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Lord Rowallan: I support this amendment. One of the saddest things happening in politics today is that we are moving more and more away from the personal vote. In the good old days of the hustings when one went along to a crowded place and there was barracking, one found out which candidate was the best. Those days have gone. In this country we have very much taken up voting for the party machine as well as voting tactically for particular parties. The open list proposed here is a much better idea than a closed list. I dislike intensely the idea of voting for a party. It is much better to continue voting for individuals wherever possible.
Lord Sempill: Perhaps I may make just one observation on this matter. It is a point which was discussed in Committee last Tuesday; namely, the Government declared their intention to go ahead on the day of the election with local council elections as well. One of the strong reasons for that was they felt that the electorate was more than capable of handling two different ballots. I support the open list. To a large extent, part of the problem is logistics. Might it not be an opportunity to consider the suggestion of moving the local elections so that the open list can be given more airing at the time of this critical election?
Lord Sewel: These amendments relate to the open list and touch on the business of the ordering of candidates on the ballot paper. In speaking against these amendments, I confine my comments to one practical point and one point of principle. The point of principle boils down to what role and value is attached to parties. I know that it is fashionable to decry parties, but we live in a form of democracy in which the party is of vital importance. Traditionally, parties have selected candidates and brought them in front of the electorate, inviting the electorate to make a judgment on those candidates. Parties have been absolutely essential in that particular aspect of the democratic process. They have also been essential in bringing policies together and giving them coherence in an integrated programme that forms the basis of the manifesto.
Although it is perhaps fashionable, understandable and somewhat populist to decry the party, our form of democracy depends very heavily on it for its organisational basis. So I do not dismiss the party as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, appears to do.
As I said, traditionally, in our system the role of the party has been to select candidates. That is built in to the way in which we operate the first-past-the-post system. It is not necessary under that system to have that predominant role allocated to the party. In other political systems, it is not the party that carries out the selection of candidates. In open and closed primaries in the United States, a group much wider than the party, narrowly defined, plays an important role in the selection of candidates.
If the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is to have consistency and power, he will have to argue not only that the list should be open and that the party should not have control over the order and structure of the list, but also that candidate selection for the first-past-the-post system should be subject to the same kind of influence. He should be advocating something like open primaries. The noble Lord is not doing that for the simple reason that, quite understandably, he recognises the important contribution that parties make through their own process of candidate selection and choice.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. It is all very well to say that the party is important, but its important role is selecting the candidate. Although headquarters may have to approve a list, the selection is normally carried out--certainly in the Liberal Democrat Party--by the constituency. After that, the candidate has to fight the seat. In our party it means a great deal of personal work. There is not the automatic vote that one used to get in central Scotland for the Labour Party. The constituency has to be fought for, which is different from saying that the party is everything.
Lord Sewel: I am making a different point. Traditionally, the party has had the role of selecting candidates and bringing them before the electorate so that voters may make a judgement on them. That is the system we have always adopted and it is a right, sound and proper system.
Lord Rowallan: I am sorry to come back again. Surely the Minister accepts that these days no-one goes to the hustings. Every village had meetings with candidates about 20 years ago, but now everyone pays attention to what is happening on television and in the media so one does not meet the candidate. We are voting entirely for parties. There are two parts to these elections. The party machine will provide the first-past-the-post person and one should then vote for individuals. That is the point which is being made. That cannot be done when one votes for the parties.
I am making the point that it is the parties which bring the candidates to the electorate. They make a judgment, but not on an individual basis and that I accept. The electorate primarily makes its judgment through the ballot box on the basis of party. The party is the fundamental organising principle in our democratic process. I do not think it right to decry or devalue that because it is the basis on which the democratic system operates. I believe that that argument is one of proper principle in terms of our debate.
I move on to the difficulty of ordering the ballot paper. There have been some suggestions as to how that may be done. Amendment No. 40 contains a rotating idea, which is novel. I plead guilty in that for much of my life I drew up questionnaires which asked people to rank items in order. Anyone who has done that or taught that particular branch of research methodology will know that lecture two deals with the problem of response fatigue. People will order first, second and third and then fall back into a pattern and go through the list as it is printed with no great discrimination. The ordering of the list becomes vitally important lest it contains a structured preference which it would be very difficult to overcome.
If we go down the track suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, which is the idea of rotation and fluctuation--that is novel--we cannot stop where the noble Lord would wish us to. One has to go the whole hog to remove the bias. One would have to have separate ballot papers in the order of factorial 12. I have never been a principal teacher of mathematics, but I believe that factorial 12 comes to slightly more than the electorate in any regional constituency. Therefore, one would have more individual ballot papers than electors in the constituency. The system cannot work. It has a built-in bias that cannot be removed by formally inviting the electorate to change the order. Response fatigue will set in and to a large extent voters will go down the list; or it will be dealt with by rotation. That is a very partial or limited solution; indeed, it is no solution at all.
To draw upon the experience of other political systems, there are systems in which open lists operate to the extent that the electorate is given the opportunity to change the order in which the party presents the candidates. I provide the following information without making a judgment upon it. Under that system there is intense internal competition within the parties. The parties turn in upon themselves and groups begin to organise sub-parties and sub-divisions in order to get their people higher up the list than would be the case if the electorate did not have the opportunity to change the order. I simply give that as a description of what
I shall not labour the problem about confusing the electorate by different names being published in a different order from the order which they have seen on the ballot paper. I believe that that is a minor matter. There will be some confusion but I do not believe that that is a major, principled basis for opposition. There is an unsurmountable difficulty in trying to deal with the structured advantage that arises from any form of ordering. There is no practical way round that. Further, I believe that we are perhaps a little too glib in dismissing the important role of party in our electoral politics not only in creating coherent policies and a platform but in carrying out the vital job of selecting candidates for the electorate to judge in the ballot box. On that basis, I hope that on reflection the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
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