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Earl Russell: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the research upon which he is relying that maintained that STV is not proportional assumed that everyone would have cast their preference votes exactly as they would under an ordinary party system? That assumption is not necessarily valid.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it may not necessarily be valid but it is not necessarily invalid. I do not want to get into a deep discussion about this, but in Scottish politics it has been perfectly clear for at least three elections that people were perfectly able to switch their party allegiance tactically, depending on which party could defeat the Tories. That is, bluntly,
I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will do about his amendment, but I recommend to my noble friends that we should not take part in a beauty contest between the single transferable vote and the list system and that, if the governing party and their friends wish to have a little squabble about this, we should watch with interest.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am glad that the Opposition Front Bench have come to that emphatic conclusion, which I think is normally included on market research polls as, "Put me down as a 'don't know'".
This has been a fascinating debate. The speech which I found the most persuasive came from the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I did not think that there was anything more to be said about STV after our debate last time. Having listened to the debate this afternoon, I remain firmly of that conviction. A good deal of the debate has, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, rightly said, related not to STV but to the question of the closed list. He rightly pointed out that there are matters to be discussed in connection with that list when we come to his amendment. He said that he would not speak about the closed list until then, and I intend to do the same.
In his absence, although I was careful to look after his interests, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was described as part of the awkward squad, which I found deeply offensive. I have always regarded him as the sole constituent of the awkward party, rather than part of the awkward squad. I was accused by the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, of being a lawyer by background. Yes, my Lords, but not by heredity.
My noble friend Lord Evans said that he was looking for a simple system. The system that he contends for, as a necessary consequence and by-product of this amendment, may have many virtues but simplicity is not one of them. If we adopted the system contended for by the noble Lords who tabled this amendment, there could be up to 50 candidates standing for election in the south-east region. Under STV the electors in that region would have to rank up to 50 candidates in order of preference. A number of your Lordships said that persuading people to come out and vote was difficult. The figures are lamentable, I agree. But to present someone with a choice of 50 candidates will not make people pant to go and vote on an STV system.
I believe that again the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is right. Whatever the virtues or disadvantages of STV, it does not have any relevant connection with a linkage to a constituency. After all, in Northern Ireland STV was introduced by a previous regime, if I remember correctly, but that is a relatively small electorate which had particular problems of its own and, as it happens, first-past-the-post would have been a disaster in that context. It was for that reason that the previous government quite rightly went to STV. It produced what everyone regards as the appropriate outcome in Northern Ireland; namely, two Unionist and one SDLP member of the European Parliament. That was a very significant advance. Yet, to take up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, there is no specific constituency linkage between a particular individual in Northern Ireland and the region. That is the point. We are not talking about constituencies in the traditional sense; we are talking about regions.
A regional list system was the system recommended by the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, rightly points out that that was the conclusion arrived at in the Cook-Maclennan agreement. I believe that in this country we shall never again have a single monolith by way of electoral system. STV has worked well in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that it would work with the much larger constituencies in England, Wales and Scotland. With 6 million electors in the south-east region, 11 MEPs and up to 50 candidates, it would not be simple, and I do not believe that it would be workable.
My noble friend Lord Evans of Parkside spent a little time discussing what he said were the inadequacies of internal mechanisms in the Labour Party. That may or may not be so, and it is not for me to develop that theme at the moment. My essential submission to your Lordships is this. Whether or not the Conservative Party is more democratic and open than the Liberal Democrats, and whether or not the Liberal Democrats are more democratic and open than the Labour Party, has nothing to do with the point of this Bill; it is a completely separate argument. It is an argument of interest and validity, but it has no place here. If it had a place here, I should be inclined to look for some examples.
The noble Earl is not in his place, but I shall answer his question anyway. Miss Elizabeth Davies was refused selection in a particular parliamentary constituency but was nevertheless elected to the NEC. Why not? That is the attraction of different democratic outcomes. It would not, of course, be right for me to point out that, if I remember rightly, Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Nicholas Budgen, both Conservative MPs for many years, curiously failed to have the opportunity to stand for the forthcoming European elections on the Conservative Party ticket; nor would I want to point out that last Wednesday morning two MEPs were expelled from the Conservative Party but--miracles do exist; be not without faith--they were restored to the Conservative Party, a quicker rebirth than even that of Lazarus.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asks, not too sotto voce, "What about the Strasbourg four?" I have no problems with the proposition that, if you join a political party, you submit yourself to a certain amount of political discipline, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, knows perfectly well. I am sure that on occasions he had to read out a brief which was not universally to his satisfaction. He accepted the necessary constraint of enjoying a position on this Bench for some years. No one suggests that joining a political party gives anyone a licence to have an individual view which is capable of being determinative of party political policy. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, told me when I first started to read out briefs: "You must stop reading out the brief when it sticks in your craw". If you do not want to go along with the policy of a political party, you leave, you stay and fight or you are expelled.
Lord McNally: My Lords, for the record, the Minister must be aware that three Conservative MEPs escaped from the Conservatives at Bournemouth. One had the good sense to join the Liberal Democrats; the other two were indeed recaptured.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for that response. As Members return to care in their respective communities, I was particularly struck by his remark that one must submit oneself to a certain amount of discipline. The question is, how much discipline? I know that government Front Benchers are keen to attack the causes of crime. The party can sometimes, through the disciplinarian approach of the Whips, also attack those who are regarded as the awkward squad. Too much discipline can be imposed on people who take a dissenting view. My complaint about the closed party list system hinges on the way in which candidates will be selected without any relationship to voters, but with a new relationship instead--merely to their political party. That is the chief concern that has been expressed by all who have contributed to the debate. It is interesting that there have been no speeches from the Back Benches in favour of the proposals in the Bill but there has been unanimity between the Front Benches in opposing the amendment. That in itself probably says quite a lot.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred to the link being broken between candidates and voters, but the link is also being broken with regard to questions of conscience. It will no longer be possible to discern between candidates who may take conflicting views on, for instance, the death penalty, the sale of drugs, Europe or euthanasia. It will be "take-it-or-leave-it" politics. Voters will have to take the entire list presented to them. It will not be possible to exercise any choice.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, "STV is the chosen system of my party but not on this Bill." If I were to say to your Lordships that I had a chosen position on, say, the death penalty or the single currency, but that I would vote in a totally contrary way on those matters in the relevant legislation, I know what your Lordships would think of that. I know that that policy has been engraved on the noble Lord's heart, but I do not think that it has been engraved on his soul and I suspect that I know where his soul has been sold.
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