Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Page 3, line 12, at end insert--
("( ) No party may submit a list of candidates to be regional members for an electoral region unless there is a candidate of that party in at least half of the constituencies included in that electoral region.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 41, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 42. It will not take long. Perhaps Members will cast their minds back to the Committee stage immediately before the dinner hour, when I exposed the problem of the alter ego party, the phantom party and co-operative party standing in the list system and the Labour Party standing in first-past-the-post system. There would be no difficulties for the party which did so, but advantages would fall to the party deciding to play that game, whether it be the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Party in the Highlands, the Conservative Party if it can win some

14 Jul 1998 : Column 198

first-past-the-post seats, and, most assuredly, the Scottish National Party, given its rating in the polls. I could easily paint the whole of the Scottish map yellow, which is the SNP's colour, if it decided to play this game. My understanding from the latest poll is that the map is pretty yellow already, but it would be entirely yellow if this loophole were left in the Bill and the SNP decided to play the card which the Government have willingly handed to them. And why should they not if they are determined to have an independent Scotland?

The Government did not like a single vote. They pointed out that it would remove independent candidates, but I might put a large wager on any independent candidate winning on an additional member seat. I will accept that the Government are keen to encourage independent candidates. They are probably not too keen to encourage them if they believe that they will beat the Labour candidates, but they are keen to encourage them. The Government also believe it is important that in the second ballot people have a choice which allows them to move their vote around. I do not particularly agree with that because the proportionality is supposed to correct the first-past-the-post vote and not the other way around, which it will be.

I accept that the Government do not like a single vote and I have tabled this amendment. It provides that any party whose candidates stand in more than 50 per cent. of the first-past-the-post seats must put up a regional list; and that any party which does so must stand in 50 per cent. of the seats. I do not believe that that would be a huge hurdle, but it stops dead in its tracks any attempt at split voting or alter ego parties. There is no question in my mind about that.

I have little doubt that the Government will tell me that the measure will stop minor parties standing. No doubt the Greens will come into it--I heard all about them in Wales. It will not stop them, but it will mean that if they want to be on the list they will have to stand in half the first-past-the-post seats. I do not see that as a great problem. If the Government are worried about the money they can reduce the deposit. It is not the most difficult thing on earth. In any event, a party standing only in the regional list system, unless it is in collusion with another party, will not find it easy to canvass across the whole regional seat when it is not canvassing for individual first-past-the-post seats. I suspect that the electorate's attention, at least initially, will be on the first-past-the-post seats and the winning of them. However, let us assume that the Greens want to stand. I believe that they should be asked to stand in half of the first-past-the-post seats. That would stop the alter ego party position dead in its tracks.

I am trying to help the Government to get out of what could be a real dilemma further down the road. When the Scottish Nationalists have used that loophole and gained more than half the seats in Scotland and taken Scotland out of the Union, I should hate them to come back to me and say, "Boy, you were right and Michael Dyer was right that that could be done". While Michael Dyer's piece of paper was directed at the Labour Party in Scotland, suggesting that the Labour Party should do it, the party opposite should consider that, even if they are going to be men and women of honour, which

14 Jul 1998 : Column 199

I accept they are in that regard, unless there is a commitment from the Scottish National Party, the problem remains live for the next time round. In my view, it remains live away into the future.

If in 20 years' time, my party decided to play that game, I cannot believe that its members would say, "Ah, but Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish gave an assurance from the Dispatch Box in 1998". The question would then be, "Who's he?" It would be the same for the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, and even the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, in 20 years' time.

Therefore, I believe we owe it to the public, on whom we are inflicting this electoral system, to guard against that eventuality. This is a method of doing that which overcomes all the objections which the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, gave to me in relation to a single vote. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who is to reply to this amendment, will give me a little more encouragement. I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I do not propose to repeat what was said in the earlier debate on the issue of phantom parties. That issue was fully covered on all sides and there is no point in repeating that argument.

However, grouped with this amendment is Amendment No. 46. I did not hear the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, refer at all to Amendment No. 46. That seems to me to be a serious question of principle because that amendment deals with the people who wish to stand as individual candidates. If that amendment were accepted, it would seem that, unlike members of registered political parties who may stand in constituencies and also for the regional list, an independent candidate can stand as a constituency member for a constituency but may not be a candidate to stand on the regional list at the same time. He may not be a regional member.

