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Baroness Fookes: My Lords, will the Minister assist my memory? If one adds to this review the cuts in costs from the previous review, what is the total cut in the Armed Forces over the past eight years or so?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, the noble Baroness tempts me. It is a sad story. I was not going to mention such figures because I did not want to bring grief to noble Lords sitting opposite. The fact is that in the last seven years of the previous government defence expenditure in this country was cut by 23.5 per cent. That is why I voted against the Defence Estimates at that time. If one adds to that what my right honourable friend proposes, it represents another modest 3 per cent. over the next three years.

Scotland Bill

5.55 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 11, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I speak to the amendments standing in my name on the Marshalled List which are grouped with it.

This is a straightforward amendment. We do not need to worry too much about the consequential amendments that go with it. The amendment relates to the voting system. Not only are the Government proposing major

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constitutional changes to the way we have governed the United Kingdom for many years; they are also proposing major changes to the voting system. It is a system to which we have become accustomed and one which I and many others believe has served this country and the rest of the English-speaking world extraordinarily well over the long march of history.

In this Bill, the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, and the Welsh Bill, the Government intend to replace the traditional first-past-the-post system with a system of proportional representation. The amendment removes from the Bill all those parts which introduce proportional representation. If I were successful, and the Committee were to agree with me, the Bill would have a first-past-the-post electoral system for the Scottish parliament.

I have no doubt that the Minister will tell me--if he does not someone else will--that I am looking a gift horse in the mouth. Earlier today the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, told me that the Government were magnanimously throwing a lifebelt to the Conservative Party in Scotland. That is the weakest of all arguments for a change in electoral systems. (I thought that I might receive support on that!) I do not believe that one should campaign to change electoral systems simply because at one point in time a party would gain some electoral advantage from it; and, conversely, because the electoral system that we have had for many years has worked against a party in one or more elections. That is not a good argument for choosing electoral systems.

The Bill creates two classes of Members of Parliament in the Scottish parliament. Two-thirds will be elected in a conventional first-past-the-post system. The other one third will be wholly unaccountable to the electorate as individuals. Because of that, it will also transfer power from individuals to the political parties. It will add complication to what I believe is a simple democratic system which has served this country well for a long time.

At present--I hope that it may soon end--the case for the first-past-the-post system is not being heard as clearly as it should be. The commission set up by the Government has been told not to consider the merits of the first-past-the-post system. It has only to consider proportional representation--the different methods of fiddling the voting system and what fiddle tune should be chosen. As I have said before to your Lordships, it seems odd that a review of the electoral system should be set up consisting entirely of people who are signed-up members of not first-past-the-post.

6 p.m.

Earl Russell: I have asked the noble Lord before to withdraw that representation of the Jenkins Commission. It is inaccurate. The commission is not designed to review the electoral system. It is designed to produce one runner from a stable to run against first-past-the-post. Any supporter of first-past-the-post

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on the commission would suffer from a severe conflict of interest. I hope the noble Lord will not repeat that argument.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I shall, because every time I repeat it I receive the kind of assurance that I have just had. The more times that I have that assurance, the better I am pleased. The fact is that when the Jenkins Commission brings forward its proposals, we can rest assured that the fanatics for PR will not make that fine distinction. It will be said, "That is the proposal these wise men have come up with to knock down first-past-the-post". The fact that the commission has not considered first-past-the-post means that such an argument would be bogus. Therefore, I welcome the noble Earl to my side in that regard. I shall quote him, as I shall be quoting the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, when the Jenkins Commission reports. I shall remind the world, or the country at least, in the words of both noble Lords that that commission did not even consider first-past-the-post. It did not look at it merits or demerits. No judgment was made against first-past- the-post. The members of the commission are a narrowly drawn band of brothers and sisters who believe fervently and who have tried to choose the best system to run against first-past-the-post. It is interesting that it is such a complicated world that a commission has to be set up to decide that.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I agree with the final point which the noble Lord made. But does he agree that perhaps the best way to test out PR is to see whether it actually works? Perhaps the Scottish parliament proposal that we have part first-past-the-post and part PR might be a very good litmus test.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It is an interesting thought that Scotland should be used as a guinea-pig for first-past- the-post. I can see that Members of the Committee appreciate the argument and I shall not go further with that.

First-past-the-post gives us clear accountability at constituency and national level. The accountability is clear. It allows the electorate to remove the governing party if it no longer retains the confidence of the electorate. That is something that my party experienced fairly severely a year ago. Under the British system, by and large, the verdict is decisive. An unpopular government cannot be kept in office by a minor party against the will of the electorate. Nor can a minor party decide to change the government without going to the electorate. There is clear accountability.

