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The Earl of Dartmouth: My Lords, surely, the point is that under a closed list system the internal machinations of political parties, especially the Labour Party, which is the largest in the country at the moment, have a general relevance to all electors and all interested people.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl to a certain extent. I hope that when the electorate make their judgment they will look at how the various parties have selected their candidates and will recognise their quality. However, I tend to stick to the general rule and not intrude in private grief.
Today, I found strange some of the discussions on democracy. After all, the noble Lord was a nominated Member of the European Parliament. He was succeeded by the first-past-the-post system which was truly grotesque. In one election, 60-odd Conservative and 20-odd Labour candidates were elected. In another election, 70-odd Labour and a handful of Conservative candidates were elected. It totally distorted not only the will of the British people, the British representation, but the general composition of the European Parliament. Therefore, some of the pleas for democracy sound a little strange.
I also believe that some of the points made by noble Lords are behind the times and do not appreciate the full implication of regional lists. The forthcoming elections to the European Parliament will be among the most exciting and relevant; probably not for the Conservatives who will be heading for another disastrous result. However, they will be exciting for the Liberal Democrats. For the first time, there will be a real chance that the number of Members we return to the European Parliament will reflect our general support in the country.
Furthermore, I suspect that the argument that we lose the link with constituents will be replaced by a link which many Members are slow to realise. It is the link with the regions. I suspect that many of the MEPs elected under the list system will become the focal point and voice of their regions in a way which does not apply to Members of Parliament. Regional representatives talking for the north west or the south west will be an interesting new part of our mix.
In addition, the regional representatives will not be a monolith. There will not be a solid Labour block from the north east or a solid Conservative block--I doubt there will be one from anywhere--but there will be interesting regional voices. There might be the Labour voice from the south west; the Liberal Democrat voice from the West Midlands; and the Conservative voice from the north east. There will be new elements to our national and European debates which previous systems have prevented.
I am not as pessimistic as many of today's speakers about the reforms before us. We are being given a real opportunity to inject a different kind of democratic choice into the European elections. It is one which will interest and excite the electorate.
As regards the way in which the Liberal Democrats have made their choice, yes, the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, is right. We did slightly tweak pure democracy by a little gender-bending because we want to see many more women elected to the European Parliament. We are not ashamed of that. We are delighted that women are heading a large number of our lists. More importantly, in respect of our system of one-member one-vote, we have produced lists which bear no relation to any wish of a central committee. Anyone who knows anything about our internal party politics and looks at the various lists will see how many of the awkward squad are at the top of the lists. I am sure that if my noble friend Lord Russell had stood in one of the constituencies he would have come at the top. That illustrates how far away from central control they were.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, with a steely look along this Bench, pointed out, the Liberal Democrats and the Liberals before them had STV carved on their hearts. In every discussion we have pointed out the strength of STV. It is my party's chosen system of proportional representation, but it is not the policy of my party in terms of this Bill. As my noble friend Lord Russell will know, prior to the General Election we participated in a study with the Labour Party. It was popularly known as the Cook/Maclennan talks and we drew up a range of agreements on constitutional reform. We agreed to support a list system for elections to the European Parliament. Therefore, it is not a matter of abandoning the party policy. In terms of the purity of STV, we are still wholly in favour. However, as our manifesto stated, we fought the last election in the belief that the elections to the European Parliament should be on a list system.
Given the Labour majority of 178, many people believed that the Cook/Maclennan agreement would be quietly pigeon-holed. I wish to put on record the view that the Labour Party has acted with honour, not only as regards the European Parliament but other elements of the package, in sticking to that agreement, on which it also fought the election, and bringing it speedily before Parliament. It would be dishonourable for the Liberal Democrats, having reached that agreement and fought an election on it, to deny the Government our support at this stage of the Bill.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am a little reluctant to take part in what has become almost a family squabble within the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Party and the combined parties arising from the Cook/Maclennan proposals. In case anyone doubts that I may have had second thoughts during the Recess, I make it clear that I still firmly believe, as does the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, that the first-past-the-post system is by far the best. Of course it has defects. One of the major defects is the fact that constituencies have not been equalised in number.
Therefore, I start this afternoon very firmly in favour of first-past-the-post. Nothing I have heard this afternoon in any way changes my mind. Indeed, I am rather like the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who, after an exchange between myself and Government Ministers on the Government of Wales Bill, said that he thought that first-past-the-post was still by far the best system. He said that it was comprehensible; it did not have all the complexities of proportional representation; and it had served us well. I paraphrase what he said but I feel exactly the same way after listening to this afternoon's debate. I shall not take part in a beauty parade as to which method of proportional representation I believe is the least bad.
