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Earl Russell: If I may offer a little comfort to the Minister, what he describes is the way in which Bills have gone through the Westminster Parliament for at least seven-eighths of its history; and it has worked.
Lord Sewel: I was going to say, "as always", but, as in the majority of cases, I am enormously grateful to the noble Earl.
I now turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, about why we are not immediately introducing a similar electoral system into Westminster elections. In this case we are setting up a new parliament and are making a judgment about what is the appropriate electoral system for that parliament. At Westminster we have an established Parliament. We have indicated that the Jenkins Commission is considering an alternative to the present system. That alternative will be put to the people in a referendum and they will be able to decide whether to stay with the status quo or move to a new system. When one is dealing with an established parliament, that seems to be a sensible way in which to proceed.
Perhaps it would be useful if I reminded noble Lords of the Government's position on this issue. We wish to create a Scottish parliament by means of a combination of the simple-majority system and the additional-member system of proportional representation. That was proposed in the White Paper and endorsed in the referendum. The noble Lord's amendments strike at the heart of the electoral arrangements that were proposed.
We stated in the White Paper that, while a constituency link will be the essential foundation of the parliament, we wanted to provide for greater proportionality to build stability into the overall settlement. We proposed that there will be a significant number of additional members elected on a wider and proportional basis in order to bring a closer relationship between votes cast and seats won. That is what is being delivered in the Bill and I hope that Members of the Committee will be able to support it.
The Government believe that the regional member system in the Bill is an essential part of the arrangements for the Scottish parliament. Its purpose is to reduce the imbalance in political representation which can arise when one depends solely on the simple majority system at elections. As members of the Committee will appreciate, the "winner takes all" aspects of the simply majority mean that a party can secure a significant number of votes but gain no seats. As a result, the electorate can feel disenfranchised and distanced from parliament because they feel there is no one to reflect their views.
It is not simply a matter of which system benefits individual parties; it is the relationship that the elector feels with the political system as a whole. If, somehow, their preference cannot be reflected through the seats gained by the party they support, there is a risk of a deep cynicism and alienation overtaking the electorate and that is something of which we should be wary.
There is also the problem, particularly in a multi-party system--this is the case much more so in Scotland normally, though there is the argument that one could offer a Society for the Preservation of Parties at Risk in Scotland; I do not know how many members would subscribe to it, but it is growing--that a relatively small change in the distribution of votes can result in an enormously disproportionate effect on the number of seats won. That is one of the well-known and recognised problems of multi-party systems.
Perhaps I can refer to the election of 1997, though it is borne out in a number of other elections in Scotland. If we look at the relationship between votes cast and seats won, my party in that election obtained 44.5 per cent. of the vote and secured 78 per cent. of the seats in Scotland. The Conservative Party obtained 17.5 per cent. of the popular vote and obtained no seats. The Liberal Democrats obtained 13 per cent. of the vote and 14 per cent. of the seats. The Scottish National Party obtained 22.1 per cent. of the electoral vote and 8 per cent. of the seats. If that sort of imbalance was sustained over a period of time, there would be a sense of deep unfairness within the electorate of Scotland. People would demand change, and I believe rightly.
One of the concerns expressed in 1978 was that the parliament then proposed would be dominated by members from the central belt. We have tried to construct an electoral system which answers that sort of case. The system we propose in the Bill will create an opportunity for parties to have members returned from parts of Scotland which have hitherto been a lost cause. There will be no wasted votes in Scotland because of the electoral system. Each region should have representatives from each of the parties, thus ensuring a balance of views in the parliament and avoiding the dominance of one area over another.
We will end what in some elections has been a dramatic, geographical segmentation of party representation in Scotland where one party has been associated with a specific geographical area of Scotland and only with that geographical area. That is wrong. This electoral system means that all the political parties in Scotland will be truly the parties of the whole of Scotland, drawing their support and their representation from all the regions. I believe that that is fundamentally healthy for the Scottish political system.
The Earl of Lauderdale: Before the Minister leaves that subject, can he say whether there is a danger in having two kinds of MSP--regional members and constituency members? Anyone who has sat as such, as I have, and my noble friend, will know that one is chased by constituents with a problem and very often the problem is insoluble. At that point one says, "Ask your regional MSP to deal with it." There is a good deal of passing the buck between the two, if not direct rivalry.
Lord Sewel: I do not believe that there will be a case of passing the buck. What will happen is that the individual constituent will have a choice of people to whom he can go. Again, that is to the good. The individual constituent will decide whether he wishes to write to, or see, the member of the Scottish parliament who is returned for the constituency in which he lives, or whether he writes to, and sees, one of the regional representatives. The point is that regional representatives are also constituency representatives as well as those members who are returned in the first-past-the-post system. Both have constituencies. Nobody will somehow be returned to the Scottish parliament on some sort of national list or something like that. It is the difference between individual first-past-the-post constituencies and regional constituencies.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: As always, the noble Lord puts his argument most persuasively. But there is another aspect. Are not the party managers the preponderant influence on who is returned in the region for regional votes? Does not that militate against the immediacy of the relationship of the member of the parliament and his constituents?
Lord Sewel: I think not. Nothing fundamentally changes. Parties have always brought their candidates to the electorate and allowed the electorate to make a
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Surely the noble Lord recognises the difference between what happens at present when the local party organisation chooses the candidate--albeit one proffered by the party--and one where the regional list is graduated according to how far the party managers favour the names on it.
Lord Sewel: It is up to the parties themselves to decide what procedures and processes they will use in selecting both their individual constituency candidates and those who will represent them on the party list. That is a matter for the parties, and rightly so.
We want to ensure that the parliament we are establishing is inclusive and represents the diversity of Scotland. We believe that the electoral arrangements for the Scottish parliament will ensure a fairer balance of representation than would be achieved by reliance on a simple majority system. While the constituency seats will be contested in the traditional manner, the regional seats will be allocated on the basis of proportional representation but with a corrective element. Taken together, that should achieve a fairer distribution of seats and ensure that this is a parliament for all of Scotland representing a wide range of political persuasions.
I agree that the system for returning regional members can be seen as complex. But the actual voting process will be relatively straightforward for the voter. Each elector will be able to vote for a constituency candidate and cast a separate regional vote for the party or independent candidate they favour.
In the White Paper we promised that the electors would have two votes. Members of the Committee are seeking to remove those rights with the amendments before us. We have the opportunity to create a fair and representative parliament for Scotland and I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and to my noble friends who have supported me. If it makes up a little for yesterday, perhaps I may tell the Minister that he is the fourth Minister to defend this system to me over the Dispatch Box and he has made by far the best fist of it. He has not convinced me but he has made a far better job of it than his noble friends have done.
I shall not go over the arguments again. They have been gone over. We are coming to the question of the balance in different parts of Scotland, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, mentioned. In my Amendments Nos. 8 and 9, I try to deal with that specifically. I was interested to have another joust with the noble Earl--I nearly called him my noble friend--Lord Russell. I must say to him that the Free Democrats in Germany are an interesting proposition. They just manage to struggle over the threshold of 5 per cent. on
The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has brought to bear the manifesto, the White Paper and the referendum. I know when it is not worth pursuing these matters. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
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