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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that no electoral system is perfect. He carries approbation with that. Some are worse than others, and in my respectful opinion the party list is the worst of all. The party managers already have far too much power. We read of manoeuvres to stop X or Y becoming mayor of London. No one who has had anything to do with politics can fail to be aware of the omnipresent and far too powerful influence of party managers. The party list system gives them extra power. They can compile their own list of favourites and keep off those whom they do not favour.
That shows that we are rushing into the situation without any proper consideration of what is the best system of proportional representation, if we are to have one at all. The fault is not purely that of the Government, although our present situation is of their manufacture; it is also partly the fault of their predecessors. In Session after Session last Parliament, in debates on the Queen's Speech there were pleas for a Royal Commission on the constitution. It could then consider a number of interrelated questions which we are now trying to deal with separately; for instance, a referendum, an electoral system and second Chamber reform. There are many issues. The plea was made repeatedly, but one Government Minister after another came to the Dispatch Box and stated, in effect, that everything in the constitutional garden was lovely and that there was no need for an inquiry. Therefore, if the Opposition are now uncomfortable their leaders are not entirely blameless.
That does not by any means excuse the Government in rushing us into a system which is subject to grave disadvantages. A Royal Commission is one thing, but a two-party committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, is quite another. I have been a colleague of the noble Lord in one place or another for many years and I have high respect for him. I should
Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was right when he spoke on the referendum Bill that if we had no Royal Commission behind us the first thing to consider was where a referendum was appropriate and what type of referendum there should be; should it be pre-legislative, post-legislative, ask a number of questions or a single question? What was not suggested was the fudge in which two questions should be put together, outrageously so in the elections for a London mayor, as the Liberal Democrats pointed out. If a mayor of London necessarily involved having a corporation of London and vice versa only one question was justified. But no one claimed that and so we had the familiar fudge. We are now faced with the question of what type of proportional representation we shall have. A system which surrenders yet more power to the party managers is unacceptable.
I make one general comment. In the debate on an earlier amendment, I ventured to point out that the Bill has no political legitimacy. Perhaps I should modify that. Its sole political legitimacy is that in general, all parties wish it well. But that really demands a very different attitude from the Government; namely, one in which they are prepared to take your Lordships as a council of state and to show some reasonable flexibility. We have had no flexibility at all today.
I remember many years ago being concerned with the late Lord Runcorn on a licensing Bill in another place. He genuinely treated the committee as a co-operative body. He retained sufficient authority and was trusted to prevent the Bill becoming out of shape. But otherwise, he was prepared to consider amendments on their merits. Today, all that we have had has been negative. As the Committee will know, every one of the Minister's briefs end either with "accept", "reject" or "consider". The noble Lord, Lord Williams, is in charge of this Bill. It is entirely up to him what should be the response. In the circumstances, it should be at the very least "consider". It should certainly not be what we have had so far--"reject, reject, reject".
As regards this amendment, it seems to me from the Cross-Benches that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, made a formidable case and I really believe that the Minister should be prepared to consider it on its merits.
Viscount St. Davids: The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, very kindly referred to the question which I raised when we debated the White Paper for Wales as regards independents. Is there to be any mechanism whereby independents will be able to appear on the additional member list?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not sure whether my noble friend's question was directed at the Minister or myself. As I mentioned right at the beginning of the debate, Amendment No. 17 and subsequent amendments should have been grouped
As presently constituted, there could be independents on the second list. However, I should be totally and utterly amazed if any independent ever gains enough votes in those large constituencies in order to achieve the breakthrough in an additional member system to reach the fourth position in Wales or the seventh position in Scotland.
I am grateful for the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, whose approval of devolution is well known--he has voiced it on a number of occasions. I hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, might show a slight glimmer that he understood the problem that I was posing. Certainly his honourable friend in the other place understood that. The problem is real. My solution may not be the best one and it may be open to more debits than credits, but the problem is real; it exists.
I did not suggest for one moment that voters are stupid. Indeed, the whole case I made was that the voters are intelligent and will see how to manipulate the system. If we take the North Wales Euro-constituency at the last election, every Labour voter would see the situation perfectly clearly. The Labour Party won six out of the eight seats on first-past-the-post. It was a waste of their time voting for the Labour Party in the second ballot. Therefore, they would see very clearly that the sensible and intelligent option for them was to vote for the Welsh Co-operative Party in order to make sure that their party, in combination with the Welsh Co-operative Party, would have the overwhelming majority of seats in the Welsh assembly. Far from thinking that the electorate could be duped by this, I believe that many voters would see that that was the only way to prevent their vote being totally and utterly wasted.
I deal now with squeezing out small parties. I know that I trotted out figures. I was conscious of the fact that it is not always easy to remember all the figures and the relationship between them. However, in north-west Wales at the last election, if a method were found to stop fiddling along the lines I suggested, then the Liberal Democrat Party--in that case, it could reasonably be described as a small party--and the Conservatives Party would gain one seat and three seats respectively. However, if the fiddle I fear were to happen did happen, the smaller of the two parties would be squeezed out entirely. The Liberal Democrats would not win any seats and the Conservatives would win only one because the co-operative party would win three of them. Therefore, far from my method squeezing out small parties, if that manipulation were carried out--and I concede that it is a big "if"--the small parties would be squeezed out. The whole point is that the big player would not only win seats on the first-past-the-post system, but would also, in his alter ego, gain seats through the additional member system.
The Minister did not convince me at all that my problem is not a real one. Indeed, it does happen in Germany. People do understand that entirely. If you are a Christian Democrat and you want your party to run
I am sorry that the noble Lord has not given an indication that he appreciates the point I was making. I understand that my amendment would remove the cross-voting which people see as a merit in the additional member system. I do not see that, but I understand the argument in favour of cross-voting being available in the additional member system.
However, the Government should see whether they can arrive at a better answer than that which I have managed to achieve today. They must try to defeat that sort of fiddle happening in the future. I shall read with great care what the Minister said, although, in all honesty, it will not take me very long. I shall also turn my mind to other methods of achieving the same result; namely, to stop serious fiddling of which we have already been given notice by a Labour Member of the other place. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.