Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, if they are not trying to wreck the Bill, why do they not withdraw their amendments? Why do they not accept the wish of the other place and of the Government which won the election? What right have they got to insist on their view against the elected Members of another place? They know that they have not. I have genuine admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and for the way in which he conducts himself. Indeed, if I were Leader of the Opposition I would begin to have some fears about my own position.

As regards tactics, of course the Opposition can carry the measure today and they can send it back again to the other place. It can force the Government to lose the Bill if it wishes to do so. But I believe that in the long run the Opposition will regret it. I do not believe that the Opposition Front Bench believes that it is carrying all its own people with it on this issue.

When one seeks reasons for its attitude, I believe it is the growth of a self-confessed hooligan tendency in the Conservative Party. Perhaps I may adapt the words of a forbear of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, about consultation, and repeat that I would as soon consult my valet as consult the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, about political and parliamentary tactics. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition should take his party in hand. It is time it stopped playing games of this sort. It knows very well that in any other circumstances it would not persist in an issue which is not of fundamental constitutional importance. It is a second-level issue. We are faced with a series of opposing proposals on this matter and none of them is perfect.

I say again to the Cross-Benches: we have been promised a review to see whether we can achieve a better voting method out of this situation. It has been said that the Opposition will be consulted as I am sure, will all others including, no doubt, the Cross-Benches. In any other circumstances than these and with any other Opposition, it would have said, "Yes, we have carried the day three times. We understand that we are not going to win. We shall co-operate". Indeed it asked for the review and now it has been conceded the Opposition continue to object.

I have taken no real part in this matter, but I believe the time has come to stop playing games. The Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, should call off their troops and let us go forward. They can say to the Commons, "We still take the view that was taken by a majority in this House, but we do not insist on the Bill being lost and therefore we do not vote for this measure today".

17 Nov 1998 : Column 1145

4.15 p.m.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I have to answer the question which the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, put to the noble Lord, Lord Shore, since he would not allow him to answer for himself. The right by which the noble Lord, Lord Shore, speaks and votes in this House is contained in his Writ of Summons to this House. That is his right and that is why he is using it as he should. I say also to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, that it is not this House that would lose the Bill. It is in the hands of the Government's business managers. It is up to them whether they lose the Bill or not. They may find that the Bill is not the perfected thing that they would wish, but they can still have it provided they compromise with this House on this one amendment.

As regards questions of constitutionality and whether hereditary Peers like my noble friend Lord Onslow should take any part in this or whether he should send his valet in his place, a new point was raised by a noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches. He was critical of my noble friends for not voting with him and his colleagues on their amendment. Would he really have accepted the votes of my noble friends who have inherited their peerages? Would he have thought it invalid if they had voted with him or are their votes only invalid when cast against him? It was a specious argument and we have heard many of them. I am well aware that the House is in no mood for any more.

As a former chairman of the Conservative Party I would regard the closed list system, as I always have, as a monstrously wrong and undemocratic system. If voters are faced with a list of Conservative candidates for the European Parliament they should choose from among them those whose opinions are closest to those of the voters. What is wrong with that? Why should they leave it to my successor, as chairman of the party, to do the job for them? The argument as regards the closed list has been knocked on the head already today.

Perhaps I may remind the House of this fact. I inherited in my party, defended and passed on to my successors, the principle that in any parliamentary or local authority election it is for the local people to make their decision on the Conservative candidate. If they do not like any of the so-called approved list candidates, they are free, as they always were, to introduce a candidate of their own. Central Office is duty bound to endorse him unless there is some ghastly fact against him such as being an undischarged bankrupt. That is the democratic system which we have. The closed list system would be entirely against it.

In his heart I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, knows that. He has all the enthusiasm for this measure which the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, had for the beef-on-the-bone order. I was assured of my confidence in that view when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Williams, speak on this issue on Radio Four on the morning following the last vote in this House. The noble Lord is a lawyer. I noticed that throughout the interview both the volume and pitch of his voice rose steadily. He was a lawyer under pressure knowing he had a bad case, abusing the interviewer as there was no defendant.

17 Nov 1998 : Column 1146

If the Government are defeated again today and if the noble Lord, Lord Williams, appears on the radio tomorrow morning, I would advise everyone to move their best glasses well away from the receiver. He no more believes in his case than do those on the Benches behind me or on the Labour Benches in the House of Commons. They know that this measure gives excessive power to the party apparatchiks. It means that a candidate or a sitting member will not have to worry whether he pleases his electorate; he has to worry only whether he pleases the "selectorate" of his apparatchiks. That is why the system is popular in continental Europe where they are long accustomed to the superior power of the political classes over ordinary men and women in the street. That is why this House should stay firm and why the Government must then decide whether they wish to keep the Bill or whether they wish to lose it.

Lord McNally: My Lords, it was the chairman of an American assembly who said, "Everything on this matter has now been said, but unfortunately not everybody has yet said it." I believe that the House is moving to a conclusion on this matter. I am pleased that we have had some vintage performances. The noble Lord, Lord Shore, and I have been on opposite sides of Common Market arguments for more than 30 years. It is interesting to note that those in the Labour pantheon who have been exhibited here today have a common theme in their attitudes towards Europe. But, of course, all decisions here are made on the highest of principles and personal motivation.

Perhaps I may say why these Benches have been consistent throughout. This Bill, if any Bill, is our Bill. It was not in the Queen's Speech. It was following persuasion by the Liberal Democrats that the Government brought forward the Bill to honour their manifesto commitment and ours to introduce a system of proportional representation for the European elections. That is an issue to which we have been committed by treaty for two decades or more. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Shore, could have brought it forward if he had supported the attempt of the Callaghan government to introduce proportional representation almost 20 years ago. So let us be in no doubt about the political issue. The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat Party are putting forward legislation which is four square with their manifesto commitments and has been supported, as my noble friend Lord Callaghan pointed out, successively in another place.

What we have seen from the Conservative Party is the unmasking of the guns. Almost all speakers have said that they are for first-past-the-post. I repeat that first-past-the-post was not the manifesto commitment of the Labour Party, not the manifesto commitment of the Liberal Democrats and not the wish of another place. I believe that it would be a constitutional outrage if this House used its unelected majority to thwart the wishes of the electorate expressed at the general election and those of another place elected through the democratic process.

The noble Lord, Lord Shore, asked whether there was a hidden agenda. Listening to the debate and watching the Conservative ranks I wondered sometimes whether

17 Nov 1998 : Column 1147

we were having a dry run for next year. When the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, started calling on his Writ of Summons to justify committing this constitutional outrage, I wondered whether next year the Writs of Summons would be dusted down to justify trying to thwart the elected government and their manifesto commitment.

Let us be in no doubt what has happened during the past few weeks. When the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was able to boast that he had come within two votes of those cast on the previous occasion on which we voted, I wonder how many independent voices we had heard and how dangerous was that Front Bench fingertip control over the hereditaries for this so-called independent House. Like the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, I say to the Cross Benchers, "Do not be lured into a Conservative Party game." The noble Lord, Lord Bach, was right to speak about a court. I understand his mistake because the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is attempting a piece of grand larceny as regards this Bill. It has gone through every process of this House. We have brought it legitimately through the House and have argued our case. Some of the issues we have lost, but there is no doubt that the will of another place has been expressed clearly. The party putting the Bill through this House has the democratic mandate from the electorate for its manifesto and the approval of another place. I ask this House to pause before it sets a precedent which I believe would damage its reputation just when we are looking hard at how it should be reformed.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page