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Mr. Donald Anderson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clappison: No.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East said that he was not a very good Whip, but many others who have heard these debates could come to a different conclusion.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) made the point, with which I am inclined to agree, that a safe seat is only safe until one loses it. Many Conservative Members do not intend to come near that experience, but he hardly gave a ringing endorsement of the closed-list system.

I believe that this was the first occasion on which the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) had spoken in one of these debates. I do not know how many of them he has attended. In any event, he came out in favour of a closed list. He was worried about the confusion that he believed voters would experience as a result of seeing all those names on the ballot paper--a worry echoed by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present for earlier proceedings, but I seem to recollect that, early in the Committee stage, we were told that the Government intended the names of all candidates to appear on the ballot paper in any event. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is making comments from a sedentary position. I venture to ask him what will be the feelings of the voters when they look at the ballot paper before casting their votes. Will they be unable to decide who to vote for, or--if there is a closed list--will they feel angry about the fact that the names are there but they are unable to express an individual preference? I think that many voters will want to do that.

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The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) supports the concept of an open list. We finally dragged that out of him the other evening. He was prepared to pick holes in each of the systems involved, but, as an aficionado of electoral reform, he will know that there are eight systems of open-list voting in the European Union. The Government have been willing to pick holes in each and every one of them, and to support the closed-list system that the hon. Gentleman does not support. That is the answer to the questions put by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: In the hon. Gentleman's constituency, will electors be faced with a ballot paper containing between 30 and 40 names, and have to tick the names of those they support?

Mr. Clappison: The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. The names will appear on the ballot paper under the Government's proposal. Electors may feel angry about the fact that they cannot express an individual preference. The hon. Gentleman ought to wonder about what is happening in the other eight countries of the European Union, where this does not seem to have constituted an insurmountable problem. Eight countries have been able to operate an open-list system.

We have heard some very good speeches from Conservative Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) has been an assiduous attender of these debates, and has constantly warned of the danger of centralised control. Another excellent speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), who, as he pointed out, has been another assiduous attender. He rightly drew attention to the danger of dictatorial Government control.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), in a short but excellent speech, spoke up for the rights of the individual. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) made a colourful and passionate speech, in which he set out his principled view, and stood up for the rights of his constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) drew attention, quite fairly, to the wide support for the open-list system, which extends as far as the Epping Forest Popular Front.

In the Home Secretary's speech--and at Prime Minister's Question Time today, from the Liberal Democrats and, I think, from the Prime Minister at one point--we heard a suggestion that this was all being got up by the Opposition. On Radio 4's "Today" programme this morning, I heard the Home Secretary use the words "manufactured" and "synthetic" about our position. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Workington is heckling from a sedentary position. I do not know whether he was present for the Second Reading debate nearly a year ago, and it is against my better judgment to refer to what was said in the past, but we drew attention then to the defects of the closed list. We pressed the Home Secretary, and made abundantly clear our opposition to closed lists in principle.

6.45 pm

The strange thing is that the Home Secretary said then that he was prepared to listen to the arguments. He summed up the arguments on both sides. He expressed

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a preference for a closed list, but he said that there were arguments on both sides. He said of the possible alternative--which he later rejected--


    "As with any other system, there are arguments both ways. The modification of what we propose in the Bill would provide some direct voter preference and may assuage the concerns even of the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham."--[Official Report, 25 November 1998; Vol. 301, c.814.]

Why, we ask now, are the Government so keen to nail their colours to the mast of the closed list? They said then that they at least had an open mind, and were prepared to listen to representations. As we know, no representations were forthcoming in favour of the closed list. If the Home Secretary had wanted to adopt the Belgian list system, at least he would have been able to make the Liberal Democrats feel happy. The Liberal Democrats have been in favour of an open list, but have not been prepared to vote for it.

Mr. Allan: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clappison: No. Time is short. I know what the hon. Gentleman wants to say, and I have already responded to his point. He should read the report of our last debate. That is another advantage of debating this matter on so many occasions.

