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Review of electoral system

(".--(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint one or more persons--
(a) to review the operation of the system of election provided for by section 3 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 as substituted by section 1 of this Act, and
(b) to make a report to the Secretary of State within six months from the day of appointment.
(2) The Secretary of State shall carry out his duty under subsection (1) within one month from the date of the first general election to the European Parliament which takes place after the coming into force of section 1.
(3) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of any report received under subsection (1)(b) before each House of Parliament.")

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do insist on their amendments to which the Commons have disagreed and do disagree with the Commons in their amendment in lieu thereof.

The other place has debated this issue again and, as I forecast it would and could, has amended your Lordships' amendment by inserting another new clause into the Bill promising a review of the way next year's elections to the European Parliament work. However, that election will still be held on the basis of a closed list, and not the open list so clearly preferred by your Lordships and by just about everyone else outside the new Liberal Democrat Party, with a few noble exceptions, and 10 Downing Street. The review will be laid before Parliament. There is no word about whether we will have the chance to decide in legislation what system will be used in future elections and no guarantee that the report, if unfavourable to the closed list, will be allowed to do anything other than gather dust.

I intend to ask your Lordships to ask the Commons to think again and to come back with amendments which reflect the broad measure of support on all sides here in your Lordships' House and elsewhere for a fairer, more open system than the closed list system. Your Lordships are well aware of the case for the open list as against the closed list. I shall not weary your Lordships with repeating the arguments at any length which, both in debate and in Division Lobby, have proved more powerful than the arguments of the few believers in the closed list. It has been a debate between the people's choice and the parties' choice. Even the open list system gives the party the kind of poll position which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has been keen to give it. That is done openly by the Liberal Democrats and ourselves through votes of our members, or done by a small cabal in the case of the Labour Party. However, the party decides who goes on the list. Indeed,

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it decides even the order of the list on the ballot paper. But do we allow the parties' electors to decide who from the list goes to Brussels, or do we simply ask the electors to vote for a party and have absolutely no say on which of the eight or 12 will represent them in Brussels--not the electors' representatives but the parties' representatives?

I should not like to argue that case again--that argument has been won--but I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to some of the arguments put forward in the other place. I suggest that the debate in the other place, if not the vote, showed that the other place is divided on this issue and that the division is not on party lines. To show my fairness and balance--something which I know I am noted for--I will, first of all, quote from the Government's only Back-Bench supporter in the other place in the debate, Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours. He intervened and, with regard to the review which the Home Secretary had announced, he said:

    "I welcome the review. It is very good news, and it will be greatly appreciated by people across the country".--[Official Report, Commons, 10/11/98; col. 207.]
Your Lordships will have noticed the bonfires last week in celebration.

Then came a procession of Labour Back-Benchers with something interesting to say, all of them opposed to the closed list. Let me pick but two. Mr. Rhodri Morgan--I cannot think why I picked him, but he seemed to have something sensible to say--asked the Home Secretary this question.

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, is it permissible for any noble Lord to quote verbally, accurately, from the House of Commons?

Noble Lords: They have changed the rules!

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, I beg the noble Lord's pardon. It would seem that I am out of date in that respect.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I have checked that and I believe that our procedures have been changed. Otherwise I would have had to attack this in a different way.

I return to Mr. Rhodri Morgan, known to all in Wales and favoured by all in Wales. He said:

    "Is there not one way in which the internal processes of, let us say, the Labour Party intersect with the measure before us"--
that is the amendment your Lordships sent there--

    "in that the one advantage of an open-list system is that it prevents a party from slipping a Mickey Finn into the cocktail? Does it not thus prevent a party from putting a person who for some reason would not be popular with the electorate, high up the list, so that the voters can do nothing about it?".--[Official Report, Commons, 10/11/98; col. 216.]
It is a pity that Mr. Rhodri Morgan had not been reading some of the Government's propaganda. That is the only defence of the closed list that the Government have really put forward; that is, that it allows them to slip in what, for some unknown reason, Mr. Rhodri Morgan calls a "Mickey Finn".

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Then there was Mr. David Winnick. I never thought that I would pray in aid Mr. David Winnick, but there you are; he probably never thought that he would be prayed in aid by a Conservative Member of your Lordships' House. It is a funny old world, as somebody once said. Mr. Winnick said:

    "Many of us are deeply uneasy about a system that gives too much authority to people in a party who have not necessarily been elected. It gives too much authority to people who will be able to decide whether or not a particular candidate's views are orthodox".--[Col. 224.]

Interestingly enough, he made an important point when he said:

    "I hesitate to speak for my hon. Friends, but it is doubtful--I shall put it no higher than that--that a majority of the parliamentary Labour party is in favour of the closed-list system".--[Col. 223.]
So your Lordships, in voting with me this afternoon, will also be voting for the system which Mr. Winnick tells us is favoured by a majority of the parliamentary Labour party.

I received yesterday a letter from a Mr. Henry McCubbin. He was the Labour MEP for north-east Scotland from 1989 to 1994. During that time he was elected and re-elected as Whip of the Socialist Group of the Parliament. He still calls it the Socialist Group, and that is probably one of the reasons for his lack of success in being placed in a decent position on the list. He put his name forward to be considered in two seats for the election next May. In the first ballot he won nominations in both. Along came the panel from London and he was, to use his own expression,

    "dropped out of the lists comfort zone".
No doubt he will be in trouble for sending me this letter. In it he points something out to me which I would like to share with your Lordships' House. It is Rule 2 in the European Parliament's rules. It is headed the "The independent mandate" and states,

    "Members of the European Parliament shall exercise their mandate independently. They shall not be bound by any instructions and shall not receive a binding mandate".
Mr. McCubbin continues in his letter:

    "To my mind the open list is the only way to meet this simple but important criteria".
With the closed list the member only has to keep his party apparatchiks happy and he can be re-elected again and again, especially if he is number one. He does not have to please any other people--none of the electors; nobody bar the apparatchiks.

Mr. McCubbin concludes his letter by saying:

    "I have written to you for the simple reason that I support the Lords amendment to provide for open lists. I hope that sufficient numbers of your fellow peers continue to show their support".
It is not just Labour MPs who are branded "off message", or former MEPs who, having received votes from the party membership, are then dumped by a small cabal; it is a lot wider than that. The Government have very little support anywhere for their proposition of closed lists.

I will leave your Lordships with, for me, an unlikely source of comfort and succour; namely, today's edition of the Daily Mirror and the comments of Mr. Paul Routledge, the chief political commentator. I would like

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to read out the whole column but only one part of it is relevant to this debate. First, he discussed the way a "clique" of, as he calls them, "craven Blairite numpties"--I cannot imagine who he is thinking of--treated Dennis Canavan and how Ken Livingstone is to be stopped by, in his words,

    "the control freaks in Downing Street".
He then went on to the chaos in Wales and finally came to the issue of the closed and open lists. He says:

    "Then there is the European election. The Lords have twice thrown out New Labour's notorious 'closed list' system which enables party bosses to choose who will represent us in Europe. Wherever you look, it is the same story. A handful of Millbank disciples is given the job of deciding who will be our parliamentary representatives and mayor of London. The Millbank Tendency has replaced the Militant Tendency. And it stinks just as much".

I do not see why the country, the electors and the other political parties should be saddled with a voting system which has been designed entirely to suit the internal machinations of the governing party. I recommend my Motion to your Lordships.

Moved, That this House do insist on their Amendments Nos. 1 to 4 to which the Commons have disagreed and do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 4A in lieu thereof.--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

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