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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 3, line 12, at end insert (", and the regional returning officer shall publish the list at the earliest opportunity").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 38 provides that,

Amendment No. 39 states that the list shall appear on the ballot paper and that the order shall be determined by the party. I accept the closed list as proposed by the Government. We shall debate later whether or not that is a good thing but I accept it because I wish to narrow the debate to one issue.

When the party delivers the list to the returning officer before the election, where will that list appear? How will it be published? Will it be in general terms in the newspapers? Will it simply be put up on a notice at the polling stations? Or will it appear on the ballot paper? I believe that it should be published in newspapers, at the polling station--as is the ballot paper currently--and on the ballot paper. When those noble Lords who will have a vote vote on that second vote the names should be there. I know that there will be up to 12 names. But I have seen examples of European ballot papers where that can be and is done. The argument that the ballot paper will need to be rather large does not convince me.

If we can move, as we are doing in the Registration of Political Parties Bill, to putting the parties' symbols on the ballot paper, it seems to me important--the noble Baroness considers it important that people know for whom they are voting in the second ballot--that the names appear on the second ballot paper. The ballot paper should contain the list of candidates' names. If the electorate in whatever area it will be sees at the top of the list the magic name of Sewel in the Labour column, it will inexorably decide how it will vote. However, leaving aside the plug for the noble Lord, it is important that when the voters go into the polling booth they know for whom they are voting on the list.

I hope that the Government will be able to accept the amendment. It is straightforward and simple. I may be told that it will be in regulations. There is much in the Bill that is less important than the names on the ballot paper. I believe that the provision should be on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: Amendment No. 43 is grouped with the amendment. It is aimed at increasing the democratic accountability of the regional ballot.

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I can agree with the amendments which call for the early publication of party lists and for the parties to determine the order in which the candidates will be elected if the party is successful in the regional ballot. A minor competition evolves between Amendments Nos. 39 and 43. The wording in Amendment No. 43 is more precise and almost incapable of being misinterpreted.

The latter part of Amendment No. 39, which provides that the list shall be ordered by the party, makes explicit an implicit feature of the closed list system. Amendment No. 39 falls short in that it does not require the parties to order their lists by a one member one vote postal ballot as practised by these Benches. The criticism of the closed list system is, as we have been regaled by some noble Lords, that the party bosses can fill the lists with their pals. Perhaps a further amendment is necessary to limit the range of methods of ordering the regional candidates.

Amendment No. 43 ensures that voters have the names of every candidate on each party list in front of them in the polling booth at the point of ballot. So far we are led to believe that these details will be available only wherever the returning officer decides to publish them, in campaigning literature and on a piece of paper pinned up on an internal wall of the polling station. I cannot see that as particularly informative. Polling stations are alien places at the best of times, with handwritten notices abounding; that is if Clackmannanshire polling station is anything to go by. The electorate have enough on their minds without trying to read the party list on the wall and find a booth with the correct combination of, presumably, coloured ballot papers.

Given the unfamiliar position of the regional members and the unhelpful comments of those proponents of proportional representation, I hope that there will be a government-led education campaign about their role and democratic validity. Our amendment calls for the name to be printed on the ballot paper, together with the party name and possibly the logo.

It may be worth mentioning a weak compromise to meet the Government's possible objection about the increased cost of printing the whole list on each ballot paper. That poor compromise would be to place a list securely--preferably by Sellotape--in each polling booth. However, it would be out of the direct focus of the voter at the point of ballot. The amendment would increase democratic effectiveness and would no doubt be opposed on grounds of political or financial expediency.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: The Government believe that the electoral arrangements for the Scottish parliament will ensure a fairer balance of representation than could be achieved by reliance on a simple majority system. While the constituency seats will be contested in the traditional manner, the regional seats will be allocated on the basis of proportional representation with a corrective element. Taken together, that should achieve a fairer distribution of seats.

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The system for returning regional members is complex, but so far as the voter is concerned the voting process as envisaged in the Bill is relatively straightforward. Each elector will be able to vote for a constituency candidate and cast a separate regional vote for the party or independent candidate he favours.

I fear that the amendments would lead to confusion. I agree that printing each party's list on the ballot paper would not in itself change the voting system. But I maintain that it would certainly lead to confusion for voters who might reasonably conclude from seeing the list that they were supposed to express a preference from among the listed candidates. I have no doubt that there would be far more spoilt ballot papers if we went down that road.

On another practical note, perhaps I may remind the House of what was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish; that each party's list can contain up to 12 names. Bearing in mind that it is likely that the major parties will run large slates of candidates, it is not difficult to imagine that there could be 40 or considerably more party list candidates in each region. I invite the Committee to consider the piece of paper which would confront voters if all those names were included on the ballot paper.

Some of the candidates may also be standing as constituency members. In fact, I understand that the Conservative Party intends that all its candidates should do so. Voters would then face a name appearing on both ballot papers and that could well add to their confusion.

At a time of numerous changes to electoral systems, surely we need to make life as easy as possible for the electorate. Ballot papers should seek to make clear the nature of the voter's choice. In the poll for regional members, we are asking voters to choose between parties and independents, and that is the choice with which they should be presented on the ballot paper.

None of that is to deny the importance of voters being able to exercise their regional vote in proper knowledge of which individuals are being proposed by each party. I believe that in Amendment No. 38 the party opposite considers that it is going some way towards ensuring that. However, all we are saying is that such a level of detail is not appropriate for the face of the Bill.

The detailed provisions about the conduct of the elections will be made in an order under Clause 11. We will of course wish to ensure that regional lists are published in good time. It is one of the issues that has been considered by the working group on electoral arrangements. In addition to expert interested organisations, the group includes representatives from the four main political parties in Scotland. We fully intend that in addition to the formal notification by the returning officer, the contents of lists should be well publicised to electors; for example, by means of notices in polling stations. An order under Clause 11 will give us flexibility in deciding what provision would be appropriate. I can assure the House that there is no idea that the list should be kept secret. The question is simply

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how we provide electors with all the information to which they are entitled in a way which is most helpful to them.

The Earl of Balfour: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. As a result of what she said, there is considerable doubt in my mind about the position of people standing as independents. The intention of the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, is to allow the ballot paper to contain all the names of the political parties and individual candidates. I may be wrong, but her comments have confused my mind on that issue.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: No, I was talking about the names of the parties. If someone is standing as an independent, his or her name will have to appear on the ballot paper, because it could be nothing other than the name of the person standing. We are arguing that printing on every ballot paper the names contained in every party's list is not the best way of informing the electorate and giving them a clear choice. In voting for a party, their vote will be for the party and not for any individual on the list. I hope that that clarifies the point.

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