I suppose it is my advantage, or sometimes my disadvantage, that I am involved with all three Bills, so I can read across the government case from one to the other. However, it is interesting to note what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill when advocating the list system, which the Government hope to introduce into the European parliamentary system.

In his comments on the Bill both on Second Reading and in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, underlined the important difference between

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the European Parliament and the other place and the elections to the European Parliament and the elections to the other place. We must also bracket with the other place both the Welsh assembly and especially the Scottish parliament, which is a much more powerful body than the Welsh assembly.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, pointed out to me that the European Parliament does not have a government arising from it. Of course, the Scottish parliament will have. The noble Lord pointed out to me when we were discussing the Bill that:

    "Different elections require different systems and the key determining factor is the nature and functions of the body or legislature that is being elected".
He added later,

    "The European Parliament, unlike our own, is not one from which a government is drawn".
The Scottish parliament will be a body from which a government is drawn, so to that extent it is more akin to the House of Commons and to the arguments used by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, regarding the House of Commons than to the European Parliament.

The noble Lord went on to say:

    "We take the view that electoral systems should be appropriate for the particular bodies being elected. Our Parliament has a very different function from that performed by the European Parliament and we believe that different considerations obtain".--[Official Report, 9/4/98; cols. 857-9.]
Amen to that, I say.

Summing up later in the debate he said:

    "It is not, I repeat, a Parliament from which a government is chosen".--[Official Report, 9/4/98; col. 899.]
But like the other place, this Scottish parliament is a parliament from which a government is chosen.

I mentioned accountability and direct accountability and the fact that the first-past-the-post system is extremely efficient at removing an unpopular party from power. Proportional representation can keep one party, usually a very small party, in power for almost ever and ever. It just shifts its alliances and partners in an elaborate dance and is never properly accountable to the electorate.

It is interesting that in one or two of the countries where PR has developed there are occasions on which the larger parties get so fed up with the situation that they form grand coalitions in order to overcome the dictatorship of the minnows. Unfortunately, the grand coalitions do not usually last very well and they probably do not provide very good government. But they are an attempt to make sure that the tail does not continually wag the dog.

There is also the question of the accountability of Members of Parliament. Of course, the system that we are looking at today, unlike the European Parliament election system, will have members elected on a constituency basis. To that extent, I can see that the Government will argue that as regards the constituency base the additional member system is something of a compromise.

However, there will be 56 members of the Scottish parliament who will not be elected by constituencies as we know them. They will be elected because they have

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been put on the party list; and unless your Lordships are quite vigilant later on, the party list may not even appear on the ballot paper unless we do something about it. But there will be a party list; the party will decide the list; and there will not be much relationship between the electorate and the individuals. The individuals will have much more interest in keeping in with their party than they will in keeping in with the electorate.

Therefore, while I accept that the system before us has a certain element of constituency link, it is greatly diluted by the 56 additional members. Everybody who has been a Member of the other place knows that that link can sometimes be a bit of a pain on a wet Saturday morning at surgery. But it is a good way of keeping Members of Parliament in touch not just with the people who voted for them but also with a lot of people who did not vote for them. There will not be a single Member of your Lordships' House who was a Member of the other place who would not say that many of the people who came to surgeries in particular and who wrote letters never voted for the Member of Parliament in question. That was certainly my experience. I remember going with one noble Lord in an aeroplane when he was a Member of the other place. We were talking about our surgeries and he said he thought most of his people did not vote at all. I should not go quite as far as that, but certainly in any parliamentary constituency a number of the people who visit the surgery do not vote for the Member.

The problem with the additional member system is that it will be a case of, "Oh well, why don't you go and see Jimmy Smith who is a member of your own party? Why not go and talk to him? He will deal with you". There will be some shuffling about. Or it may be said, "Oh, that's not my expertise. The other regional member, that is his expertise. Why don't you go to see him?"

Members of the other place cannot do that and by and large--I go further--they do not do it. Indeed, if another Member of Parliament encroaches on their territory, they become stroppy about that. There is a convention in the other place that you do not take up cases of other Members of Parliament, because each individual member of Parliament is the sole representative of all his constituents. Therefore, that is an important link that will be lost in relation to the 56 members.

The first-past-the-post system has undoubtedly over time given us stable and effective government in this country. By and large, the governing party has had a working majority in the House of Commons and has been able to take its programme through the full course of a parliament. It has also enabled governing parties to get their business through another place and even to use that argument to get the business through your Lordships' House, even when your Lordships are not too keen on the business in hand. It also tends, because of what is called the "cube rule"--although perhaps now a square rule--to give the winning party a healthy majority. That means that it is able to govern effectively without having to rely on other parties, wherever they come from.