We maintained our opposition to the closed-list system throughout the Committee, and on Report. In Committee, we said--commenting on what the Home Secretary had said--that we thought the situation remained


That continues to be our position, which we have maintained throughout our proceedings. We are against the closed list, and maintain a principled opposition to it. There is nothing manufactured or synthetic about our views.

What I suggest is manufactured and synthetic is the rage that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have sought to whip up about hereditary peers. Who can blame hereditary peers, or any other peers, for taking the view they took? Cross Benchers have always voted against the closed list by an overwhelming majority, and many other groups and individuals have made representations against it, including the Electoral Reform Society and Charter 88.

This is a rotten system. We agree strongly with the views expressed by Lord Shore of Stepney, who clarified the issue when he said:


That is the issue that remains at the end of all these debates: the right of an individual voter to make a choice, and the opportunity for an MEP to make his case before his constituents and win the support of his electors, whether they are in a constituency or a region. It is about

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the opportunity for an MEP to represent the interests of his constituency, or his region, rather than the diktat of central party control.

We think that the system imposed by the Government is riddled with opportunities for cronyism and centralised party control. It is the system that is the most favourable to the bosses in the larger parties in any country in Europe. The Prime Minister has said that other countries in Europe use a closed list. That is true: some use it, but on a national rather than a regional system. The system that the Government are inflicting on us is more centralised and more party-controlled than any other system in Europe. It is bad for voters, bad for individual MEPs and bad for democracy in this country. We have said that we will not support it, and we maintain that position. There is a principle at stake, and we will adhere to it.

Mr. George Howarth: We are now debating Lords amendments to the Bill for the fifth time. I believe that the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) has taken part in four of the debates. I must tell him that my affection for him grows in inverse proportion to my comprehension of what he can possibly be talking about.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield(Sir N. Fowler) and his colleagues maintain the pretence that the other place is simply carrying out its proper function as a revising Chamber. Those who continue to advance that argument are either naive--and I venture to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is not--or disingenuous. The continuing obstruction of the Bill--as Lord Williams of Mostyn made clear yesterday, as did Lord Callaghan: I was at the Bar of the House of Lords, and heard his speech--has gone beyond any legitimate function for a second Chamber. Let us make no mistake: the Lords are now involved in a highly party political game, although I suspect that many of them only dimly perceive it.

Conservative Members--most prominently, both today and in previous debates, the hon. Members for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) and for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed)--would like to create the impression that Labour Members have been dragooned into supporting the Government on the issue. Any Government--the current Government no less than any of our recent predecessors--will defend legislation by using the whipping system, especially when, as in this case, they are delivering a manifesto promise. I make no apology for that.

Conservative Members like to present themselves as a happy band of amiable idealists, motivated simply by sincere constitutional concern. However, they have defended to the last ditch--or perhaps to the next-to-last ditch--the principle of a voting system that could allow the election of a candidate receiving fewer votes than those attracted by the most popular candidate.

In a speech to the House, on 3 March 1845, Disraeli said:


Now, 150 years later, we know that a Conservative Opposition also can be an organised hypocrisy.

Opposition Front Benchers simply will not admit that many of their own Back Benchers, in both the House and another place, concede privately not only that they are unhappy about events but that they are afraid to voice

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those concerns--[Laughter.] Conservative Members laugh. Several Conservative Members have conceded privately to me, and to others, that they are afraid of letting the Euro-sceptic genie out of the bottle. That is what they are afraid of.

We are witnessing an organised hypocrisy in sharp focus, combining the forces of the unelected and the unelectable, who are pitting themselves against the House of Commons and the Government, to try to defeat nothing more than a sensible piece of democratic modernisation.

Today, for the fifth time, the House will by an overwhelming majority reject the Lords amendments. I ask the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield(Sir N. Fowler) and other Conservative Members by what right they and the hereditary peers in the other place combine to defy--


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