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Lord Holme of Cheltenham moved Amendment No. 7:


7Page 5, line 4, leave out ("ten") and insert ("twenty")

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 7 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 9 because they both bear on the same problem. I am sorry to come crashing in to the otherwise unbroken sequence of

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amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. I shall try to be brief and return to his sequence as soon as possible.

The object of the amendment is very simple. At present, the Bill requires the regional list to contain between two and 10 names with at least two not on a constituency list. Of course, this creates problems for those parties, the larger parties on that long and improbable list which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, read out at Second Reading. It creates problems for the larger parties who hope to gain significant constituency representation, especially, if I may say so, those parties which have democratic procedures for selecting their candidates. Here, I want to draw particular attention to the plight of the Alliance Party, which, I am sure the noble Baroness will agree, has played a notable role so far and will do so in the future, because all the five largest parties will hope to obtain 10 or more constituency delegates. How then are they to determine which to include on the regional list but not on the constituency list? The two overlap. All the parties will want to field their best candidates in a constituency in order to maximise their vote. I fear there is a danger of two second-rate candidates on the regional list, which is not what any of us want.

These amendments taken together allow the nominated representative--which, of course, we all know, means the party leader, as recognised by the Secretary of State--to put forward a larger but still restricted list of names at nomination time and then to decide which to appoint after seeing who is directly elected.

This is not in any way meant--and I am sure the noble Baroness will appreciate this--to be a partisan amendment. I know it is a point, if not the amendment, on which there is some sympathy in the Northern Ireland office. I do hope she will able to respond to it in that spirit. I beg to move.

Lord Monson: I have no comments to make about Amendment No. 7 but I should just like to say something about Amendment No. 9.

On the face of it, it would seem to give too much power to the party bosses at the expense of the freedom of choice of the individual voter. I fully concede that I am absolutely no expert on PR but, as I understand it, one of the advantages of the list system is that the voter can pick and choose between individuals, and, if you are a Conservative, you can opt for a Eurosceptic or a Euroenthusiast candidate if you feel so inclined. If you are a Liberal Democrat, you can choose between Liberal Democrat candidates and so on and so forth. If Amendment No. 9 were to be accepted that choice could not be exercised.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: I would, first of all, endorse the noble Lord, Lord Holme's, view that the Alliance Party has played a very significant role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, and I am sure will continue to do so.

I have some nervousness in accepting his view that there might not be sufficiently talented and good people in the party for it to be able to nominate names not

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on the election list. I believe that there are times and opportunities when people who would not wish to participate in elections but have value to bring to the process would come forward.

I am not sure how leaving out 10 and adding a possible further 10 names to a regional list works on this matter. We have to ensure that all material is displayed at the polling station. I know that this has been looked at carefully on previous occasions and I understand in part the reasons for which it is advocated. But we do believe that the matters are well aired. I hope the noble Lord will accept that assurance and feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Monson, for his intervention. If he will bear with me, the next amendment speaks very precisely to his anxiety to create the maximum voter choice. I thank the noble Baroness for her assurances and for her kind words about the Alliance Party. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham moved Amendment No. 8:

8 Page 5, line 10, leave out from ("cast") to end of line 43 and insert ("preferentially among the candidates named on the party list to produce five delegates per constituency.

(2) Counting shall be conducted by the single transferable vote system to produce five delegates for each constituency.")

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to use the single transferable vote instead of the list system in the 18 five-member constituencies that have been drawn up in the schedule to the Bill. I think the affection of these Benches for the single transferable vote system is so widely known that I need not embarrass the Committee by rehearsing it all over again.

I should like to give three very straightforward reasons why this would have been a very much better system for the Government to have chosen. The first is, as was said earlier in the Second Reading debate, that the single transferable vote system is now the normative system for voting in Northern Ireland. It is only Westminster elections that are not conducted by the single transferable vote. Local elections, European elections are conducted in this way and, when there was the assembly, that was the way in which the elections were conducted. It is extremely familiar to the people of Northern Ireland. They can see the connection between their vote preferentially cast and the outcome. It gives a greater degree of ownership and participation. I think the onus is on the Government to show why they want to deviate from that well-established and practical norm.

Secondly, at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, talked about a highest common factor choice of electoral system. I wonder whether we have not ended up with a lowest common denominator system rather than an HCF, because, as I understand it, the mere fact that Northern Ireland has been divided into

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18 five-member constituencies for the basic election is because it was originally intended to have the single transferable vote. Five members is the right number for an STV system, whereas a list system can have a very much larger constituency.

I think I am right in saying that it was relatively late in the process, as part of the horse-trading between the parties, that the decision was made to abandon the normal STV system for this list system. The reason it was abandoned was because it was thought that it would be more favoured by the SDLP. I personally find that extremely curious, because the electoral system of the Republic of Ireland, to which the SDLP is anxious, with all possible speed, to affiliate itself, is STV and, for the life of me, I cannot understand why the SDLP, which wants to be part of the Irish Republic, where for many years people have voted by STV, would be the party that did not want to have STV for these elections. And, in the event, of course, the production of this compromise electoral system, which has been fairly generally condemned, did not meet with any enthusiasm from the SDLP.

Much as I admire what the Government have done in terms of persistence, I defy the noble Baroness to tell me that the reason the SDLP has now decided to join in the elections is that it got its favourite electoral system, so in fact the Government, if they had stuck to their guns, could have had STV all along.

The third reason why it would have been better--I put it in the past tense because we all know the Government are not going to change now--to have STV is the very reason so eloquently given by the noble Lords, Lord McConnell and Lord Fitt, at Second Reading.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, put it extremely well. STV allows the voters to take control--a point the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has just made. The voters can look down the list within the constituency and say, "That person is an obdurate, obstinate hawk who is never going to contribute to the peace process, and therefore I do not choose to vote for such a person. I choose to vote for a member of the same party who is actually going to move the peace process forward". You get the connection between the voting and the movement forward of the peace process. As it is, it is a donkey vote. You have to vote for the party and the party itself is more likely to be guided by like-minded people than it is to put forward a balanced ticket of hawks and doves in order to give the electorate a choice. I say with all respect to the noble Baroness that the Government have missed an opportunity to ensure greater levels of voter participation and a greater push forward for the peace process. I beg to move.

Lord McConnell: I support the amendment. I do not intend to go into detail, but it is much more satisfactory

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to vote for people and not just for lists. It is a much more human thing to do. Therefore, I have pleasure in supporting the amendment.

Viscount Brookeborough: I would favour this system more as it is much more voter-friendly. The voter himself or herself feels that he or she will achieve something.

Lord Monkswell: I rise to suggest a different interpretation of what might happen from that given by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham. The individuals selected might be the strongest hawks and be elected on a ticket of, "I shall defend your particular community". The risk of that is that one might end up with negotiating teams that would be completely intransigent. The only advantage of having the party elected rather than electing individuals is that it enables the parties to be flexible after the election. We recognise from our knowledge of history in Northern Ireland that individuals tend to be very inflexible when it comes to negotiations. However, if the negotiating body is the party rather than the individual, it is possible for some flexibility to come into the situation.


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