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The problem with these assurances, which I absolutely accept are genuinely meant, is this. Being a Presbyterian, I understand the existence of sin and temptation; and at some stage in the future the temptation is there. It is also actually there on another method of fiddling and that is that a minority party-- a party which perhaps cannot achieve any first-past-the-past gains--stands only on the second ballot paper. The voters of the party with the overwhelming vote--let us say the Labour Party, in the case of the Euro-constituency of North West Wales--advises its members as follows: "You will be wasting your vote if you vote for us in the second ballot because frankly we have got so many on the first-past-the-post ballot that we are not going to get any top-ups. We suggest you go and vote for that minority party and they will achieve something on the AM system, and of course they will be our partners if we need partners when it comes to forming the assembly government."
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I did, but I feel that I have already annoyed the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, sufficiently for one day and should therefore resist any temptation to say that the Liberal Democrats would consider any such deals. Indeed, although I am not allowed to quote, one of their Welsh Members in, I think, the Committee stage in the other place, indicated that the Liberal Democratic Party would not wish to abuse the system either. Mr. Livsey indicated that the Liberal Democrats would not wish to abuse the system.
However, the problem is still there. The two-vote system is open to serious abuse. I cannot quote a Welsh example, but I know it is seriously being talked about in Scotland and I suspect that if it starts in Scotland the contagion may spread to Wales. I would hate to see that happen. I would be tempted to stop it in the Scottish Bill as well. There are a variety of ways in which one could stop it. Indeed, my honourable and right honourable friends in the other place mentioned some. One is to link the first ballot to the second ballot so that if you do not stand in the first ballot you cannot stand in the second. That is a possible way out of the dilemma. But the simplest solution is to have one vote only so you only vote once, which is first-past-the-post. If your man or woman wins, their votes are then added up and become the basis of the additional member system. Any sleight of hand or fiddle is not possible because people have only one vote, exercised on the first-past-the-post system.
This is a genuinely serious problem. I accept that most political parties would not use these tactics but the very fact that they have been thought about in one particular constituency means that, particularly in Scotland where Labour would win all the first-past-the-post seats but would not, if my recollection is correct, win any later--as in North-West Wales where the Labour Party would win six first-past-the-post votes but would not get any of the additional four--there is (dare I say?) too great a temptation put before politicians. I beg to move.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: It seems to me that what the noble Lord overlooks is that voters are not stupid, and since the whole basic premise of our democratic arrangements is that one trusts voters to have at least a grain of common sense--though not as much as anyone in your Lordships' House, of course--one begins on rather an unhappy basis. The noble Lord earlier was quite lyrical in his support of the first-past-the-post system--how it was stable and accountable--and as I was listening to him with care the year of 1951 floated into my mind. If I remember rightly, Labour then had the majority of votes in the United Kingdom but ended up with a minority of seats.
There is no electoral system presently known or capable of being devised by the human mind which is going to be perfect. Of course there is the potential for collusion. Some call it collusion and some tactical voting. I believe the Conservative Party has had knowledge of that in recent times following the re-held election where an original deficit of two turned into a Labour majority of well over 20,000. People do vote tactically. I beg your Lordships' pardon; I meant Liberal Democrat. Before the noble Lord says that there is a significant difference, I must make that clear.
This is a solution worked out by the fertile mind of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. I shall not speculate on the nature of the fertiliser which produced the fertility but his proposals, I am bound to say, would bring about something which is really a further distortion. What he suggests I understand, is that voters are allowed one vote only for the constituency candidate. Then the votes for that candidate in each electoral region are aggregated to constitute a party list vote for that region. So a vote for a party candidate in a constituency is automatically going to be a vote for the same party list in the electoral region. There would be no option to vote for the party list. The composition of the list would have to be taken into consideration when making the constituency selection.
I believe that to be wrong. If we go back to the point, which was well raised and well dealt with by my noble and learned friend the Solicitor-General, and also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that one wants a constituency connection, why should that constituency connection be distorted by the fact that you would only have the one vote, and if you vote for your constituency member your vote is aggregated in the way that I mentioned? It means that the four additional members are reduced to the status of being indirectly elected. Why, in the context of Wales, if voters wish to vote for the candidate of one party in the constituency and the list of another party in the region, should they not have that choice?
There are people, I am told--though I whisper it low--who might wish to vote Labour on the party list but who might want to vote either for a Liberal Democrat candidate in the single member constituency because they favoured that individual, or for a Plaid Cymru candidate because they favoured that individual--or because they wanted to show their belief in inclusiveness and diversity. Why should they not have that opportunity?
There is something much more important, I think. This proposal would have a serious, if not devastating, impact upon the ability of smaller parties to mount a realistic campaign. Not all small parties are by definition extremists. They have a democratic right to put themselves forward to the voters and the voters have the reciprocal right, I suggest, to the opportunity to consider whether to vote for them. For smaller parties, the main hope, life being such as we know it to be, of winning seats in the assembly may well be the party list vote in the electoral region.
Under the presently proposed scheme, in order to maximise its potential for party list seats a party would have to run candidates in every constituency in the electoral region. That is a daunting prospect for a small party, which would have to find suitable candidates and resources to contest between seven and nine constituencies per region. I offer this on a plate: it would have meant that the modern Labour Party could never have come into existence because in its infancy it would not have had the resources. The same would have been true of the nascent Liberal Party in the latter third of the 19th century and the same would undoubtedly have been true of Plaid Cymru because it would not have had the resource or candidates available to stand in every constituency.
Why should they be denied the opportunity to concentrate their resources to the best advantage? There might be constituencies in Wales where a single party--for instance, the Greens--had particular support and on which it wanted to concentrate. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, made a point a long time ago, as it presently seems and actually is, when we were first discussing the principle of referenda and Welsh assemblies. He stated that we ought to have a tender consideration for the interests of those who are genuinely independent. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, would mean that no independent candidate would be able to run in the electoral region, and we believe that to be wrong.
There is the possibility for collusion. My honourable friend Mr. Win Griffiths gave the undertaking on behalf of the Labour Party that we would not in any circumstance attempt to deceive the electorate by entering into any collusion. The Liberal Democrats have said the same and I take it as axiomatic that had the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, contributed to the debate he would have repeated his party's commitment. I do not believe that the voters are as stupid as people sometimes pretend. It would require a degree of sophisticated cynicism, and I accept that as a possible condition of the political scene, but it would require a good deal of organisation. Most people are
What will happen if there is collusion? The other political parties would rightly expose it. Undoubtedly, the media would be on to it like a dog on to a rat. In the end, that would do no good at all to the party which was trying to manipulate. I did not have my pencil to hand and therefore was unable to follow the noble Lord's subtle mathematical calculations concerning what might or might not have happened in certain elections in the northern part of Wales. He may well be right. However, if one acts on the basis that one is trusting the Welsh people to run their own affairs in an assembly for Wales, one might as well trust them to recognise what they would plainly regard as deceit being practised upon them.
The serious consequences which would inure from what the noble Lord said are much too gross a distortion of the right to stand and the right to vote. Although there is a point to what he said, I believe that his solutions are infinitely worse than the problems he predicates.
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