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Therefore, on whatever basis one looks at it, it seems to me that first-past-the-post has served this country well. When it comes to continuing with electoral systems in Scotland and Wales, I believe that what we have in this country is every bit as good as anything that they have in any other part of the world. I am prepared to say that we ought to stick to our current system.

Moreover, it also has the advantage that it forces the the main political parties to take broad views. One of the problems of PR, especially with a multiplicity of small parties, is that the parties involved can become very narrow because they do not have to encompass a broad view. Normally we call it a "broad church" in this country. All the parties are a broad church. I suspect that the Liberal Democrats are a fairly broad church, as, indeed, is the party opposite. We have just had a defence Statement repeated in this Chamber, and you cannot get a broader church than the Labour Party has been over the years on defence. My party is also a broad church and that is only right. If parties narrow themselves, that is certainly bad for them, as well as being bad for democracy in the country. I believe that PR systems encourage that narrowness, whereas our first-past-the-post system discourages it; and, indeed, punishes parties which become too narrow in their appeal.

When it comes to choosing the governing party and selecting constituency representation, I believe that our system is the best one for us. I am not going to say that it is superior, and I do not want to hear anyone say that it is inferior; it is the best one for us. I would not go to those countries that have PR systems and tell them that they ought to change. Indeed, as I said in a previous debate, I do not want to hear about other countries that run PR and how magically they do so. We could trade countries on voting systems, but I believe that the voting system that a country arrives at is the one that suits it. That is what our amendments would do. It is interesting to note that New Zealand, which shifted to PR, is now desperately wondering how it can shift back to first-past-the-post.

Perhaps I may leave the Committee with a few additional words in case anyone in the party opposite or in the party beside me wants to get up and tell me that this is just the Conservative Party making a last ditch stand. I have with me a copy of a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Islwyn, printed in the Western Mail, which has become my morning reading with my interest in the Welsh Bill. Unfortunately, the noble Lord is not in his place today, but he is quite happy about his letter. In fact, the headline in the newspaper reads, "PR Could Be a Trojan Horse, Warns Islwyn", and the letter says:

    "As an inveterate supporter of the 'First-Past-the-Post' system I believe that policies for a future government on an elected Assembly"--
that is, the Welsh assembly--

    "should be placed before the electorate by the respective parties at an election.

    What we have witnessed on the continent and elsewhere is policy decided after an election by a mish-mash of parties behind closed doors. This could now be the result for the Welsh Assembly under the additional member system of proportional representation".

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So the noble Lord is quite clear in that respect. Finally, those noble Lords who take part in the proceedings on the Welsh Bill will not be surprised to know that, on 1st July, after a debate about PR and while the Solicitor-General was replying to the debate and trying to explain all the complexities involved, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, was moved to intervene. He said that if anyone could make a subject clear he reckoned that it was the Solicitor-General, but that if he had made anything clear to the noble Lord, it was simply this: it confirmed him in his position that the first-past-the-post system is easily the best system. I concur, I trust that Members of the Committee will. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: I listened with great attention to the noble Lord, especially his generosity in saying that the first-past-the-post system had rightly punished his party by extinguishing it from Scotland and putting the Opposition in with the biggest majority that we have seen for a long time. Those are noble sentiments, which I appreciate.

However, we are discussing the first-past-the-post system. I am a very old man and I remember many things about the system. I remember the time just after the war when we had nationalisation of steel, denationalisation of steel and renationalisation of steel. I also remember that we came out of the war with our industry intact and in a strong position; indeed, better than other countries in Europe. In our good government, through the first-past-the-post system, we have now come to a state where practically every country in Europe is better off than we are. For example, Germany, France and even Italy are much better off than we are under the different system.

As regards New Zealand, if it had had first-past-the-post, analysis says that it would have been in exactly the same position as it has come to under PR. Therefore, I do not believe that the first-past-the-post argument is any good. All the amendment would do is destroy the regional system. I do not want to say that it will benefit us in the Liberal Democrat Party because it will not. The evidence suggests that we will gain a large number of seats under the first-past-the-post system and that under the system proposed we probably would not gain any extra seats. However, despite that, we are still for PR. We are still for the Tory Party being represented in Scotland. It is certainly right and proper that the Tories should be represented, however badly they perform.

I turn now to the question of the 56 members who are elected having a lovely time doing nothing and passing the buck from one to the other. Of course, there may be something in that, but most Members today spend far too much time on constituency matters which should be handled by local government. They are hog-tied to constituency work when they should be thinking of other matters. Indeed, it would not be a bad thing at all to have someone to help in that process.

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I think that this is a bad amendment. I shall not go into all the issues which spring from it because we will be discussing such matters later. We are rather against the amendment; in fact, we are totally against it.

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