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Lord Desai: We should not legislate solely to prevent the SNP doing what it wants to do. We are legislating for a long time. This obsession that we must do everything to prevent the SNP doing what it wants is ridiculous. As my noble friend the Minister said, we must trust the electorate. Indeed, the electorate of this country is a very mature and thoughtful one. If it happens to choose one party rather than another, it is not our purpose to bar such parties from winning elections. I believe that that would be the beginning of the end.

We must all calm down and consider such matters on a more long-term basis. We are trying to set up conditions for the Scottish parliament which will give proper representation to the Scottish people. That is what we want. We should not become involved with these arcane possibilities that the SNP will do one thing or another.

Viscount Thurso: I have one brief question for the Minister which I previously asked of the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale. Am I right in saying that this is not the proper place to consider the question as we are now dealing with the registration of political parties? Before the previous answer is repeated, may I suggest that if there were provision in the legislation for some form of ombudsman who would simply be required to ensure fair play, surely the matter

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could be dealt with quite simply at that level and therefore we would not need to concern ourselves with it in this legislation.

Having said that, I must say that I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister that, ultimately, the correct place to put one's trust is in the electorate. For the first time in my life I did so with a very small electorate on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Party in the Highland region and discovered that it has a rather pleasant effect. Indeed, I rather enjoyed it. Therefore, I am all for putting my trust in the electorate.

Lord Sewel: Quite honestly, the difficulty with this whole area is that, essentially, it is a political problem and one not capable of being resolved through a legislative solution. That is the basic difficulty here. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is absolutely genuine in his wish to try to remove what he sees as a potential abuse. The difference between us is that I do not believe we can actually remove it through the process of legislation. As I said, I think that we must rely on the electorate and on exposure and ridicule. I believe that that will be effective.

Perhaps I may now reply to the point on the basis of the involvement of the SNP. I shall use that only as an example, because I do not really wish to pin everything that is horrid and awful on one particular party. Indeed, from time to time, we have all had our fair share of the latter. We must take into account the nature of party support. It is absolutely true that there is a relatively small band of core fanatical supporters who I can well see would argue for such a strategy; in other words, "This is a way to get it, lads!"

However, if you are going to win--I dare say that this is a lesson that my party learned and one which the noble Lord's party is now in the process of learning, although somewhat later than us--you must be able to extend beyond that core of committed fanatical voters. You have to persuade people of judgment, reason and decency that your party has something good to offer as a party of honour and integrity. If any party chose to behave in the way that has been mentioned, it would find those key potential supporters running a mile in the opposite direction. In a way nothing would please me more than if my political opponents got up to the kind of skulduggery that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, anticipates. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, talked about people being involved in the political process and feeling they have a role to play. That seems a little inconsistent with saying that we cannot have an open list with regard to deciding who should be the additional members. One must occasionally try to be consistent in these matters. It is not a problem that the Opposition need to worry too much about, but the Government ought to try to be consistent.

I am still not persuaded that there is not a real problem here. If I were the Labour Party apparatchik in Glasgow I believe I would have little trouble in explaining to people the huge merit of voting Labour in

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first-past-the-post and voting Co-operative as regards the additional member. I have tried out that argument on a number of people I meet. None of them have said, "That is the kind of trick that I would not involve myself in". They all say, "That is the kind of trick I would expect the other parties to involve themselves in". It is quite interesting that they see the advantage of it. If parties are really hard pressed and wish either to hold on to power or to gain power in order to achieve objectives that they might not achieve otherwise, I believe it is an enormous temptation to use this loophole.

It is unusual for me not to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, as I often agree with him on economic matters. But on this occasion I do not agree with him. I believe that the electorate are mature and will understand and approve of this as regards their own parties. The rest can disapprove of it from now until kingdom come, but it is not the other people that I am worried about; it is the people within the party who are carrying out this trick who I think would mightily approve of it. I can think of some Tories who may think that I ought not to give these commitments because they think this may be a good way to achieve a better result using proportional representation. They do not want it but it has been delivered to them. I think all parties will have people in them who will say, "Why are we not trying this?" Mr. Ian Davidson has come out from the covers and asked why we should not try this. But I do not believe he is the only person in Scotland who has studied this system and who thinks it is worth trying.

An ex-colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, Michael Dyer, has written the paper we are discussing. This is not something that is in Cloud-cuckoo-land; it is something that could be done. I am disappointed that I am not getting much understanding from the Government on this issue. They just say, "It will never happen and you do not have to worry about it". I do not agree that that is a reasonable position to take. I believe that we need to worry about this.

In Amendment No. 46 I was attempting to provide a little more choice. It seems to me that if someone can get a nomination for his party in a seat that may not offer good prospects, that is restricting the person's choice and the electorate's subsequent choice if that person cannot stand as an Independent if the party has blackballed him from the list. But clearly the Labour Party, being control freaks nowadays, do not want anything like that. I am content not to argue too strongly on Amendment No. 46. The Government ought to consider Michael Dyer's paper much more seriously than they appear to have done so far.

