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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, before making my few remarks I wish to point out that I have been chosen as number one in my party's list in the north-west. I am also a hereditary Peer. I wish to reiterate some remarks that I made on a previous occasion during the passage of the Bill and tell your Lordships that I have received conflicting advice as to whether I am allowed to vote. The advice I have received unequivocally from the registrar is that I am allowed to vote.
It seems to me that the issue is simple. The closed list is more illiberal than the open list. In changing the electoral system, we should move towards a liberal system rather than an illiberal system. It is right and
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I shall be brief. In a sense, I should like to reply to the wholly remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, which performed the very type of somersault anticipated by my noble friend Lord Beloff.
To suggest that open and closed lists are matters of subsidiary importance when in fact they are the most important matters in this debate is a most curious contention. Secondly, to suggest that if we insist, this Bill will frustrate the will of government and in some way it must inevitably be lost is not so. As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has explained already, if this goes to another place, as I understand the procedure it is open to another place to send back a reasoned amendment.
Apparently the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has not appreciated that we have a certain function to perform; that is, to provide some measure of constitutional protection and safeguard, in this case, for the MEP electorate in Great Britain. The authority for that function, if the noble Lord cares to look it up, is to be found in paragraph 12 of the report of the review committee chaired by Lord Home of the Hirsel on the future of the House of Lords.
We are here to perform a function. I would have suggested to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that we are here to perform it beyond the confines of strict political allegiance. We are here to perform it according to our conscience. It is the people's choice against a party choice. It is as simple as that. It would be a shame if your Lordships, in those circumstances, did not treat it as a question of principle and insist upon this amendment.
We all know about the Burghers of Calais with the rope in the hand ready for the neck. As constituted, your Lordships' House has a duty to perform. If there is a Division, I shall go into the Lobby and insist.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, on Third Reading I voted for this group of amendments. I am pleasantly surprised that the Opposition are doing their duty today by seeking to insist on their amendment because it is perfectly in order and, indeed, highly desirable that they should do so. If we vote on this matter, unlike my noble friend Lord Evans, I shall vote to insist on the amendment. I shall be completely and utterly consistent because I believe that this House not only has the right, but the duty to put right legislation which it believes is wrong.
The legislation which was brought forward by new Labour and the new Labour Government--my own Government--was fundamentally flawed and completely wrong. Had it been brought forward by a Conservative government, I feel absolutely sure that it would have been resisted right up to the hilt by my Front Bench and by the Labour Party throughout.
What we do in opposition, we should do in government. That means that the Labour Government should not have thought of bringing forward such a system as this because it is undemocratic and breaks the link between the electors and the elected. That is fundamental to democracy and fundamental to the democracy of this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said that this is not a matter of pride. Of course it is not a matter of pride. It is a constitutional matter. I am not proud that I shall vote against my own Government but I believe that I have a duty to do so because they are doing something wrong.
I should say also to noble Lords that this matter is just as important as, if not more important than, some of the issues on which your Lordships' House has insisted upon its amendments; for example, in the matter of education, which I supported. I remind noble Lords that the last time a constitutional issue like this was brought forward was in relation to the GLC Bill when the then Tory government sought to dismiss the GLC before it had run its course. This House then said that that was unconstitutional and was against the best interests of good government in this country. On that issue, the House of Lords insisted on its amendment; it was right to do so; and I believe that it would be right to do so again today. Because of that, although it will be a matter of great regret to me, I shall vote in the Opposition Lobby.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, I should like to say a brief word as an hereditary Peer, of whom there are many present. I believe that everybody in this Chamber--life Peers, hereditary Peers, Bishops and Liberal Democrats--should vote according to their conscience. We are all here to try to do our duty to our Queen, to our country and our people. As long as we are here, we should continue to do so.
