Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Onslow: The noble Baroness is saying that people are too stupid to understand the names on the list. I find that rather offensive. She also said that people will have to make up their minds for party and party alone. If you are a wavering party voter, it is possible to see list A and say, "He is a bounder and I don't want him. He is all right and I will change my mind because of the name on the ballot paper". Surely we should not treat people like children; we should give them the information they want. If they can read a leader in the Sun they can read a ballot paper for the Scottish regional assembly.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I am sorry that the noble Earl gained the impression--I do not know where from--that I was in any way implying that the Scottish electorate were unable to read a ballot paper. We are talking about producing a ballot paper which gives the electors the information they need to make their choice of vote. Under the regional list system, that choice will be for the party. We have already said that we are looking at every possible way of publicising the names on the party list. All we are saying at the moment is that names on the ballot paper do not appear to be the best option. However, I have also said that an order under Clause 11 will give us the flexibility to consider the best and most appropriate way of dealing with this matter. I have said also that there is a working group on electoral arrangements on which all interested parties, including the four main political parties, are represented. It is working on all the issues which we are now discussing.

Lord Kirkhill: I thank my noble friend for giving way. I accept the premise of my noble friend's argument. I do not dispute at all her general propositions. I admit immediately that I am going back 20 years, so I speak with that proviso. I have some

14 Jul 1998 : Column 169

experience of the activities of the Scottish Office. Something which the Scottish Office did badly in my time--and now that I am out of it, I still believe that it does it badly--was to advertise clearly in the correct way, using the right point of media, the various propositions which it needed to convey to the general public. I hope that the noble Baroness will emphasise to the working group that it must keep a close eye on what happens after it makes its proposals because all too often such matters die an untimely death.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I assure my noble friend that the working group will take every care to ensure that its decisions are carried out. We are all anxious that the greatest possible publicity is given to the names on the list and to the independents. Everyone who is standing will be given the greatest possible publicity.

However, we need the flexibility which the Bill provides to develop solutions to those problems, solutions which work. We believe that these amendments would complicate matters for the electorate. We believe that they would lead to confusion and an increased risk of spoilt ballot papers. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, said that there may possibly be confusion. I have seen a sample ballot paper produced by the Electoral Reform Society. It is perhaps a matter of layout, but it is not necessary to be confusing. If the voters see only the names of parties, they may be given the impression that they are merely voting for someone who will be a party placeman. The voters will have no idea who they are voting for. That gives out a dangerous message because it is rather anti-democratic.

There must be a vital link between the voter and the candidate. A great deal of research has shown that voters feel very strongly that there should be a link between themselves and the candidate.

There is a second fear and worry that if the names are not permitted to go on to the ballot paper, the Government will be feeding the cynicism which already exists in relation to the political process in this country. There is a sense that we may be being manipulated by the party managers. That undermines the credibility and confidence which the Government should otherwise enjoy.

Even if lists are spread about in polling stations and so on, it is impossible to ensure that every elector across the region has been given the same opportunity to examine the lists. If this amendment were accepted, it is one way in which to ensure that at the point of voting, the people have access to that information. It is a matter of openness, transparency and accountability, all the things which the new parliament is meant to stand for. I hope that it is worth more than the breath with which one speaks those words.

Lord Sempill: The concern which some of my colleagues and I have is in relation to the independent having his name on the ballot paper while the parties are just there as amorphous numbers. There is a strong

14 Jul 1998 : Column 170

possibility--and I put this slightly tongue-in-cheek--that an individual could be fortunate enough to be born with the name, or could have his name changed by deed poll to, Billy Connolly. I suspect that if he put his name down as an independent, he could well be mistaken for the genuine article and may win a substantial number of votes from people who believe that in casting their first vote, they have done their duty to their party and feel that the second vote can be used more emotionally. They may think, "He is a man I like. I will vote for him".

Therefore, I believe that an independent may have an unnecessary advantage over the party machine. I should appreciate it if the Minister would enlighten me on that point.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I shall deal first with the point made by the noble Lord and then deal with that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater.

As I tried to make clear, minds are not completely closed on this issue. The working group on electoral arrangements is looking at the question of what are the best solutions as regards the introduction of the order under Clause 11. Everyone wishes to ensure that there is maximum publicity. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said. It is extremely important that whatever solution is arrived at--and I do not believe that to put the names on the ballot paper is the answer--we must keep matters as simple and as straightforward as possible for the electorate so that the people can see what is the real choice. At the same time, they must know exactly who is on the party lists. There is agreement on all sides of the Committee about that.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: If, on the second ballot paper, there are the various parties and Sean Connery, does not the noble Baroness agree that Sean Connery has a big advantage?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I am not sure what I think about Sean Connery. However, I must repeat that the working group on the electoral arrangements is looking at the whole question of what is the best way to achieve what we all want; that is, that the electors of Scotland can see the choices clearly in front of them. They must know who is on the party lists. When that order is made under Clause 11, we shall have what is considered by the working group to be the best solution. As I said, on that working group there are representatives of all the expert interested organisations plus representatives from the four main political parties in Scotland.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We have had an interesting debate and I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have taken part in it. It has brought together Members on all the Benches opposite the Government, which is quite interesting. My noble friend Lord Sempill made a very good point about the independent candidate. The one name which will be on the ballot paper will be that of the independent. I have read the Registration of Political Parties Bill and there is nothing to prevent an independent changing his name by deed poll and appearing as Sean Connery or whoever

14 Jul 1998 : Column 171

he may wish to appear as. I do not think he would wish to appear as John Mackay because he would not win many votes that way. However, he would be able to do that and the Registration of Political Parties Bill does not prevent it.

The real point of my noble friend's intervention is that the only names on the ballot paper will be those of the independents. Those standing for the political parties will not be there. The noble Baroness's best argument was that it would be too complicated, difficult and would lead to confusion. My noble friend Lord Onslow was quite right in his intervention. Do the Government believe that the Scottish electorate is not capable of understanding that? If it is capable of understanding the PR system, it will be quite capable of wading through a ballot paper. As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said, there are layouts published by the Electoral Reform Society which are perfectly clear.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, will know, in Germany, although not all the 150 or so names are put on the ballot paper, the top clutch of names is put on the ballot paper. As we are talking about only 12 names, that is not at all impossible.

It seems to me that leaving the matter to the working group is not good enough. We could leave a great deal of the first part of the Bill to that group because it deals with the way in which the whole system is to work. I believe that this is sufficiently important to be on the face of the Bill and for that reason, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

7.29 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 38) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 59; Not-Contents, 85.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page