|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Your Lordships will recall that Jenkins proposed a system called AV+. That would constitute substituting AV for first past the post in single-member constituencies and creating additional members to make the system as a whole more proportional. So there were two legs to Jenkins: the AV leg and the plus leg. I supported, and still support, both, but I make no secret of the fact that I thought that the AV leg was decidedly the more shapely of the two on which Jenkins stood. Indeed, with my noble friend Lady Gould, I worked hard to design a plus that fell well short of the exact proportionality demanded by electoral reform fanatics. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me today, that proportionality of representation cuts across another equally valid concept: proportionality of power. We have seen tremendous evidence of this in this coalition agreement because to my mind the Lib Dems have got tremendous value for just 23 per cent of the votes in the general election.
First past the post in single-member constituencies will no longer do because the electoral facts that supported it no longer exist. In 1951, when the two big parties commanded 98 per cent of the vote in the country, it was a pretty fair approximation to MPs getting a majority in their constituencies. Nearly all of them did. However, in 2010, the two main parties polled only two-thirds of the national vote and the winning candidate had a majority of their electorate in under one-third of the seats. In 68 per cent of seats, they lacked that majority. By any standards, and leaving aside all the other arguments for electoral reform, that is a defective mandate for them to carry forward.
AV is not systemically more proportional than first past the post. It is not meant to be and it would not necessarily be more desirable if it were. AV does not, on the imperfect simulations that have been performed, make that much difference to the national overall election result. Nor, incidentally-and contrary to what Peter Lilley said in the debate in another place-does it greatly increase the chances of a hung Parliament; it marginally increases them. But that is not its purpose, either. Its purpose is as simple as it is right: to ensure that every MP has the support of more than half of his or her constituents. It needs no greater justification than that.
I am glad that the Government are proceeding towards an AV referendum, as would a Labour Government if they had won the election. Of course, the Lib Dems would like a more proportional system-they would like AV+, as I would, or STV-but it would be dangerous to move there in one leap.
With the proposal in the Queen's Speech, we have jumped the first fence on the electoral reform course, but I remind the House that we have jumped it not for the first time. The Labour Government in 1997 also promised a referendum on voting reform: Jenkins was to pave the way for that. It never happened, for it fell at the second fence-I am sorry about the steeplechase analogies, but I cannot help myself-of getting parliamentary approval. The third fence-the approval of the electorate, which might also have been tricky-was never faced.
The second fence will be hard to jump this time round, too. The fact is-it is no good beating about the bush on this-that a majority of MPs from the
27 May 2010 : Column 223
The situation has been made trickier by the coalition's decision to link the referendum on AV with the referendum to cut the size of the Commons and make constituencies more equal in size. I will not express a view on that proposal, but I have a clear view on the realpolitik of including it. The proposal to shrink the House of Commons is a threat to every single Member-not just the 65 who will lose their seats because there are fewer MPs, but the other 585 whose seats will be subject to redrawing by the Boundary Commission. Not one Member of the House of Commons can be absolutely confident, first, that their seat will survive; secondly, that with the redrawn boundaries it will be won by the party that holds it now; and, thirdly, because there will have to be reselection, that they will be the candidate for the seat when the election comes. By voting for the proposal to reduce the size of the House of Commons, Members will be taking a gallant decision to put their own futures at risk. I am sure that, as men of principle, they will do so, but I will not hold my breath.
