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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord does not want to mislead the House. On that occasion the Motion was for a variation of the open list system called the Belgian list system which is quite different from a properly open list system.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, of course it is a different system but it is one that in many ways is preferable because it provides the opportunity, as the Jenkins Commission recommended, for a voter who prefers to do so to vote for the party list. I suspect that a substantial majority of voters would wish to do that. As a result, although a number of individual Conservative Peers voted with us, the amendment was lost by 16 votes.

Following that vote we on these Benches reluctantly accepted the Government's decision to go for a closed list system. We therefore supported the Government in

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voting against these amendments both at Third Reading in your Lordships' House and in the debate on the Lords amendments in another place. But the issue in the debate today is not only about the comparative methods of voting or proportional representation itself; it is also about our constitution. The Conservative Party won quite properly a tactical victory at Third Reading. But what is it playing at by pursuing it? There are two possibilities. One is that the leadership of the Conservative Party intends to block the Bill if the Government do not give way. The second possibility is that the Front Bench is bluffing and will ultimately give way. If the first is the intention, the consequences of deadlock over the Bill will be chaos. The Parliament Act procedure could not operate in time for the 1999 European elections. We would have to go back, a mere seven months before those elections, to the old constituencies and first-past-the-post.

To frustrate the Bill would, frankly, cause a constitutional crisis. It is clear that if the Conservatives carry the Division today they will do so only by relying on the votes of hereditary Peers. To use hereditary Peers to block a government measure would be close to an abuse of the constitution. I do not believe that the public would stand for it. There are occasions when your Lordships' House should stand up to the Government. We did so in this House on the issue of fourth year tuition fees at Scottish universities in July. That was an issue where noble Lords on all sides of the House felt that there was a real and serious injustice being done to a section of the student population. The amendment was carried by a large majority and would have been passed even without the support of the hereditary Peers. An eventual compromise was reached. But the situation on this Bill is entirely different from that on the Teaching and Higher Education Bill.

It is plain that the Conservative Party does not care a fig for open lists. The motive for moving the amendment on Third Reading and insisting on it today is not to improve the Bill but to embarrass the Government. The Jenkins Report is just an excuse. Up to a point, that is a legitimate part of the political process. From time to time, we ourselves have sought to embarrass both the present Government and their predecessors. But a House to which none of us has been elected and in which many have inherited their seats cannot carry that game too far.

If the Conservative Party is serious in insisting on these amendments they risk involving what would likely be the most serious constitutional crises for decades. If they are bluffing they are wasting our time by raising once again an issue which has already been adequately debated.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who spoke from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, informed the House that the single transferable vote, was the preferred and long held option of his party. I remind the House that in Committee the Liberal Democrats were given the opportunity to vote for the single transferable vote, but voted against it.

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The noble Lord also informed the House that the Liberal Democrats prefer an open list system to a closed list system. Again, they were given the opportunity to vote for an open list system on Third Reading, but voted against it.

The moral is clear. The Liberal Democrats, for all the high flown phrases they have uttered over the years about their principles, are more interested in gaining seats. I have no quarrel with that. It becomes just a bit rich when we in other parties who are often accused of being grubby politicians discover that those who claim to have wonderful principles are similarly grubby.

It is not my intention to delay the House for long. I do not intend to go over any of the systems which are possible and probable. We have been through them during the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading. The Commons' reason for disagreeing with the amendment is that it would result in an undesirable voting system. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, pointed out the irony in that. Of course, there is some truth in the Government's reason considering that we have at stake 11 seats in the south of England, 10 seats in Greater London and 10 seats in the north west. The result would be a wieldy list, as the Minister has explained during our debates.

The difficulty is that the open list which this House has proposed is far superior to the awful closed list, centrally selected list, which the Government are offering to Parliament and to the country.

I read with great interest the debates in another place on 27th October when they considered our amendment. I have known the Home Secretary for many years. I have worked with him closely and served for three years on the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. I have the greatest respect for him, for many of the pamphlets that he has written and for his work as Home Secretary. However, I am sure that my right honourable friend will not be too upset if I say that his speech of 27th October was not one of his most profound.

Indeed, one could be forgiven if, on reading the speech, one thought one detected frivolity. He made one or two awful jokes. At col. 164 of the Official Report, Commons, he informed the House that he understood that "d'Hondt" meant "dog" in Flemish and stated that we were being dogged by the d'Hondt divisors. That was one of the better jokes that he cracked on that occasion!

It is obvious from the interventions from the Labour Benches that day that there was a considerable degree of disquiet and hostility among Labour Members about the Government's proposal. Apart from Home Office Ministers, not a single Labour MP or Member of this House has spoken in favour of the Government's proposals. Indeed, every Labour MP who has spoken to me on the subject has made it clear that they are opposed not only to the closed list but to the Labour Party's method of selecting the candidates.

I wish to make it clear that I do not intend to pursue that issue at this stage because this House can do nothing about the Labour Party's method of selecting its

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candidates. However, I must say that I thought at times the Home Secretary was a little cynical about the measures he was proposing. I doubt whether his heart was entirely in it. In an amazing reply to an intervention at col. 172, he stated:

    "With an open list, it would be possible for someone to be elected who did not have the unanimous support of the politburo of the Conservative party, the Labour party or the Liberal Democrat party".--[Official Report, Commons, 27/10/98; col. 172.]
His choice of the word "politburo" was significant on that occasion. I believe that it should be taken as a warning to all Members of the Labour Party that the principle of one member one vote for the selection of candidates, for which we struggled for many years, may now be under threat from people within the party who perhaps are not satisfied with the quality of candidates which one member one vote tends to produce. The party apparatchiks are anxious to control the system. They are anxious to choose the candidates and ensure that only those who reflect the official line at all times will be elected.

At Third Reading, when I voted for the amendment, I asked rhetorically whether this is a revising Chamber. I went on to say:

    "An argument is being presented in relation to one aspect of the Bill. It is not an instruction to the House of Commons that it has to accept anything from the House of Lords; it is an opportunity for it to have second thoughts about this particular aspect".--[Official Report, 20/10/98; col. 1322.]
The Commons has considered the matter again--or at least the Home Secretary has considered the matter again--and has declined to accept the amendment. That is their absolute right. As someone who served for almost 24 years in the other place, in no circumstances shall I challenge the Commons' right in that respect. I fear for the future and will continue to fight for one member one vote within my party. I will not tonight vote for the Opposition amendment; I shall respect the Commons' decision. However, I must make it clear that I will not, indeed I could not, vote in the Government Lobby on this occasion.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I shall be very brief. I am a Life Peer not a hereditary Peer. My last experience of the closed vote was in the Soviet Union. There it worked admirably, in favour of the Politburo's wishes, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said. It usually had a turn out of 101 or 102 per cent. I shall be interested to see whether that is the result in this case.

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