I have been very much convinced by what the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and my noble friend Lord Mackay have said. I also believe that that is what we should do. I voted yesterday with the Government because I believed that they were right. Today, I shall vote against them.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, O Absalom, O Absalom, my son, how are the mighty fallen! The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, put forward as his central platform that it is the people's choice, not the party's choice. That would not by any chance have been the same noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who spoke so elegantly--I use his word--and powerfully, although not persuasively, in favour of your Lordships' present arrangements.
The words have been used, "a closed, centrally-selected list". Some of your Lordships have experience of another place. All were then elected by the grateful multitudes on a closed, centrally-selected list.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I hear the words "no" and "nonsense". If I have to explain that we do not have a primary system of election for the Commons in this country, I am rather labouring in vain.
When I hear the words "democratic accountability" and "the people's choice, not the party's choice" in your Lordships' House, I sympathise with the late Marshal Goering who, when he heard the word "culture", felt tempted to reach for his revolver.
The fact is that we are offering a proportional system for the European elections, as we offered it in the context of the Welsh assembly and Scottish parliament elections, on the basis that the outcome will be fairer to smaller parties. That has been done quite deliberately in the context of Wales. The Conservative Party had 20 per cent. of the vote in the general election with no seats. Under the proportional system, which your Lordships have accepted and adopted for the Welsh assembly, 20 per cent. of the votes will produce 20 per cent. successful candidates in Wales. Is the Welsh system--I cannot quite remember at present--an open or closed system? As noble Lords have accepted, it is a closed system. So if I hear again the word "consistency", I sometimes raise a question in my own mind.
It is important for me to put the matter as neutrally as I can. What my noble friend Lord Carter said by way of observation about possible outcomes is correct. There is no prospect of a Commons insisting on this amendment. We are therefore coming to a crunch. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is right to that extent; and it is as well, I think--I say this respectfully--that we recognise that.
It is not right to say that this would be an unusual system. If we adopt the system the Government have proposed, which has been discussed at length on three earlier occasions, 70 per cent. of our colleagues in Europe will vote on the same system. It is wrong of course to choose selective quotations from the report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. I see the noble Lord in his place. Perhaps I may look at paragraph 95; I should not wish the quotation to be uniquely selective. The noble Lord speaks of the kind of breakfast menu one can get in certain parts of the United States. By the time the waiter has come to the end of the list, one has forgotten what was on the menu. The noble Lord states:
It is trite but nevertheless true and worth recalling that the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, were devoted to the Westminster system of voting, which is utterly and completely different in concept, construction and outcome from the systems that we are presently discussing. The constituencies will be very large. This amendment will not alter that. In the south-eastern
It is a fact--I do not apologise for repeating it--that women and ethnic minorities are significantly disadvantaged in all areas of our national life, not least in parliamentary representation. It is a legitimate desire, I respectfully contend to your Lordships, for a party to want to put women, or people from ethnic minorities, at the top of the list: to look for people with particular expertise and offer them--I repeat the phrase "offer them"--to the voters.
The debate has ranged quite far. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff complained about people not being elected and referred to Mr. Alun Michael, an MP for Cardiff West and a Welsh speaker, and who has spent much of his political life pressing the case for Welsh devolution. I do not require any lessons on that.
We have discussed this matter. People speak about duty, and principles. Different people have different views, quite reasonably and legitimately in a diverse society, about where duty lies. People also have views which differ about the value of a democratically elected assembly as opposed to one which is not elected by anyone.
The last word I offer is this. We asked the Commons to think again. Chaos will result if this Bill is lost. I do not put that by way of exaggeration, but by way of quotation. Mr. Robert Syms, a Member of the Conservative Party in another place said that we are coming to the end of a Session: to implement change at this stage would cause chaos and difficulty. Another place considered this matter. Whatever the intellectual, political or thematic content of their discussions is not a matter for me to comment on; others have been rather disparaging. What I say is that they were elected and we were not. When the Commons had considered these matters, it came to this conclusion after a full debate. It voted to overturn your Lordships' views by 338 to 131--an elected majority of 207.
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