Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 60 and 88 are paired with Amendment No. 59. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, they would change the system of electing mayors to the system of first past the post.

This is a well-tried system of election that has stood this country well through thick and thin over the centuries. We need to think a little more carefully than perhaps we have as to whether we want to go to the more sophisticated systems that supposedly give a more valid result but do not necessarily do so. It is possible to elect somebody with a large proportion of second-choice votes.

Neither I nor my party is convinced that the new systems of voting are the improvement they are held out to be. It is interesting to recall--the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will not forgive me for this--that the former Liberal Party in the good old, bad old days, when it was in a position to form a government, believed happily in the first-past-the-post system. It only changed its view as it saw its political circumstances alter and felt that the new system would give it the chance to recover an element of influence that the first-past-the-post system removed from it as a consequence of the creation of the Labour Party.

I do not believe that we should go in for these diverse systems of election across different parts of the government machine. In the final analysis, the governance of this country is one sophisticated machine consisting of many components, and if they do not work together, the system does not work well. Those who regard themselves as the most important components of that machine--I do not necessarily accept this--are the Members of the other place and they are without exception elected on the first-past-the-post system. If it is good enough for them, then it should be good enough for everybody else. Of course, if somebody is prepared to say that the justification for change and the belief I spelt out is not correct, I shall be happy to hear that, but it may lead to some interesting debates.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am always happy to participate in a debate on electoral reform but we do have some rather set positions on these matters and we did discuss it at some length in Committee. For a brief moment I thought we were about to hear something new because, although we are used to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, defending to the last ditch the first-past-the-post system, as indeed do most spokespeople for his party, the logic of his historic analogy about how the Liberal Party changed its view in the light of its electoral fortunes looked as though it was leading to a change in the Tory Party position. But I was disappointed.

We discussed this matter at length in Committee. We also discussed it in relation to the GLA Bill and the arguments, broadly speaking, remain the same. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, sticks with the status

2 Mar 2000 : Column 711

quo; the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has a relatively sophisticated system of electoral reform and we, as always, take the third way in a relatively understandable form of electoral reform. We feel it would be most appropriate to apply the supplementary vote in relation to the mayor.

The argument between the supplementary vote and the alternative vote is relatively narrow. We accept that. But we believe that the supplementary vote has an edge. It is simple and easy to understand. People may feel that by saying that I am disparaging the electorate, but I quickly add that the vast majority of the electorate could probably even understand some of the more historical electoral systems. Nevertheless, simplicity, when one is changing the totality of a system to a mayoral-based local government system, is important and we do not want confusion here.

It is also my contention that the supplementary vote system is closest to the traditional method while at the same time allowing a clear result and ensuring that we do not have mistakes and unintentional votes. When we conduct a ballot to ascertain a clear preference in relation to a single high profile office like that of the mayor, it is important for there to be clarity, simplicity and acceptance as regards its conclusions. We believe that the supplementary vote has those characteristics rather than the alternative vote proposition. I give way.

Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I am most grateful. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it absolutely refutes the calumnies that Labour has in some way tried to fix the election for the mayor of London that it has, for the principled reason he has just outlined, chosen the electoral system that just gives the outside squeak of a chance to an independent Livingstone candidate? Is my noble friend preparing us to defend any similar charges if some loony runs in Liverpool or Leeds by choosing the electoral system that actually gives independent loonies the best possible chance?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not entirely clear as to how I should respond. As I have been in this Chamber all afternoon, I do not know the latest developments in London, let alone in Liverpool and Leeds. We certainly take an approach that does not exclude candidates from outside the traditional party structures. But whether or not one refers to them as "loonies" is a matter of taste. The system that we propose would allow a break-through in the electoral system if the people of Liverpool or Leeds felt that it was necessary--to coin a phrase--to break the mould. Whether I would advise them to do so in London or elsewhere is an entirely different matter. I believe that my noble friend and I would probably be at one on advising them to vote for a mainstream candidate, preferably a Labour candidate.

We want to construct a system that will allow for some flexibility. Although it is not a conclusive argument, the system that we have applied in London would be a sensible one to apply to other cities and local authorities that chose the mayoral structure. It

2 Mar 2000 : Column 712

would be difficult to explain why the systems were significantly different. Broadly speaking, I think that we should adopt the same approach. In my view, the alternative vote proposition has fewer merits than the supplementary vote in that context as regards clarity of result, simplicity of outcome and consistency with the arrangements that we already have in place in relation to the mayor of London. I therefore hope that we stick with what the Government propose. Again, it is the middle way and one that is completely understandable. I hope that the House will not adopt either of the propositions before us today.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, until we were into this debate, it had not occurred to me that we were talking about Derek Hatton.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I must point out that I was not talking about Derek Hatton and certainly do not intend to do so.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, that is very understandable and most wise.

I retabled these amendments because of the argument that the rest of the country should follow London. The Minster said that it would be difficult to explain why other authorities were different from those in London. I say again, it is only difficult if one is not prepared to say that one will learn. The Minister also talked about the need for simplicity when changing the system. I recognise that this is not a matter for his department, but I hope that the Home Office will find ways to explain to Londoners the system with which they will be faced on 4th May; namely, one consisting of four votes. The publicity that one has seen so far talks only about the mayor--the most important job in London--and does not give any indication that there is more than one vote in the system. There is much education and information required in this respect.

I was sorry to hear the Minister's response, although I cannot say that I am entirely surprised. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 not moved.]

Clause 38 [Entitlement to vote]:

[Amendment No. 62 not moved.]

Clause 39 [Power to make provision about elections]:

[Amendment No. 63 not moved.]

Clause 40 [Provisions with respect to referendums]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 64:

    Page 23, line 6, at end insert ("notwithstanding that the question to be asked may include mention of an authority's fall-back proposals as drawn up under section 25 above").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment relates to the referendum regulations. Its purpose is to probe why local authorities are not to be allowed to give an explicit second option on the face of the referendum question. As the Bill stands, there will be fall-back arrangements under Clause 25 but these

2 Mar 2000 : Column 713

amount to little more than a cosy exchange between the local authority and the Secretary of State. The correspondence is not "copied" to the electorate.

On the last occasion, the Minister said that the outline fall-back arrangements--there are many different arrangements under this Bill--would give clarity. I believe that that was what he was saying, although he may have been saying that his amendments would give such clarity. In any event, the Government's argument is that there must be executive arrangements and they reject the status quo, or what has come to be known as the "status quo plus", of local organisation. Therefore, I feel no more confident than I did when we started the Bill's proceedings that the local electorate will be as involved as I believe it should be.

I realise that the amendment is quite difficult to follow when taken out of the context, but the proposal is to ensure that the next best option in the eyes of the local authority is spelled out as part of the referendum process and, indeed, as part of the referendum question. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page