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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 2, line 1, leave out ("registered").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to remove the word "registered" from the Bill where it refers to registered political parties. This is a fairly small point and it is a probing amendment. It is a little odd that this Bill should depend on another Bill which we shall discuss later. I have mentioned that point on a number of occasions and I do not wish to labour it today. Can the noble Lord give us some indication when the Government think the Registration of Political Parties Bill will arrive in this Chamber, and when it will therefore receive Royal Assent? Is it the Government's intention that the Registration of Political Parties Bill will receive Royal Assent before the Welsh Bill? If it is done the other way round, that would seem to me--if I may say so in the context of a Welsh debate--a little Irish, because this Bill depends entirely on the Registration of Political Parties Bill. I hope that the noble Lord can enlighten me on that matter.

If something happened to the Registration of Political Parties Bill which is still in another place, would we be able to go ahead with the Welsh assembly, or are there powers within this Bill to bring forward a registration system by regulation? I am not certain about that. I should be grateful for the noble Lord's advice on these matters. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord has not spoken to his amendment at all, for which mercy I offer grateful thanks. Therefore, I shall not deal with what he might have said. As regards the timetable, that is a matter for the usual channels. I have no precise knowledge of the stages involved. However, I have the moral certainty that all will be in perfect order by the time the Welsh assembly elections take place.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: When the noble Lord replies in such a manner I am never sure whether he wants me to make a slightly longer speech. I do not intend to do so, but the next time I move a probing amendment and explain what it is probing rather than what the amendment may or may not seek to achieve, I might be tempted both to probe and to explain what the amendment seeks to achieve. With that warning I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 26 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 4 agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 26A:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause--

Report on alternative methods of election of MEPs

(".--(1) Within six months of the first election held under this Act, the Secretary of State shall appoint an independent

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commission to consider and report within two years on the relative merits of--
(a) the method of election of MEPs in force before this Act was passed, and
(b) the method of election of MEPs provided for by this Act.
(2) The commission's report shall be laid before Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 26A I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 26B, 26C and 27A. These amendments ask the Government to appoint an independent commission to consider and report within two years on the method of election of Members of the European Parliament which has existed in this country up until now, and the new method of election which will be introduced as a result of this Bill. However, after the discussion last night in this Chamber I am in some doubt as to whether it will be the method of election favoured by the Government, given the considerable expressions of doubt as to the wisdom of the closed Member system.

These measures contain two variations of the same theme. The reason I think we ought to reconsider the position after the European elections is the following. As the Committee knows, we have had a long tradition of first-past-the-post single Member constituencies in this country. However, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, is present and I must concede that quite a long time ago--yet still in my lifetime, although at a young stage in that life--a few constituencies in this country had two Members. However, they were not elected by any fancy electoral system but simply through inviting electors to mark two crosses. Indeed one constituency, known as the Scottish university seat, was elected by single transferable vote, presumably on the assumption that graduates from Scottish universities could understand such complicated systems. The noble Lord, Lord Howie, and I would certainly agree with that.

Essentially, for half a century we have had single-member constituencies and first-past-the-post in parliamentary elections and local government elections. Although there are some places with multiple councillors, the system for election is the one I have described which was used for the double seats that we used to have. For the European Parliament we opted for the single-member constituency and first-past-the-post.

So the provision in this Bill is novel. We are introducing very large constituencies--in fact, I shall not call them constituencies at all; a constituency has a link to one Member. We are introducing large areas where there will be a number of Members: I suspect every number from four to 10 or 11 is represented in the scope of the number of Members per area. That is a major change from our normal method. In future, Members of the European Parliament will not have a one-to-one identity with a particular geographical area or with the people who live in it.

That means that we shall lose one of the great strengths of the system that we have employed in this country over many decades. It will certainly be an enormous change. I suspect that the governing party has not even understood the nature of that change. However much the individuals who succeed for one party decide to divide up the area, I suspect it will mean Members of

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the European Parliament having to tramp about very large areas. Many of the ways in which we expect our Members of Parliament or MEPs to deal with constituencies will no longer be valid--or will be valid only in so far as the Members will be in competition with each other. Labour Members will compete with each other in the strong Labour areas, and the same will apply to Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members.

