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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thought that STV would be debated under Amendment No. 14. However, as it has been mentioned now in such detail, perhaps I may say a few words at this stage. I was born and brought up in a country where the single transferable vote was the system. When I first came to the United Kingdom, I thought that it was better than the existing system in this country. But, as time has gone by, I have decided that it is very definitely not comparable. I strongly support the first-past-the-post system.
The single transferable vote does not produce the candidate that most people like; it merely gives the result. The elected party is the one which is least generally disliked. It is a totally negative form of election whereby, even if you do not get your choice, you can, out of pique, use the system to go against whoever you want to avoid being elected. I really do not support STV. I lived in Australia long enough to vote under that system. Indeed, the complexity of it whereby you will have many candidates produces a further problem. I feel that this is yet another push. I do not go along with those in this House and in that party generally who support proportional representation, STV or any old system at all except first-past-the-post. I do not know whether my remarks are suitable at this point or whether they would be more suitable under the debate on Amendment No. 14, but I shall not repeat them. I wanted to make the point very strongly that I oppose the single transferable vote.
Lord Whitty: There is a large number of amendments in this group, some of which raise certain issues which have not yet been mentioned. Nevertheless, it is clear that those on the Liberal Democrat Benches wish to ensure that the system of voting for the assembly is STV. Despite the fact that he claimed that he had never made such a speech before in his life, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, did not make a bad fist of advocating the STV system. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, gave it fairly short shrift and pointed out the main objection to it; namely, that at best you get
I am slightly concerned. We on these Benches often get accused of not having a coherent approach to the devolution agenda in general. However, being a bit of an anorak myself--or, nerd, which I believe was the term used by the noble Lord, Lord Tope--I was still awake late last night and watched the broadcast on the European elections. I must be totally objective because I think he is the only member of the parliamentary Liberal Party who is not actually running for election at this point, but I am pretty confident that I heard Menzies Campbell making it absolutely clear that they favoured the additional member system, in which the Liberals joined with us in Scotland on the convention. He said that the system in Scotland and Wales had been entirely successful in that it allowed people to maintain the link with the constituency but that, on the top-up list, it made sure that the number of members eventually returned reflected the total proportion of votes. If the additional membership system is good enough for the Liberals in Scotland and in Wales, I fail to understand why the Liberals in London would wish to revert to an atavistic attachment to STV. I applaud their consistency in this matter in some respects, but they appear to have abandoned it in relation to other aspects of constitutional change in this House.
Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: I, too, heard the words of the Liberal Member. But did the Minister then hear Mrs. Margaret Beckett say immediately afterwards that she had never been in favour of proportional representation? I wonder where the Minister stands on that.
Lord Whitty: I believe that my right honourable friend was responding to the question as to whether the results of the European elections had set back the campaign for first-past-the-post in relation to Westminster. She made her own particular view known on that issue. Indeed, those of us who know her will have heard her rather forthrightly express that view many times. She did not express a view in relation to London or, indeed, to Scotland and Wales on that occasion. As noble Lords will know, the Government as a whole have thought it appropriate that, in relation to the new parliament and the new assembly--and, of course, in relation to the GLA--an additional member system which maintains, on the one hand, the constituency link while, on the other, ensures that the total balance is more proportionate, is an appropriate innovation in our constitution at that level. That is an entirely different argument as to whether that should be the system which defines the Government of the United Kingdom. That is no doubt one to which the Liberal Democrats would wish us to return very rapidly; and we have to watch that space.
Lord Tope: It was probably a slip of the tongue, but I would not wish it to go on the record. It is the Minister who is proposing the additional member system, although he is now suggesting that I proposed it. That is not the case.
Lord Whitty: I apologise to the noble Lord. I was so persuaded by my own argument I assumed that he had been persuaded too. The noble Lord advocates an STV system. I thought I heard him mention four or five constituencies, presumably in the context of a 25-member assembly. That would probably enable an STV system to work adequately. The London constituencies are pretty huge. Even with a system of 40 members--as advocated just now--the constituencies would have to be pretty huge to enable STV to work. The degree of identity that could be achieved with those constituencies would be extremely limited. Therefore the constituency geographic identity--which we seek in our suggestions for representation--would not be met by creating four or five STV-based constituencies across London. That is much better met by the 14 directly elected posts under the first-past-the-post representation which we propose. However, we recognise--as we would with any size of assembly so far suggested--that that could lead to a serious distortion. We need to correct that distortion--in the same way as we have in Wales and Scotland--by introducing the top-up system.
The noble Lord suggested that this was a way of ensuring that the party would control the choice. With the system at present in place the party controls the choice. In Scotland and Wales the party controls the choice of candidates put before the electorate. The electorate then have the ability to decide whether or not to support the candidates put before them. That is the case with any of the systems that we propose. It allows for a potential independent element.
The issue of open lists as opposed to closed lists has detained the Chamber in a different context for a considerable amount of time. However, in an additional member system as distinct from a pure list system--as we operated during the European elections--the strength of any argument which the Committee may have against an open system is much weaker because there is still a constituency base determining the majority of candidates, as in Scotland and Wales. Therefore I do not think that the historic arguments used by this Chamber in relation to open lists apply to the same degree in this case.
I believe that the burden of the feeling in this Chamber is not to pursue the STV option--although I have no doubt that the Liberal Democrats will continue to do so--but to pursue a system of representation envisaged when we put forward the previous legislation for the referendum and now made manifest in this Bill. As this process was carried out in Scotland and Wales, I do not think it will be a problem for Londoners to be faced with two votes in relation to the assembly
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Before the noble Lord leaves that point I hope I may suggest to him that the Government would be wise before they proceed any further with this system--which I gather is identical to the one used for the Scottish Parliament--to find out what effect it has had on the political parties and whether they are completely happy with it. The Government should also find out from the Scots Parliament whether the two sets of members will in fact be equal because there has already been a big argument about that in the Scots Parliament. It has been decided that the two sets will have different levels of expenses--I think I am right in saying that--and there has been trouble. The Government would be wise not to gloss over this matter and think that because nothing has been said in the newspapers about the whole matter going wrong everything is all right. I can give them one instance of where within a political party the system has worked extremely unfairly. The Minister may find that that is the case in his own party and in other parties. It may be wise to take that into account for the future of the system. It is best to arrange it so that it works out as fairly as possible.
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