the Government's proposed closed list system. It is a simple system. People go to the ballot and vote for a political party. That is straightforward. The named person will not be important. I suspect that there will be no names on the ballot paper. We shall probably receive confirmation of that from the Government later. There will be no person's name. The process will be de-personalised, apart from any independents who may stand. That will not last for long because under this system being an independent will be pretty lonely. People will quickly realise that there are no runs in being an independent under that system.

There will be parties. The Committee will be aware that the party vote will be divided by a system known as d'Hondt to decide how many seats each party will receive. Then it will just be a case of ticking off from the top down from the list delivered to the returning officer by the party. We are here considering how to determine that list. The Government's proposal is that the list will be determined by the party itself, by whatever method it chooses. In fact the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, writing in the Guardian on 24th October stated:

    "The order of candidates on a party's list and the order in which they are elected should be determined by parties rather than the electorate".
We knew where he stood.

In the debate in the other place on 25th November last year (Hansard, col. 813) the Home Secretary went on to say that voters could not be expected to make an

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informed choice between individual candidates from the same party. If the electorate were required to rank candidates of the same party such choices could be arbitrary--I suppose arbitrary in the view of the party managers. He received a bit of a battering from all sides in the other place. He then said that he was prepared to listen to the arguments for adopting a Belgian-type system and give them consideration. He said that he would return to that at a later stage in the Bill's passage.

By 26th February the Home Secretary still had not made up his mind. He said that at col. 543 of Hansard. That day he said also that he intended to inform Members the following week, and he did. The Belgian system is the one brought before us by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham. It tries to give the electorate some say.

As no one has explained the system to the Committee I always find it easier if I explain it, if only to myself. The Belgian system means that the ballot paper will have the party on it. Below the party will be the names of the listed candidates. I suppose that they will have been chosen by the party managers by whatever method decided by the party. There they will be. The elector will be invited to vote for the party or for an individual candidate. At the end of the day, all the votes will be added up. If one votes for an individual candidate, that vote is added to the party's total list. All the parties are totalled. The d'Hondt principle is applied, and the number of seats each parties receives is decided.

The returning officer then goes back to the ballots to see who got how many votes. That is where life becomes complex. I wondered whether I could try to explain this to the Committee as a test of whether my school masterly skills had been lost in the 20 years since I left that trade. I think that they have. One would need a blackboard or an overhead projector to explain what happens next.

Unless the electorate for that party--let us say the Conservative electorate--has voted for the people in the same ranked order as the party, then it could easily not get its way, and a candidate who receives more votes for himself or herself than any other candidate on the list can end up not being elected. That is the conclusion to which Jack Straw rightly came. On 9th March he stated:

    "I am placing in the Library some numerical examples to illustrate how the system works in practice. These indicate that even where votes for individual candidates amount to as much as 40 per cent. of a party's total vote"--
in other words, 60 per cent. of the people voted just for the party while 40 per cent. split their votes between the individuals on the party list--

    "those candidates receiving the fewest individual votes can be elected while those receiving the most are not". I believe that such an outcome would lead to substantial disillusionment among the electorate following an election".--[Official Report, Commons, 9/3/98; col. 18.]

The Home Secretary gave--if I may thus describe them--some worked examples which make it abundantly clear that in certain circumstances the electorate can show that it favours a candidate above all others, but if that candidate is not within the top one or

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two, or at the very most three places, on the party's list, he has no chance of being elected to the European Parliament. So I reluctantly come to the view that Jack Straw's objection to the Liberal Democrat method is correct.

That cannot happen just in theory. There are a number of pages of theory. Sometimes it can work perfectly well, but it can only work perfectly well if the Conservative electorate, for example, favours the top and the second person on the party list. It will undoubtedly work, but it would have worked on the party list as the Government want it anyway. So there is no point in that. The only point in going away from the closed-list system is to give the elector a proper choice. The elector cannot have a proper choice if his proper choice is too far down the party list and never achieves the magic quota figure.

I just do not believe, theoretically according to the Home Secretary, that the Liberal Democrat proposition is any fairer than the closed list.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney: Following the noble Lord's argument, I think that I agree with what he has said, but does he agree that the obvious solution to this problem is to adopt an open system--Finland and Luxembourg are two examples of it--which does not give the option of voting for the party? One has to vote for named individuals.

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