My advice to the coalition, as an electoral reformer-I am a passionate believer in AV and in electoral reform in general-is to take things steadily. Let us have the AV Bill and referendum first. I very much hope that the British people will support it, as on its merits they should. Let us then have a separate attempt to legislate for a smaller House of Commons, based on the arguments for that change. Then let us take stock and see whether we want to go further and change the electoral system more radically, or whether we have had enough change for the time being and should let things settle. As chair of Make Votes Count, I have campaigned for electoral reform ever since I sat on Jenkins. One lesson that I have learnt is that often the price of going for the whole loaf is that you end up without even the crumbs.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, sits down, I should apologise to him for muttering while he was speaking. However, he was referring to his golden age of 1951 and my muttering, which I should have aired aloud, was that in 1951 the party with fewer votes won the election.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will know, there has been a huge debate among psephologists ever since. The question is whether that was an artefact of the fact that the Conservative Party did not stand in Northern Ireland or whether it was the real mandate of the people.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I start by congratulating the newly appointed Ministers-in particular, my noble friend Lord McNally. I believe
27 May 2010 : Column 224
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way but I want to correct him. I was not suggesting that there should have been a further general election; I was saying that the claim of having some stupendous mandate by virtue of adding together the percentages of two lots of votes and saying that therefore everything should pass through without dissent because of that mandate cannot be made. That argument is destroyed by the fact that both manifestos were jettisoned in the coalition agreement.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord says, but talking of both manifestos being jettisoned is just unreal. The fact is that neither party won an overall majority and in coalition there plainly has to be compromise on both sides. It is as simple as that: in effect, we were commanded by the public. I found that on doorstep after doorstep people were saying, "I hope that there is a hung Parliament because it's about time we had parties in Parliament co-operating".
I must confess that it is with some wistfulness that I look across at the Members on the Benches opposite, because after 40 years in opposition I am not sure how it is going to feel being part of the governing party, but there we are.
I think that we still have far too many Bills-22, I believe-in the programme. It is a really deep problem for this country and our democratic process that the amount of legislation is far beyond the capacity of the culture to understand, let alone digest. Although Nick Clegg has promised a great repeal bonanza, I hope sincerely that we will think hard about the way in which we proceed in both this House and the other place.
I should like to refer to the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when speaking on the Queen's Speech. He referred to the prospect of election to this Chamber, saying that,
I believe that the only proper, democratic way in which we can measure whether there is a demand for change in the method by which this Chamber is composed is by holding a referendum. I must be honest with the House and say that it was not until having hospitality with the noble Lords, Lord Bach and Lord Bassam, an hour ago that I realised that it was part of the Labour Party's manifesto at the last election that there should indeed be a referendum to consider whether or not to elect this House wholly or mainly. I believe that that is absolutely essential-primarily because we do not own this House. We are servants of the public and
27 May 2010 : Column 225
I shall talk a little about legal aid, which is a bit of an orphan subject in this debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol referred to it and my noble friend Lord Goodhart made a passing reference to it. Let us make no bones about it, legal aid has been ignored too much. It was one of the great achievements of the Attlee Government. In a country where lawmaking is out of control and one cannot move without reference to the law, which is ever more complex and all-embracing, it is a scandal that the legal aid scheme has-I cannot say "failed"-is in extreme ill health. There are deserts of legal aid in this country and they are growing. The number of solicitors' firms willing to do legal aid declines substantially every year. I have no time to go into the specifics but I hope that the Government will do more than what is suggested in the two lines in their programme and,
not "efficiently", as they say, but more effectively. In that regard I hope that they will note the fact that the Law Society, I am pleased to say, has at last undertaken an in-depth review of what it calls access to justice. An 80-page interim report is now circulating throughout the legal profession for feedback. I hope that the Government will act soon and work with that review in the hope that there can be some consensual reforms. That leads into what has been said about prisons and many other things.
In the two minutes that I have left, I shall refer to the charity and voluntary sector. The gracious Speech states:
"The role of social enterprises, charities and co-operatives in our public services will be enhanced".
I hope that it is not just in our public services that the Government will make every effort to aid and abet the wonderful voluntary sector that we have in this country-the glory in many ways of the culture of the United Kingdom. Again I suggest that we need a bit of a change of attitude by government to the voluntary sector.
Too often, with the best intentions in the world, ministries will take initiatives, often with substantial funds, and will work not through the sector itself from the bottom up but in far too impository a way. For example, I would recommend that nothing should be done nationally without the close involvement of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which is the umbrella body of the-what is it?-third of a million charities in this country, 90 per cent of which do not have a single paid member of staff. I suggest even more strongly that nothing, but nothing, is done towards reviving and engaging citizenship, helping charity-which often gets to the parts that the state cannot reach, namely the most vulnerable and fragile in our society-other than by working with what is there. The most vital tools are the councils for voluntary service in every city and every county in this land.