When we talked about this matter in connection with one single vote, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, indicated that he saw this as a fiddle which ought to be dealt with and that we must take precautions. The words I noted were, "We must take precautions". So I am not absolutely alone in this.

The noble Viscount has a point about the Registration of Political Parties Bill. But we should have to give considerably wider powers to the registrar than are currently envisaged in that Bill before we could stop

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this. Frankly, under the Bill, he has very little power. There would then have to be some form of appeal by the parties to say: that party, whatever it may be, is not a real party at all and is registered only in order to fiddle the AMS. It may well be that we shall have to return to the matter. I may return to the point in relation to this Bill and also when we debate the Registration of Political Parties Bill. For the present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 42 to 46 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Poll for regional members]:

[Amendments Nos. 47 to 49 not moved.]

Lord Mackie of Benshie had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 50:

Page 4, line 2, at beginning insert ("a candidate who is a member of").

The noble Lord said: This amendment deals with the very serious question of giving the electorate the kind of choice that it is universally thought it desires. It is certainly a healthy choice for democracy. We shall return to the matter at a later stage. In the meantime, I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 50 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 51 to 53 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Calculation of regional figures]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 54:

Page 4, leave out lines 11 to 16 and insert ("a regional figure shall be calculated for the purposes of section 7 as follows--
(a) where no candidates of the party have been returned as constituency members in a region, the figure shall be the total number of regional votes given for the party in that region, multiplied by five and divided by seven;
(b) where at least one candidate of the party has been returned as a constituency member in a region, the figure shall be the total number of regional votes given for the party in that region, divided by one less than twice the number of candidates of the party returned as constituency members in that region.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 55. Those noble Lords who have studied this issue will, I trust, have spotted the deliberate mistake. It is the schoolmaster in me setting homework! I imagine that it gave the Minister's poor officials some considerable trouble. If it did, I shall be content to withdraw it and return to the matter later. However, it may be more convenient to deal with it now.

In both amendments, the fourth line of sub-paragraph (b) reads:

    "divided by one less than twice the number of candidates",

It should of course read, "divided by one more than twice the number of candidates". That will be obvious to any noble Lords who have studied all these voting systems and their fancy names. It should have been

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obvious to me. However, I am afraid that until I started to work on my speaking notes, I had not appreciated that there was a mistake.

All it illustrates is the complexity of the proportional representation system. It is so difficult to explain in writing so far as concerns the calculations that even my skilled advisers managed to get the matter wrong, and I omitted to notice that they had got it wrong until I came to write my notes today.

This proposal is important. Amendment No. 54 offers a modified version of a system known as the Sainte-Lague system. Noble Lords will remember that I recently explained that in order to decide the number of additional member seats a system devised by a Belgian mathematician, d'Hondt, has been used. Essentially, d'Hondt takes the total number of votes and divides it by the number of seats that the party has won by first-past-the-post, plus one. Somebody then obviously has the largest number of votes in the roll and that candidate gets a seat. Clearly, he or she now has another seat, and there is another divisor applied to them, and so it goes on down the list. It is quite complex on paper, but I point out to the Government that it is relatively simple when one comes to work it out in practice.

The problem is that it helps the larger parties. That is where I return to the poor old noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, who accused me earlier of trying to be nasty to the smaller parties. Nothing is nastier to the smaller parties than using the d'Hondt system as the dividing system for the additional member seats. The two systems I propose are much fairer to smaller parties than d'Hondt.

Essentially, Amendment No. 54 is what is called modified Sainte-Lague. One divides first by 1.4, then by three, five and seven. The second amendment is Sainte-Lague pure, which divides by one, three, five and seven. So if a party has no seats and then it gains a seat, the next divisor is three not two. It clearly means that the number of votes the party has, if it is a big party, reduces quite quickly when we get down to the sixth and seventh seats, where much lower figures are being called into play than with d'Hondt. I reckon that with d'Hondt no one would get a seat unless they had at least 5 per cent. of the votes. It rather depends on how the ball breaks between the parties, but it would be at least 5 per cent. However, both versions of Sainte-Lague are better than that and help smaller parties.

It is a perfectly legitimate method of doing it, as any Member of the Committee who has studied the issue will understand. Some countries use the Sainte-Lague method, or a modified Sainte-Lague method. The real reason I put it forward is to allow the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, to live up to her two pledges: first, that she wants to make sure that smaller parties have a chance and, secondly, that she is keen to help independent candidates. Not only would it help smaller parties, it would also help independent candidates.

Frankly, the Government have chosen, by the selection of the d'Hondt method, the method least likely to produce an additional member from a minority party like the Greens or an additional member who is an

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independent. The use of either modified Sainte-Lague or Sainte-Lague would give parties like the Greens a greater chance of winning. It would give an independent a greater chance of winning. Given the defences we have heard against some of my previous amendments, I expect the Government to say that, once they have corrected the mistakes in my amendments, they will be happy to come back and choose either modified Sainte-Lague or Sainte-Lague as the dividing method for the form of PR in the Scottish parliament. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Lockwood): I must point out that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 55 on the pre-emption rule.

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