I suppose that we are talking about the system which the Government propose but we are talking about that in contrast to the single transferable vote. I agree with much of what the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Evans, said about the closed list system. We shall shortly address that because my later amendment opts for the open list system. I do not believe that that is much good but it is less bad than the closed list system. I am realistic enough to know, having battled with the Government on a few pieces of legislation this Session, that to persuade them to change their mind is extremely difficult. A small change may be a good deal easier than a major change. It may be easier to persuade them to accept an open list system as opposed to that which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, now proposes; namely, STV.
I respect the position from which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, comes. He is being true to his principles. He believes in the single transferable vote, as does the Electoral Reform Society and the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I never thought of the noble Earl as a member of the awkward squad. I should never put him in that category. But now we know how narrow the Liberal Democrats are compared with those of us who have received many lessons at the hands of the noble Earl. For me it was usually when I was on the other side of the House at the Dispatch Box answering for the government on social security matters.
When we debated this matter as long ago as 24th June, I pointed out then some interesting words in the Liberal Democrat News in which Celia Thomas who writes a column called "The Lords Gallery" said about that stage of the Bill, that:
I wish to say a few words about the single transferable vote. I do not believe that it is any better vis a vis the constituency link than what the Government propose because it has to be done in multi-party constituencies. Therefore, it has to be done in fairly large regions, not significantly different from the regions proposed by the Government. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, agrees. That is probably in his "line to take" about which we shall hear in a while. In that regard, I am being helpful although I do not intend to be. I do not believe that the constituency link argument holds at all for the single transferable vote any more than it holds for the list system. That is one reason that I believe very firmly that the first-past-the-post system, for all its proportionality disadvantages, has the huge advantage of the link between the member and his constituency.
I believe also that the single transferable vote is a negation of one person/one vote. I shall not bore your Lordships for too long with why I think that but those of your Lordships who understand STV--and I am sure all your Lordships do--will know that depending on how you place your vote, your second, third, or fourth vote may be counted. But equally, if you place your vote in such a way that the person for whom you vote hovers between being elected and not being elected, your second, third and fourth votes will never be counted. Therefore, it is a negation of one person/one vote. Some people have more votes than others depending on what happens to their first choice. If their first choice fails miserably, their second choice is counted. If their first choice succeeds by a mile, some of their second choices are counted.
I understand the system well but I know that it is not one person/one vote. Some people will be allowed to pass two, three, four or five votes which will be counted. Therefore, I object to the system on those grounds.
We shall deal later with the closed list system and I shall reserve some of my points about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, until we reach that point because much of what he said is more relevant to the closed list. The party apparatus will have quite a lot of control, although not the same amount of control, in deciding who should be on the list for a single
I must share with your Lordships the joy of the thought that Mr. Dennis Canavan, who is a fairly independent-minded Member of the other place, was asked by the serious-minded people of the thought police, "Have you ever voted against the Government?", or something like that. Any idiot would know that Dennis has voted against the Government and the Labour Party on any number of occasions. To actually ask him in that bland way shows the thought-police attitude. Despite the fact that Dennis Canavan has been a long-term advocate of a Scottish parliament, he was ditched fairly unceremoniously from his party's list of preferred people. That is a telling point.
All parties will be able to do that. I am sure the Labour Party would agree--perhaps not now but certainly in the old days--that the party cannot guarantee that the local party will jump through the hoop and take the preferred candidate of party headquarters. I can think of one or two occasions at by-elections when the Conservative Party locally did not take on the central office preferred candidate but took somebody else. That was its right and that right will be taken away. All those issues are a serious problem when it comes to any of those methods which remove the first-past-the-post constituent link which we have hitherto had.
However, I return to the point about STV. As your Lordships will have guessed, I am not in favour of it. It is just as bad as all the other PR systems. Interestingly enough, it is not necessarily proportional. I am always intrigued by people who talk about proportional representation. The single transferable vote is not necessarily proportional. I suspect that if that system had been used at the last election, the number of Conservative Members of Parliament would have been markedly fewer than in fact turned out to be the case. Therefore, the single transferable vote would have meant that we were further away from proportionality. I cannot believe that many of the second votes of the Liberal Democrats or Labour Party called into play would have gone to the Conservative Party. Therefore, those second, third and fourth votes which I mentioned earlier would have gone to prevent the Conservative Party achieving even the representation which it in fact received.
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