27 May 2010 : Column 226
In all that, I hope that there will be bureaucratic proportionality because by God there has been overkill. I hope that there will be a degree of proper risk by the state realising that sometimes you have to chance your arm, even in government, for greater prizes and returns.
Last but by no means least, I hope that the Government will realise that for every pound that they spend-let alone every pound that they cut from the charity and voluntary sector-they are not merely denying the work that was paid for but cutting off the state and its agencies from a vast input of voluntary effort, time, compassion, knowledge and contact. Please will the Government think twice, thrice and four times before cutting a penny from the voluntary sector's budget?
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, perhaps I may ask your Lordships to put the following date in your diaries: 3 July 2012. There is a tiny thing going on at the East End of London-I think that they are opening the Olympic Games, or something-but the important event on that occasion is the 50th anniversary of my taking my seat in your Lordships' House. I had hoped that my noble friend Lord Coe would have me carry the flame up the last few hundred steps, but his office has been silent on that matter up till now.
I very much welcome and appreciate the gracious Speech which we are discussing today-the more so because it was significantly crafted by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; of course the right honourable gentleman the Deputy Prime Minister made an important contribution as well, and I welcome that. I guess that I would have liked the gracious Speech even more if it had been solely crafted by my right honourable friend, but sadly, that was not to be.
Seriously, I would like to comment on one aspect of the gracious Speech which I very much appreciated. It was the language of the Speech which, this year, was so much better than in previous years. I am never quite certain who puts the gracious Speech into the language which Her Majesty reads out. Once, I ventured to table a Question on who had crafted the language. I was told that it is entirely lese-majeste to do such a thing and to remove my Question at once, which of course I did. This year, the Speech was in much better language than previously, and I greatly welcome that.
Thinking forward about the composition of your Lordships' House and the position of hereditary Peers like myself, of course I accept that, in the fullness of time, when reform is complete by whatever means we eventually decide, hereditary Peers such as me will inevitably disappear. I am naturally sorry about that, but it is the way it is. Back in 1999, the House of Lords Act passed with the concurrence of the majority of the hereditary Peers, who went thereafter in an orderly manner, following the agreement between my then noble friend Lord Cranborne and the then Lord Chancellor.
I suppose that it is worth commenting en passant that in any other country, if the Government of the day had forced through legislation to remove two-thirds of the opposition of one House of Parliament there would probably have been tanks on the streets. Not
27 May 2010 : Column 227
Looking forward, I am not wholly opposed to the principle of a largely or partially elected House. I am not in favour of a wholly elected House because I think that there would be an important role for a number of appointed Peers within an elected House, so I adhere to the 80:20 per cent formula, which I hope will find some favour in due course. I believe that we should keep a place for, for example, the leaders of the churches. Today, we introduced the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. I have to speak carefully; I live in his diocese. I rather fear that in any formula that I may suggest, the Bishop of Guildford might not continue to find a place in your Lordships' House. However, I think that the present formula, where there are 26 bishops from the Church of England in your Lordships' House, is a bit one-sided. I would welcome an arrangement where there were leaders of all the significant faiths represented in your Lordships' House. I suppose that that would naturally mean a reduction in the number of bishops from the Church of England. Noble Lords may then ask whether that challenges the position of the established Church. I suggest that that is a matter for another day.
I also want the retired service chiefs to continue to have a place in your Lordships' House. I emphasise that they should be retired service chiefs. The serving ones, of course, serve all different Administrations with enthusiasm and equal loyalty, but when they come here as a retired Marshal of the Royal Air Force or whatever, they render a considerable service. I like, too, to see one or two retired police chiefs; I see the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his place. That is an excellent arrangement, and perhaps other senior figures in our society could come to the House.
There are disadvantages to an elected Chamber, not in principle perhaps but in practicality. I have no doubt whatever that a largely elected House would exercise the present powers of the House right up to the limit, and I have no doubt that when they got to the limit the House would argue for more powers. I can well see that our honourable and right honourable friends in another place would not much care for that, but if there were to be any increase in powers in your Lordships' House, there is only one place from which those powers could come-the other place-which would cause inevitable difficulty.
