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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, indeed, that was a challenge. I am pleased to welcome the conversion of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, to those who support a more democratic system of election than either the closed list or first-past-the-post systems. The Liberal Democrats were strongly opposed to the closed list system, which is probably the worst system invented for elections in multi-member constituencies. We have always taken the view that the single transferable vote system (STV) was clearly the best in these circumstances. Failing that, an open list system, which would enable voters to regulate the order in which members came on that list, was very much preferable to the closed list system.

Therefore, I support the idea of the Electoral Commission looking at this issue, although, on this occasion with no advance warning, I would not necessarily press the noble Baroness to divide the House. Certainly, it is a proposal that we should welcome and which we might well look at favourably.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am in full agreement with all that my noble friend Lord Goodhart has said. Quite often we discuss the decline of interest in politics, but at Question Time this afternoon we discussed an

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increasing interest in politics. I think the common factor here is that interest in politics no longer can be translated automatically into support for a party.

A great many noble Lords in this Chamber feel very passionately about one or more political causes which have supporters in all three parties. Often those people wish to cast their votes, just as much as anyone else would wish to do so. But they cannot do so by voting for a party; they can do so only by voting for individuals who happen to have an attachment to that cause for which they stand.

That is something for which elections by a closed list system makes absolutely no allowance. Only if you can vote for the candidate because of the causes for which that candidate stands can you express your opinion. So getting away from the closed list is something which might do a good deal to revitalise interest in elections. Furthermore, it would lead to the point where, instead of having representation of the parties, we would have representation of the people. After all, that is what it is all about.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, this debate has echoed the vigour with which the matter was pursued when it was debated in 1999. It was right for the noble Baroness to remind noble Lords that on six occasions it was sent back to another place. But we know that, ultimately, it became the law of our country through the democratic processes we have all accepted and adopted. The will of the people, as expressed through those democratic processes, was therefore heard and upheld.

All I can say is that these are hotly contested issues about which people feel passionately. However, if I may speak frankly, the place for such discussion and debate is not as part of proceedings on this Bill. We have held only one election under the Act. By all accounts it was a successful election and marked just the beginning of the road. Of course in years to come further deep discussions may take place over whether that voting system is the one we want to adopt in the long term, but it is not for today and it is not for this Bill.

The amendment attempts to question the current voting system. Whatever the arguments, they go way beyond anything that could be done here. The effect of the amendment would be to engage the Electoral Commission in a long and complex review of a system which Parliament put in place only five years ago. As noble Lords will no doubt recall, that was a difficult and trenchant examination.

The Electoral Commission has a tight job to do in time for the elections in 2004. We think it appropriate for the commission to concentrate on that task. It would not be right to impose a requirement for a review of the system before going any further.

I know how tempting it is for the noble Baroness to say that she may seek to press the matter, but on this occasion I invite her to resist.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I shall not detain the House today. We

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have tried to persuade the Government that this is an important matter. Perhaps it can be addressed on another occasion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 6:

    Page 5, line 34, at end insert—

"( ) The name of the combined region shall be the name of the existing electoral region followed by the words "and Gibraltar.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a short and largely self-explanatory amendment which has been tabled in response to a letter from a person registered as a voter in Gibraltar. The names of the electoral regions are listed in subsection (3) of new Section 1 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002. If the Electoral Commission were to so recommend, the Lord Chancellor could then decide that Gibraltar could be added to, say, the North East region for the purposes of the election, the North East being the region with the smallest number of voters per seat. That could take place, but it would not mean that Gibraltar would become a part of the north-east of England, because plainly it is not.

In order to explain what is the constituency, it would be more rational to say that the constituency is the constituency of the North East region of England and Gibraltar. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Clause 9 provides the basic building block for the enfranchisement of Gibraltar—the creation of a combined electoral region consisting of Gibraltar and one of the existing regions of England and Wales. Clause 10 goes on to enable the Lord Chancellor to make an order to create that region following a recommendation from the Electoral Commission. The amendment would provide that the name of the combined region should include "Gibraltar". We believe that such an amendment is both unnecessary and disproportionate for achieving our shared aim of enabling Gibraltarians to vote. Of course I note the enthusiasm with which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, alighted on the North East to be the chosen area, but that is something which the commission will have to consider with a great deal of care.

The creation of the combined region and the requirement under Clause 14 for there to be a register in the Gibraltar area of the region of those eligible to vote in the European parliamentary elections will ensure the franchise of the people of Gibraltar. Eligibility to vote will be defined in the same way as in the United Kingdom; that is, by reference to residence in that part of the electoral region. Furthermore, Clause 15(1) of the Bill states clearly that, among other criteria, a person is entitled to be registered in the Gibraltar register if, on the relevant date, he is resident in Gibraltar.

Adding Gibraltar to the title of the region raises an interesting issue because the average electorate in an electoral region for European Parliament elections is 3.7 million people. While it may seem preferable for

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reasons of transparency to have the name of Gibraltar in the title of the electoral region, that could equally be seen by those living in other parts of the region to be disproportionate, given the size of the electorate in Gibraltar relative to some of the other geographical areas that may be included in the combined region.

Perhaps I may give an example. The Isle of Wight has an electorate of some 104,000 people, while Gibraltar has around 20,000 voters. But the Isle of Wight does not have its name in the title of the region and I would have some sympathy with its voters if Gibraltar were to become part of the same region—the South East region—its name included in the title and thus a disproportionate amount of attention from candidates and the media attached just to the concerns of the Gibraltar part of the region. While all the electors in the combined regions will need to be aware of the component parts of the region, that can be achieved more than adequately through the normal publicity and documentation that is provided during an election campaign, without the attendant dangers of deflecting the political debate unfairly away from the needs of the region as a whole.

During the debate on a similar amendment in another place, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary acknowledged that literature distributed in Gibraltar would need to be clear on this matter. We shall be considering how best that can be achieved when the detailed implementation of the provisions contained in the Bill begins.

We should not forget that while it is our firm intention that the people of Gibraltar should be enabled to vote in the European parliamentary elections, those elections and the electoral system are for the whole of the United Kingdom. We must be seen to be enabling free and fair elections to take place on the same basis throughout all the geographical territories covered by the system. We believe that the way in which Part 2 of the Bill has been formulated achieves that for all concerned and that therefore the amendment is not appropriate.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that, in relation to the regions, it has become the practice to set out in a table in legislation which areas are included in each combined region. Thus the names of the various areas will be made clear in the table. As it does for all other regions, we think that that will suffice.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, we on these Benches have always been in favour of the small battalions and in this context Gibraltar is certainly a small, but worthy one. The difference between Gibraltar and the Isle of Wight is that the latter is part of the south-east region whereas Gibraltar is not part of any of the regions to which it might become attached for the purposes of this Bill. However, I have made the point and I do not intend to take it any further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 17 [Regulations relating to sections 14 to 16]:

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