There will be a huge difficulty for individual Members. Where a party has only one person elected, I hope that that person will be prepared for what will happen. He or she will suddenly find themselves the Member for the whole constituency for members of their party. I rather fear that as a consequence the link between a Member and people who voted for other parties in the constituency will be broken. Human nature being what it is, if someone came to my surgery if I were the European MP for the whole of Scotland and told me that he or she was a strong Scottish Nationalist, I think I might invite them to take their complaint to the Scottish Nationalist Member of the European Parliament. I suspect I should find myself overwhelmed by the problems and complaints from Conservative voters for the European Parliament for the whole of Scotland.

Even if, as I believe, two or three Conservatives are elected, the net result will still be that we shall have to look after the whole of these huge areas, whether it be Scotland, the north-west, Wales or London. It will introduce a huge complication in the lives of Members and the relationship with voters. I believe constituents will be "switched off" from the whole idea by the break in the link with the constituency Member.

It always amazed me how the great majority of my constituents seemed to know very well the name of their MP when it came to writing me a letter or telephoning me. I am not vain enough, like some, to think that that was because everyone knew me intimately. It is something I discovered, as did my colleagues in the House of Commons. People who would never consider voting for us knew who we were when it came to writing us letters. Very few letters began, "Dear MP". Whether they liked us or not, most constituents named us. The relationship will be extraordinarily difficult once we make the change to the proposed large constituencies. That is the first big change that we are making.

The second is the change to a closed list--if that is indeed what the Government eventually drive through both Houses--and how that list works. Many noble Lords expressed considerable reservations in the debate yesterday as to how the closed list would work and the centralising power that it will give to the various parties. Interesting discussions arose as to the difference between the Belgian system, my suggestion of a fully open list, and the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of moving to a single transferable vote system. Undoubtedly, whatever we do, it will represent a dramatic change from anything that has been done in the past.

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Surely, therefore, if we are to try this experiment we ought to do something to see whether we can validate it after it has been completed. After the elections have taken place, we should look back and examine the decisions taken at this time to see whether they were wise: whether or not it was wise to move away from a constituency-based system, whether it was wise to move to a list system. We should be doing the people of our country a service, and indeed those who will be elected to the European Parliament, if we do something along the lines of these amendments. Within six months of the first election, the Secretary of State could appoint an independent commission to examine the method of election of MEPs that was previously in place and compare it with the method set out in this legislation. That report could be laid before Parliament, and then Parliament could have a good discussion, based on the report of an independent commission, on how the new method contrasted with what had happened previously.

It may well be that those who advocate this new system will be vindicated in their view and that the percentage poll will dramatically increase. However, it may well be the case that those of us who are less persuaded by the new systems will be vindicated and we shall see the percentage poll decline again. In the one case, that would be to the advantage of the Minister. It would indicate that his arguments had worked. In the other case, and if the percentage poll went down further, it would be perfectly valid to look seriously at whether we had made a correct decision.

I shall no doubt be told that at any time in the future Parliament can review the electoral system that it puts in place. I know the way of government. That is not only the long grass; that is the long grass on the other side of the river. The only way to make absolutely certain that a review and reconsideration of the new method of voting and a comparison with the previous method take place is to opt for some form of independent commission. I offer the Minister a number of ways to proceed.

I am a realist. I know that down the corridor there is an enormous government majority. We need to persuade people by argument. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, listens to argument. I am grateful for the way he has listened in relation to some of the Bills that we have dealt with and has taken on board some of the arguments from all sides of the House. However, in this case I rather fear that even if we persuade the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, we shall not be able to persuade his parliamentary colleagues, who take a more--I was about to say "masochistic" view; perhaps they do: perhaps they like being defeated by the House of Lords--a more "macho" view of riding roughshod and not changing their minds.

I am therefore being realistic in considering that next year's parliamentary elections will probably be done in the way the Government want. In that light, we ought to set in place now a mechanism for a review of what has happened. If it has gone swimmingly and excellently, the Government have nothing to fear at all. Indeed, it will reinforce the judgments that they have made about changing our system. If, however, it is

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proved to be less than a total success, the Government and Parliament will have an opportunity to change matters before the following European elections. I beg to move.

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