It is said that a second Chamber that was elected largely through proportional representation, as has been suggested, would create tensions between the two Houses that would be difficult to resolve. However, those difficulties are resolved quite satisfactorily in other countries such as the United States, so I do not believe that those things are insuperable. I therefore welcome and support the proposition that a significant number of Members of this House be selected by an election of one kind or another.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I wish to address two issues: first, the 55 per cent dissolution trigger; and, secondly, electoral reform, which I support.
I have spent the past week arguing with colleagues the possible merits of the 55 per cent proposal: that is, 55 per cent of the vote in a dissolution Division, not 55 per cent of the House of Commons-an issue that we may have to settle in the Division Lobbies in either the Commons or the House of Lords. That was until I saw live on BBC Parliament the speech of David Heath, which I can only describe as very interesting. He confirmed my view that a Motion of no confidence in the coalition that was carried by less than 55 per cent of the House would trigger the resignation of the Government but not the dissolution of a five-year Parliament.
Following the carrying of the no confidence Motion, attempts could be made to form an alternative coalition, and dissolution would arise only where it had proved impossible to create an alternative viable Government. In these circumstances, dissolution would, as he said to the Commons, be automatic. Therefore, I add, there would be no need to use the 55 per cent trigger. I have been arguing the possible merits of the 55 per cent trigger, but in the light of what David Heath has said I no longer believe that it is necessary. It is the combination of the attempt to create the alternative coalition within the five-year term, and the automatic dissolution if that attempt fails, that has changed the argument. I should make it clear that by alternative coalition I mean a new configuration of political parties in government.
I support electoral reform, and will set out the reasons why I support it. I find it hard to justify the election of a Government on a minority vote that is as low as 35 or 36 per cent, as happened with the previous Government. The stacking up of votes in safe seats does not serve the public interest. There is a tendency in first-past-the-post safe seats for some MPs to take life easy. Levels of service by MPs in marginal seats where results are less predictable can be far higher, and party structures in first-past-the-post safe seats are often flimsier and there is less political debate. Huge first-past-the-post majorities can dilute the incentive for MPs to reflect electoral concerns. That may suit the Whips and the Executive and make party discipline far easier, but the strong Government for which the public yearn is too often built only on Parliaments that lack adequate debate and accountability and often end up out of touch.
I now believe, after 13 years of a Labour Government, that if you want courageous and radical decision taking that addresses public anxieties you need to have far more volatility within the system and dynamic tension within political institutions, which means more marginal Parliaments. For all those reasons and others, I initiated a project 21 years ago in 1989 to invent, or so we thought, a new electoral system. From a blank piece of paper we devised and named the system of the supplementary vote, only to find years later that variations on it had previously been designed in Sri Lanka and the United States of America two centuries ago. In the UK, following evidence I gave to the Plant commission-my noble friend Lord Plant unfortunately is not with us today-the commission recommended it to the Labour Party. Since 1998, it has been used in all the mayoral elections nationally. If you look at the academic work, of which there is a lot, the supplementary vote system is often confused with the alternative vote.
The benefits of SV are too often attributed to AV, the effect of which is to obscure the defects in AV. It was seeking to avoid some of those defects which led us to design the new system of SV. The idea that under AV candidates can be elected only with at least 50 per cent of the vote is a myth. Under AV, it is perfectly possible to be elected with less than 40 per cent of the vote. It all depends on the number of additional preference votes cast. We have learnt from the mayoral elections under SV that it is often a minority of electors who cast additional preferences. Under the SV system, candidates have only a first and second preference, which is marked for simplicity with just an X. AV is far more complicated and difficult for the public to understand.
The second defect in AV is that third place candidates on the first count can win seats after the transfer of additional member preferences. They can simply leapfrog into pole position, again often with less than 40 per cent of all the votes or preferences cast during that election. I think that we will have trouble selling that to the electorate in a referendum, which worries me.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|