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Lord Williams of Mostyn: I take the noble Lord's point but that is a matter for party selection. Indeed, I know of examples, which are quite notorious, where some prospective candidates have been selected at too low a point and they have said, not quite in these words, "This is my bat and I am taking my ball home". In fact, they have gone on to apply for other constituencies. That is a matter for selection and for the internal party system.
I repeat that it is the parties which bring forward their lists. If a candidate does not wish to stand in the south east, he is perfectly entitled, should he be so minded, to try in Wales. But that does not mean that the candidates who then go forward on the party list and may, after death or resignation, reach their desired goal are useless.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I suppose that that will happen in some cases. It happens now in parliamentary elections. People withdraw and do what I think was called in another place "the chicken run". But no one holds them in permanent odium. It lasts only a short time.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: We are rather disappointed by the tone of the Minister's reply because it did not reflect the tone of the debate. In fact, it has been interesting that in this debate we have put forward what is an improvement on the Government's system of election in the Bill and we have attracted to that amendment support from people who do not believe at all in the system but who nevertheless recognise that if we are to have it, our proposal is better than that contained in the Bill at present.
Therefore, my noble friend Lord Alton--I still call him that despite where he sits--reared as he was on the pure milk of the single transferable vote, recognises that our amendment is an improvement on the Government's proposal, as does the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, reared on the pure gin and tonic of the first-past-the-post system. Unfortunately the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who is later to introduce the pure vodka of the Finnish system, tells us that after all, he does not believe in it. We shall look forward to that speech later on.
I invite the Committee to consider just three points before deciding what to do about the amendment. The first is that the list system depends very much for its effectiveness on the selection method chosen by the parties. On that we are all agreed. The experience of the political parties is very different on this matter. I like to think that we in the Liberal Democrats have got it as near right as anybody. It is not perfect and I have many criticisms of the administration of the system as we have it. But, fundamentally, we have allowed every single party member in each of the regions a vote in the selection of the members.
Indeed, it can be argued, if one looks at the state of party politics in this country, that by doing that you are enhancing party democracy because members are being given something constructive to do other than paying their subscriptions. If the turn-out were higher than it actually is, I should say that with greater conviction.
The Earl of Dartmouth: I should like to draw the attention of the noble Lord to the fact that the system which appertains in the Conservative Party for European parliamentary elections is more or less identical to that which he has outlined for the Liberal Democrat Party.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I shall deal with that in a moment because I do not believe that it is quite identical. However, I am saying that in our party, every single party member has a say in the order of the list that appears on the ballot paper. The Minister did not reply to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: Let us be clear that the names on the party list, as proposed by the Government, will appear on the ballot paper. Our amendment suggests that when that appears on the ballot paper, the voter should have the additional opportunity to indicate a preference for individual candidates as against the order that the party has decided.
As I said, if one starts with a democratic process by which to order the list, that is an advantage. I do not know about the European elections, but certainly as regards the Conservative Party in Scotland and the regional list there, that party goes nearly as far as us but not quite, in that it gives a vote to those party members who turn up to a meeting. That is, of course, by definition a minority in any party. That is almost as democratic a system as the one I am discussing, but not quite.
I was rather taken aback by the description of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, of the Labour Party's selection method for the European elections. If it is left to 11 people to draw up the list, that is far removed from the kind of democracy we have adopted in drawing up the list. I submit that it makes the closed list even more open to objection. I know that in Scotland the selection process of the Labour Party is not a matter of intruding into private grief but of intruding into well publicised public grief. I am surprised there has not been more of a row over the selection method for Europe.
Lord Evans of Parkside: Will the noble Lord accept that the information I gave the Committee is correct? However, is he also aware that in the previous elections to the European Parliament, the Labour candidates for each of the seats were selected on the basis of every member in that Euro constituency having a vote? There was one member, one vote throughout. For some reason best known to itself the Labour Party has scrapped what I and many others in the Labour Party believed was almost perfect democracy within the party.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I thank the noble Lord for his explanation. I do not wish to intrude into the internal matters of the Labour Party. I say simply that the more closed the selection process of the closed list, the more objectionable it is to the voter and the more the voter has the right to say, "I do not agree with this order. I prefer certain people". That is what our amendment seeks to do.
Although I grant that the Minister is one of the more omniscient Members of this place, I do not believe that even he would pass an examination on the selection methods of Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the Green Party, the British National Party, the Referendum Party or the Communist Party. There are other parties not represented in this Chamber. We do not know how they
In the rest of Europe the majority of member states allow the voters that opportunity. Only five member states, Germany, Spain, France, Greece and Portugal, use the system which the Government propose, and in nine states, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Ireland, voters have the opportunity to change the order of the names on the list by casting personal votes for particular candidates. If our amendment were carried, we would come into line with the better democratic practice in the majority of states.
This is known as the Belgian system. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, made much play on one result in Belgium. However, research has shown that having used this system over many years, almost half the voters in Belgium make use of the voter choice element of that system. Although, as my noble friend Lord Russell said, it has an effect only in a minimal number of cases, nonetheless they have the opportunity, and they have taken the opportunity, to say no to the parties and to say that there are people they would rather vote for.
In the mathematics lesson which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, gave us, he omitted one important point; namely, that if the party list members are elected in preference to members who have been voted by individuals, that is because the voters have chosen to endorse the party list system. That is the point that Mr. Straw should be told to reconsider. It is not a question of denying voters the choice. If half the voters say, "Yes, we are content with the party list", but a minority of voters say, "We would rather have so-and-so", but the latter does not gain the same number of votes as those on the party list, the voters have had their say. That is the answer to the apparent conundrum that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, put forward.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: How would the noble Lord, Lord Steel, explain to someone--I refer to my example of Antwerp--who had achieved fourth position and fifth position in the batting order of personal votes that he could not be elected, but people who had achieved a lower position in the batting order could be elected? I think that is manifestly unfair.
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