|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Howie of Troon: I wish to make just two points--briefly, I hope. The first relates to the question of multi-member constituencies, which has been mentioned more than once. In drawing attention to that matter again, I hope to remind older Members of the Committee, of whom there are quite a number, that we have had experience in this country of multi-member constituencies. Until 1950 there were quite a number. Blackburn, for instance, had two Members, and there were many others. Therefore, having such constituencies is not an innovation. Furthermore, I recall that in the 1950s there was a seat called the Scottish Universities. It had three Members. I hesitate to say this, but they were elected by the single transferable vote system, so that would not be an innovation either. Multi-member constituencies were abandoned in 1950 for what were thought to be good reasons, but I never found those reasons quite as good as others seemed to.
Reference has been made to the size of the region with which the MEPs would be required to deal. It is hard to say which geographical constituency was served by the Members for the Scottish Universities, who represented all the graduates of the Scottish universities who were entitled to vote in the United Kingdom. Therefore, in a sense, their region was the whole of Scotland and a substantial part of the rest of the United Kingdom. It was an ethereal constituency, but the Members' remit covered the whole country. They did not represent individual geographical areas, so the notion that people have to be tied tightly to a finite area seems questionable.
I turn to the only other matter with which I wish to deal. I refer to the business of the closed list, which I find quite deplorable. Indeed, I find the whole idea of list systems deplorable, but not quite as deplorable as the closed list system and for that reason I am attracted to the admitted compromise proposed from the Liberal Democrat Benches. It is far from perfect and I would much prefer the STV system, such as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggests and which existed in the university seats. Indeed, that is the system in Ireland, as other noble Lords have said.
The weakness of a list system, whether closed or open, is the power which it hands to the central party. I have been a member of my party for a very long time and I have supported it sometimes wholeheartedly, sometimes less wholeheartedly, and sometimes not at all. However, I now feel it my duty as a member of my party to try to educate it towards better things.
I shall confine my remarks to the Labour Party. I had an experience some years ago which indicates the nature of the relationship between the local party and Transport House, as it then was. Thirty or so years ago, I was invited--I was actually invited, which may surprise some Members of the Committee--by Transport House to enter a selection contest in which another candidate was needed to make up the numbers. I was a bit reluctant because I had parliamentary ambitions at the time. I said, "I'm not too sure about this", and the Labour Party said, "You'll be all right. Everybody will know that you are the Transport House nominee and nobody will vote for you. You can then pursue your parliamentary ambitions elsewhere." Such was the relationship between the local party and Transport House that not only was I selected as the prospective candidate, but I won the ensuing by-election to the surprise of a very great many and the delight of a very small number--
I should like to comment on that distance--I shall not call it "distrust"--between the local party and Transport House, as it then was, or Millbank Tower, as presumably it is now. I am not too sure about that because I am not too close to it. Indeed, being on the shelf I do not know about such things. I suppose that I am "middle-aged Labour"--
My point is that the gap between the local party and the party management was wide enough in the days of Transport House. But how infinitely much wider would it now be? How democratic is it to yield that substantial power to what my noble friend Lord Evans called "11 or so people"? I find that an extraordinary suggestion.
When we were in opposition, my party rightly condemned the Conservative Government of those miserable 18 years for their centralising propensities. They centralised everything they could get their hands on, yet here is my decentralising party virtually centralising the choice of MEPs into the hands of a tiny coterie. There are too many of them to be a cabal, so they must be a coterie or whatever is the collective term for a group of 11.
I am very much minded to support the amendment despite its shortcomings. It is a compromise. I am much more attracted to the STV solution because at one time in my life I had an Irish step-grandfather--if you can have such a thing--and I have a very strong feeling that if STV is good enough for the Irish, it is at least good enough for me.
Lord Howie of Troon: The noble Lord is a friend of mine, but for the life of me I cannot see how that intervention arose from anything I said. I know perfectly well that the electors voted for individuals--and rightly so. The noble Lord may have noticed that I do not actually approve of party lists.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I have been very impressed by the speeches of my noble friends who have put the objections to the closed list extremely well. I hope that the Government will listen to their voices. I hope that we shall not be told that, because the European Parliament does not raise taxation and is not responsible for raising taxation, it is not necessary for there to be a direct link between the elector and the elected. I do not believe that that is so. Even if the European Parliament does not raise taxation, it spends taxation and it has increasing powers over expenditure. That point is important to taxpayers.
As far as I am concerned, the first-past-the-post system is a perfectly respectable system. Indeed, there is absolutely no reason why it should not be continued. The British people are used to voting by that system. They know how to handle it. I cannot see any reason for the alteration. The Government will say that they have agreed with other countries in Europe that there should be a standard system. But we are told that in Europe things are changing. There is a new era of support for subsidiarity. Even Herr Kohl now supports subsidiarity. There is also greater recognition of the role of the nation state--a fact which was borne out in Cardiff. We should not necessarily move towards a standard electoral system for the European Parliament but continue to have a mix of systems that electorates can understand.
However, I suppose that it would be unrealistic to move an amendment in order to reinstate the first-past-the-post system. If we are to have PR the system adopted by the Government in the Bill must be the worst possible system. It hands great power to party hierarchies. As my noble friend Lord Evans of Parkside said, in the long run it will make great difficulties for political parties and alienate the electorate from voting rather than persuade them to go out and vote. I hope that by one means or other the Committee can agree a system, whatever it may be. I am attracted to various systems, like other noble Lords. I should like to hear the arguments and preferences for one or other system. It is the duty of this House to put the Government right and ensure that anything that goes forward from here does not alienate the electorate from the individual voting procedure and that there is a link between the electors and the elected. I believe that it is legitimate for us to do that. I hope that that can be achieved with all-party support. It would be excellent if my noble friend on the
Lord Hardy of Wath: I had not intended to speak, but I believe that the point that has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, should be borne in mind throughout this debate. I reside in South Yorkshire which recently had a European by-election. The turn-out was appalling. I am prepared to support the Government in this matter, not least because we are dealing here with the European Parliament and not British parliamentary constituencies. To an extent one can argue that Europe will develop as an organisation of the regions rather than individual constituencies. If that is the case the regional dimension is important.
My concern is that if the new arrangement is greeted by a great yawn and an appallingly low turn-out the problem identified by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will command continuing attention. Some years ago following a general election I came to Westminster to take my seat. As I walked towards St. Stephen's entrance there appeared to be a demonstration, although not quite as colourful as those organised by Mrs. Pankhurst in support of the suffragettes.
As I entered the building someone said, "Good afternoon, Mr. Hardy". The gentleman had been the Liberal candidate in a neighbouring constituency. I asked him what he was doing there. He replied that if there had been a proper system of proportional representation he would be taking his seat that day. I said that he might have had about 30 per cent. of the vote but I took it that the Liberal candidate in my constituency was not seeking to chain himself to the railings. He replied, "Oh, yes". I said that I had received about 60 per cent. of the vote, the Tory candidate had received 22 per cent. and the Liberal had managed 15 per cent. I asked what system of proportional representation would stop me taking my seat and enable that gentleman to be elected as the member for my constituency. He began to give me an extremely complicated explanation of the theory of proportionality. I could not understand it. Therefore, if we make the system too complicated and introduce procedures that the ordinary person cannot understand the fears expressed today by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will be a great deal more acute in future.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page