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Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I regret that we cannot support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. Of course, he has argued them with his usual persuasive and lengthy speech, but we oppose the amendments on principle. The principle to which we refer is choice. There still remains in this country an attachment to the notion that people vote for the man or woman and not for the party, that there should be a link between the elected representatives and the electors who put them into that position.
The proposal that there should be a single vote and no second vote for the regional list means effectively that votes can only be cast for one party. It may well be that an elector will wish to vote for a particular personality, a candidate in a constituency who is well known and well thought of and who has served his constituency well. But at the same time, the elector may wish to register a different view by voting for a candidate from another party on the regional list. One can think of many combinations. It may be that an elector would feel that one of the small parties--the Green Party or an independent--should be represented in an inclusive Welsh assembly and would vote accordingly. Therefore, we think that in order to preserve choice it is necessary to have two votes: one for the constituency member and one for the regional list.
The argument upon which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, rests his case is essentially that the larger parties may be duplicitous in their approach. They may give assurances, as each party has, both in another place and in this House. Each party may say: "We will not split and create a phantom party for the purposes of the regional election. But at some time in the future we will renege on that and put forward another party under a different name". One would hope that the people of Wales would see through such a device instantly and punish that party accordingly.
However, in any event the way to deal with it is not through the processes of this Bill but through the machinery that is being put in place under the Bill that is going through the House for the registration of political parties. It should be a principle embodied in a rule that no political party would be registered without an assurance that it would not indulge in the kind of conduct to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay referred. He stated that Mr. Ian Davidson, the Member of Parliament for Glasgow Pollok, had said that it would be a good idea in Scotland. Those of us who know Mr. Ian Davidson as a genial, pleasant and joking Member
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, it seems fairly clear to me that in the Bill we not only have first-past-the-post which is the traditional means by which we have elected representatives, but we have introduced proportionality for a section of it.
However, the Bill goes further. It ensures that candidates will be entitled to their democratic rights. It also ensures that the electorate can exercise its democratic rights in the widest possible way. It seems to me that the amendments are intended to restrict that democratic function on the part of candidates and on the part of the electorate who will vote in the elections.
I also find it somewhat inconsistent because it was not so long ago that the claim from the opposite Benches was: "Give the trade unions back to their members and introduce postal ballots". They initially paid for them and then withdrew that funding. They wanted an extension of democracy with more people participating. Indeed the legislation went further. It introduced the commission for the rights of trade union members so that they could object at law if they felt they were being excluded from membership or did not participate in elections or were not allowed to vote in elections.
Here we have quite the opposite. What arguments are being advanced in support of the amendments? "Tricks will be played". The way they were described, I would not call them tricks, I would call them "sleaze". We know what the public do when sleaze is involved. Knutsford is a prime example of that situation.
Ian Davidson's name has been mentioned. Yes, I am sure he took a view. But I can also advise the House that he has been firmly persuaded away from that view. He has been corrected. I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, say that there will be Labour candidates and Co-operative candidates. If he knows the constitution and the arrangement within the Labour Party, he will know that anyone with a relationship in the Labour Party with the Co-operative Party is now called a Labour and Co-operative Party candidate. They are not distinguished from each other, they are as one. Whether the Conservatives would want to set up a unionist party in Wales to be able to play such tricks will be up to them. But I think it would be seen through by the electorate and the press would make hay of such an approach.
The House should support the Bill, support the clauses and reject the amendments. The amendments are intended to restrict the democratic activity of both candidates and the electorate in Wales. That is not acceptable.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for entering the discussion on the Third Reading when I have not been present for the debates on the Bill throughout. However, noble Lords had a debate on the subject last night on the
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, takes the view--I am sure with great sincerity--that people will see through this and will not want to take part. That was repeated from the Government Benches. I do not believe that. It may be that people in Wales will do that, but I am convinced that people in Scotland will simply see it as a new way of voting strategically.
The Scottish electorate has been voting strategically for some time. It was done successfully in the last election and, as a result, people got what they wanted; that is, to get rid of the party to which I belong completely from Westminster. They wanted to do that and they did it by strategic voting.
The system will be seen as a new form of strategic voting rather than sleaze. It is not sleaze. It behoves Parliament to provide a system which is foolproof, as far as possible. Just putting it in the registration of political parties is not the right way to do it. Quite apart from anything else, individual candidates will be able to distort the system. My noble friend did not go into that at great length, but that could happen. The system should be as proof as possible against strategic distortion of the proportionality which is the Government's aim.
I beseech the Government, therefore, if they are not going to say today that they will accept one of these amendments, to look seriously at them. It may be that my noble friend will divide the House and that the other place may look at this immediately. In any case, I hope that the Government will look at the matter seriously. It is not a party political matter. A former Minister in the Scottish Office was removed from his seat in Scotland by the electorate being able to use strategic voting to obtain the result it wanted. Consequently, the noble Lord knows how the system works. He is also a mathematician, so he is able to work out these things and can explain clearly to your Lordships how the system works.
Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, we are once again being subjected to the fiction of the "Mackay novel", which is the notion that the electorate in Wales can be cheated out of its results in a democratic election by some kind of fictive renaming of political parties or candidates.
I am continually bemused in this place at the ability of the Conservative Party to shoot itself in the foot or to refuse a great opportunity. I want an inclusive assembly, as does my right honourable friend in another
The Government addressed the issue of a political culture being dominated historically by one party for very good reasons. But they are putting themselves on the line in these matters. They are instituting an electoral system which will enable people to make different choices as between the first-past-the-post system and the second vote. Although it is not an ideal PR system--we debated all this in Committee and do not need to go back over it--it indicates the Government's commitment to an inclusive democratic structure.
I do not see why the Conservative Party cannot join in the game or why they need continually to be setting down centralist strictures to control by legislation the choices of the electorate. What are they worried about? Does not the Conservative Party in Wales have a great potential leader in Mr. Rob Richards? No doubt there are other contenders. They are experienced politicians who have been selected to stand for the assembly. They will get themselves elected either through first-past-the-post or on the list and they will then participate actively in the new structure. What is the problem with the Conservative Party? Why cannot the Conservative Party in this House take on the rules of the game--the inclusive and open rules--which the Government established in this Bill?
Returning to this fiction at Third Reading and apparently suggesting that we should divide on this and perhaps return the Bill to another place undermines the role of this House as a revising Chamber. This is hardly serious revision.
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