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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We will come to that later when we come to amendments in my name. In case someone says, "That is all very well, these are just theoretical examples which the Home Secretary has brought forward", I have a real example taken from--where else?--the Belgian system. It is the Christian People's Party in the Antwerp Constituency in the 1981 general election. I shall try to explain it as succinctly as I can. If I succeed, most Members of the Committee will see that, in answering one problem, I am afraid that the Liberal Democrats have thrown up a much greater one.
The head of the CVP list was Leo Tindemans. Not surprisingly, he was very popular. He gained 79,000 personal votes. The list is quite long and the print rather small. If I stumble it is because I have trouble with the small print. Leo Tindemans gained 79,087 votes. There is a list of perhaps more than a dozen candidates for the CVP party, following the party order; and that is the important point. The next person on the list was Blanckaert. He received 3,700 votes. That is a long way behind Leo Tindemans. The next people gained 3,200, 3,000, 2,700, and 2,200. Then Demeester-De Meyer gained 4,674. He was well down the party's list, but he did quite well and beat all the people above him. Smets got 4,207; Cauwenberghs gained 4,022; and Ansoms was second in the people's preference. He gained 6,009 votes. The remainder were also-rans.
In addition to all the personal votes, there was a list vote of 56,000. With the method of quotas used in Belgium, the CVP was to have six members. A quota is worked out. It was 24,857. As I might have said all those years ago, if you have all been listening it will be
If anyone does not believe my usual description of proportional representation as fiddle voting, that seems to be a clear, real example where the system in front of the Committee is totally and absolutely unfair.
Earl Russell: The noble Lord is not the first noble Lord to have chosen an example to his own advantage. From the Belgian elections of 1979 and 1984 two candidates out of 24 were elected out of their party order. The number is small, but will the noble Lord agree it is not negligible?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not entirely sure that that argues against the point I make about the Antwerp elections. On the description I have given, two people were elected out of their party order, but another three people were elected simply because of the party order not because the people voted for them. People voted for others who were beaten. I agree with Jack Straw that this system is wrong. A compromise is proposed which is worse than the Government's original position, although I do not accept the Government's original position. We should look for a better way.
I am not surprised that the Liberal Democrats are going down this road. Much to my surprise they are not backing the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his single transferable vote. I am one of those who thinks that almost the most boring thing to be is a freak on voting systems; and, honestly, I am not. But I take a slight interest in them because I can count and realise what systems can do; so I am interested. I always believed that the Liberal Party was wedded to the single transferable vote. It is somewhat like the Creed. It is rather interesting to note that they are no longer in favour of it and have deserted it in favour of the system proposed today. However, I am not surprised. I refer to the Liberal Democrat News--there is such a thing and I own up to reading it occasionally. I was going to say that I read the Sun but that may now have come back on board. I read the Mirror and two of the major Scottish newspapers because I like to know what the enemy are thinking. The Liberal Democrat News contains a column called Lords Gallery. In the edition of 29th May
Lord Williams of Mostyn: In your Lordships' House there are many recidivists. Many noble Lords who have spoken stood, I am told, successfully for elections on a number of occasions to another place. And what did they stand on? A closed list of one. They seemed to find that perfectly politically, philosophically and morally acceptable.
Lord Howie of Troon: If the noble Lord will give way, that is truly preposterous. Those of us who stood at those elections stood under the only system that was available. We made no philosophical or any other choice. We did what we had to do. I suggest that the Minister skip that paragraph and go to the remainder of the speech.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is a short list of one. That is exactly the system that has obtained in this country for a long period of time, with the limited exceptions of university seats and those deviations which have been mentioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, asked me to take account of the strong feelings in this Chamber. He is right to do so, and I do. But that is the important point, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out. There are strong feelings. Everyone has a different view about what should be aimed at.
The objections which were put by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, are essentially those which I sought to put at Second Reading, although he has expanded them with his usual clarity. Having given the matter a good deal of thought, as Jack Straw promised to do, we believe that the Belgian system has the limitations and the adverse consequences which have been spelt out by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. In so far as one can deduce any conclusions from the NOP research--it is tentative--many people who were interviewed, as I read it, were distinctly unhappy when the consequences to which the noble Lord pointed were illustrated to them.
At the moment in Westminster elections there is no choice. One either votes for one's party candidate or one has to vote for a completely different party. We have sought to produce the best possible compromise. It is, after all, classically true--here I agree with at least the opening remarks of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington--that parties bring forward candidates. Modern elections, certainly since the end of the 19th century, have not been capable of being conducted without that party involvement.
My noble friends Lord Evans of Parkside and Lord Bruce of Donington made the point that we may be getting back to the days of communism--democratic centralism, if that is not an oxymoron. The answer there is to have appropriate internal party arrangements for choosing the candidates who go on the list. The noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, invited me to comment on whether or not he had correctly described the alternative Luxembourg system. I believe that he did. It seems to me that the systems available are the simple list system, as contained in the Bill; the semi-open Belgian system, which is what noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches contend; and the open list system, which will be contended for in the amendments in group 5.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, that many of the observations have been made perhaps inevitably on the basis of Second Reading speeches. That means that because of the groupings list we are having a detailed discussion about what the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, put forward. I understood his explanation, which was perfectly clear. That proposal is linked to the devotion of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to the single transferable vote. That has taken in a discussion of the main Opposition amendments in group 5, together with the situation that the Government have proposed in the Bill. It is difficult to respond to all the observations without trespassing into other groups, but I am afraid that I must do so in limited part.
We believe that in order for these elections to run satisfactorily the candidates will have to be brought forward by the parties. There is no difference in theory between that system and what is done at present. There is always the opportunity for independents to stand. If someone feels that he cannot vote for a party list because of an objection to a particular candidate or candidates which cannot be overcome he has the choice of abstention or of voting for another party list. That is no different to the present situation in principle.
I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Shore, in his comments about spurious favouritism if a party deliberately wishes to have a fair representation of women or of those from ethnic minorities. I part company with him there because I believe that prejudice and disability against women and ethnic minorities in public life in this country are endemic. Within certain parameters and in some circumstances it is reasonable to try to put right that illegitimate balance.
The last Bourbon king unwisely boasted that he had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. I entirely understand that the position which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, holds to is the one that he has always held to; namely, that he wants first-past-the-post for all elections, including the Welsh assembly and the Scottish parliament.
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