I do not understand why that particular form of exclusion should enter into the matter. I have not heard the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, refer to it. If I have misunderstood the purport of the amendment, no doubt he will say so. But at the moment it seems to me that this is just another example of the Conservative Opposition seeking to limit the way in which members of the Scottish parliament can be selected.

Lord Sewel: The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is to be congratulated. He has weaved a totally seamless web. He started off on one side praising the idea of choice. With the very next amendment, he comes forward with a measure which totally restricts and removes choice. That is not done on an individual basis. He takes whole parties out of the game. That is the big denial of choice which the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, would bring about.

Let us not beat about the bush. This amendment is designed to make it virtually impossible for minor parties to be in a position in which they can contest regional seats. That is what it is about. It is trying to

14 Jul 1998 : Column 200

make sure that the regional seat option is one which is available only to the big battalions. I do not think that is a pleasant prospect. As we heard earlier, there is a real chance to encourage and have diversity in our representation by small parties, albeit that small parties may be gaining something like 5 to 6 per cent. of the electorate on a regional basis, and thus some form of representation. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, would make it difficult for minor parties to start contesting seats at that level. It would make it impossible for them to contest at the regional level. Let us not beat about the bush. We know what it is about and I think that we have to dismiss it.

I had been waiting, like other noble Lords, to hear the defence for Amendment No. 46. I had been waiting to hear what Amendment No. 46 was all about, but we have heard nothing--total silence. If the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, wishes to enlighten the Committee on the purpose and intention of Amendment No. 46, I am happy to give way--"But answer came there none". I can only conclude that the effect of Amendment No. 46, as I read it, is to remove the safeguard in the Bill which ensures that a candidate cannot contest a constituency seat as a party candidate and at the same time stand as an independent candidate in the regional poll. That would be the effect of Amendment No. 46.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Lord has tried to duck the main argument by saying that I seem to be trying to block out minor parties. I am not doing that although I did not disagree with the fact that that might be a problem for minor parties. My concern is about what I call the alter ego parties, the split ticket: the Labour Party and the Communist Party, the Conservative Party and the Unionist Party, the Liberal Party and the Democrat Party. That is the real problem I would like the Minister to address. As far as this amendment is concerned, if we are to have voter choice, why can somebody not stand for a party in one place and be an independent in the other? A few minutes ago the position of independents was extolled by the Minister's noble friend.

Lord Sewel: Consistency has never been the strongest suit of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. What are voters to make of a ballot paper on which they are asked to vote in a constituency for Tom Brown, the Conservative Party candidate, when on the same ballot paper in the regional list they are invited to vote for Tom Brown, the independent candidate? Is that the degree of inconsistency that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is advocating? That is exactly the effect that Amendment No. 46 would have, if passed.

I return to the substantive point that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, made in relation to Amendments Nos. 41 and 42. I think the answer to this is quite simple. It is not about trying to contrive some formal means of dealing with the problem. The solution is quite simple and it is, "Trust the electorate". The electorate will realise if a party is trying to "pull a fast one"--trying either to collude with an opposition, another party, or to create, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, calls them alter ego parties. I think that in

14 Jul 1998 : Column 201

those circumstances that party would be open to public ridicule. The electorate would make a judgment about the integrity of that party--and not just on the narrow issue of how it was fighting the election. The electorate would take that as symptomatic of the lack of integrity within the party and would punish the party. I have faith that the electorate would deal with the problem.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Members of the Committee have the right to ask the Minister if, instead of knocking down one amendment after another, he would address the main issues which are being proposed. For example, the noble Lord has just said that his solution to the problem is to trust the electorate. I am not sure how much campaigning the noble Lord has done in the area dominated by the Scottish National Party, but I have done so and I watched closely the way that that party operates in my area of Scotland. I believe that not only the SNP but also its followers would find it rather clever to invent two parties which wanted independence with people voting for one candidate under the first-past-the-post system and for another from the list. I simply do not believe that that is an answer.

The Government really ought to address the problem. They will lose out, and the country may well become independent simply because they are so stubborn, as they were on a matter with which we dealt earlier today. They just will not listen to the arguments. I hope that the Government will face up to the situation and think about it seriously. They should not happily knock down different amendments and criticise my noble friend for approaching some amendments from different angles. They may conflict with one another, but my noble friend's hope is that one of them might be accepted.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page