Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I heard the Home Secretary give three reasons for opposing this amendment. The first was the hereditary peerage. The second was that John Major had done the same with regard to Northern Ireland. I cannot remember the third reason! However, under no circumstances did the Home Secretary oppose the merits of the case put forward by my noble friend.

I do not particularly like proportional representation because it may mean a permanent post for Paddy Ashdown--and that must be bad. I prefer our old and tried methods. However, I do not like the Government's present proposal. It is pure pride on their part not to be able to say, "We were wrong".

It strikes me that to use the argument, "Oh, the hereditary peerage voted for it", is on a par with, "Oh, they were Jews that voted for it", or, "Oh, they were blacks that voted for it". It is exactly the same. It is an argument without moral fibre. Is the Home Secretary saying that I am a half-wit? I may be, but not because I am an hereditary Peer. There are lots of half-wits who are not hereditary Peers and I accept that there are half-wits who are hereditary Peers. But that argument should not be used as a blanket case for objection.

As for the concept, "Oh, it's a good idea because the Conservatives did it", I thought that we had an election in 1997 when people said, "We don't like the Conservatives". If the Government are using the argument that something is a good idea because the Conservatives did it in Northern Ireland legislation, why do they not all resign and ask Mr. Major to go back to 10 Downing Street? It is as logical as that. Surely it has been established that that is a bad idea. Governments

12 Nov 1998 : Column 859

who can change their minds are great governments. It seems to me that on this issue the Government are copying the Conservatives, but they are copying Mrs. Thatcher at her most stubborn. I am sure that the Government would not like to do that. I shall certainly vote for my noble friend's Motion.

Finally, this is a perfect example of why this House should be properly reformed. When it is properly reformed, we can use the powers that we have with legitimacy and pride rather than be blackmailed because we are told that we are all idiots of hereditary Peers. I support my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney put the arguments for continuing to support the amendments. I had not intended to speak in today's debate. Unfortunately, however, my noble friend Lord Barnett ascribed to me motives for continuing to support the amendments which, in fact, were untrue and completely unfounded. He implied--indeed, he stated--that the reason I oppose this legislation is because I am a leading Euro-sceptic. I have to tell him and the House that that has nothing to do with my motives. Indeed, as a leading Euro-sceptic, it would suit me very well to support this legislation because it divides and separates even further the Euro MPs from the electorate. At present, they have a direct link with the electorate which, in fact, is good for the European Parliament; for those who represent people in it; and for those who are represented. There is that direct link.

So, if I opposed this legislation strictly on the basis of my Euro-scepticism, that would not be an absurd thing to do. The fact of the matter is that I believe that this legislation is bad because it removes the link between the electorate and the elected. I have said that before; I repeat it today; and I hope that the House will accept that that is my motive and that it is a perfectly reasonable and honourable motive.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, while I am on my feet, perhaps I may deal with the question of duty. My noble friend Lord Barnett accused me of feeling that I have a duty. It is not a question of whether I feel that I have a duty; it is whether the House of Lords feels that it has a duty to insist on amendments in which it believes. If it does not believe in them, it should not pass them. Therefore, this House has a duty. That is the way in which I use the word "duty". This House has a duty, if it believes in something, to insist that its amendments should be agreed.

I have heard a lot today about the rights of the House of Commons. Of course, the House of Commons has its rights, and they are very serious rights because it is the elected Chamber. But the elected Chamber must operate within the constitution. The constitution says, quite clearly, that the House of Commons may pass a Bill or a measure; the House of Lords is entitled to scrutinise it and, indeed, according to the Parliament Acts of 1911

12 Nov 1998 : Column 860

and 1949, may insist on its amendments, in which case there will be a delay of up to one year. That is the constitution, whether or not people like it.

As I have already said, if this House feels that it is right, it has a duty to insist. People may not like that--even I may not like that--but that is the situation. Therefore, this House has the right--indeed, it may have the duty--to insist on its amendments. I hope that I have made my attitude and what I believe is our "duty" absolutely clear to my noble friend. I hope he will accept my comments.

In the last analysis, if this House is not prepared to do its duty, if it does not understand what its powers are, then there is no point in its being here. It is also no use my Front Bench and the House of Commons "going on" about the House of Lords when it exercises its powers. If they do not believe that the House of Lords should have those powers, or that a proper second Chamber should exist, they should say so; and they should bring forward legislation--it is to be hoped in the next Session of Parliament--to deal with that. If they believe in a unicameral system, which is being mooted, they should bring forward legislation to that end. In the meantime, this House has the right and duty to insist on its amendments if it believes that they are correct.

4.30 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I entirely accept and understand his motive, and I share his sense of duty on this occasion.

I was unable to be present on 20th October, when this House last debated this matter. I was on an All-Party Defence Group visit. I read the debate, and I should not have had to think three times before knowing which way to vote. I should have voted against the closed list system because it diminishes democracy and in favour of the open list system because it enhances democracy.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of two sentences spoken during the previous debate by my noble kinsman Lord Russell. He stated:

    "This Bill allows us to choose what party represents us; it does not allow us to choose what person represents us. That appears to be a fundamental blow to democracy".--[Official Report, 20/10/98; col. 1323.]
He was speaking in the present. I wish to refer to the consequences in the future if we are to have a closed list system.

I wish to mention three points. First, at the previous European election, only 25 to 30 per cent. voted. The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, mentioned to me outside this Chamber that at the previous Euro by-election in Merseyside only 11 per cent. voted. If we go into the 1999 Euro election with the closed list, the percentage of voters will be down to 20 per cent. Surely the Government and all parties wish to see the electorate coming out to vote in that election. That will not happen under the closed list system.

Secondly, I believe that MEPs elected by means of the closed list, which will be a discredited system, will not enjoy the support of the electorate during their tenure as MEPs. That is a further matter of concern that needs to be considered.

12 Nov 1998 : Column 861

The Government promise a review. There are questions that I wish to put to the Minister. We are told, if we accept the government amendment, that the review has to be on the Secretary of State's desk within six months. Who is to be on the review body--politicians; MEPs elected under the closed system; or lawyers? I wish to know more about the review body.

What will happen to the report when it lands on the Secretary of State's desk six months after he calls for it? We already have an example. On 25th October a different report landed on the Home Secretary's desk. It was The Report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System. That commission was chaired by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. We are now told that that report may never see the light of day. How can we be assured that the report promised us today will ever see the light of day or be acted upon?

In 1980 I was in the northern part of Hong Kong, on the Sunchong river. I understand that the noble Lord, the Minister, was in the south of Hong Kong. He is a jurist and was acting in court on behalf of clients. In the north, I was pulling out illegal immigrants who were crossing the Sino-Hong Kong border. I and my colleagues in all the services were doing our best to save their lives in the muddy water of the Sunchong river. As his colleagues from that time tell me, after the noble Lord left the court the lawyers decided to throw a party. They had a tug-of-war in the clean mud of Lantao.

We have been told by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that in politics you sometimes have to get your hands dirty. This "closed list" Bill is a dirty Bill. Let us wash our hands of closed lists. I ask the Minister to do what his colleagues told him to do on the shores of Hong Kong--join in the clean mud tug-of-war and jump for the open list.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page