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Lord Thomas of Gresford: The first point that needs to be made in relation to the counting systems is that from the voter's point of view it is a simple matter of putting a cross in a box. The voter is not concerned with how the votes are counted. But the two main systems which are employed in counting can make a considerable difference. The Government have chosen the d'Hondt system, which tends to give the last seat in a region--for example, Scotland has seven seats--to one of the larger parties. That would limit the number of groups gaining representation, making it less likely that an independent or a member of the Green Party would acquire the final seat.
Perhaps I may correct the pronunciation of "Sainte-Lague" by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. The Sainte-Lague system is more sympathetic to medium-sized parties and extends choice and representation across a wider spectrum. The Sainte-Lague system is the system that is used in New Zealand and widely in Scandinavia. Each party gains an additional seat by reason of priority value. Based on Wales, for example, on the 1997 general election results, Labour would win 80 per cent. of the seats on 55 per cent. of the votes under d'Hondt. But, using the Sainte-Lague method, Labour would have won 60 per cent. of the seats. That is clearly a much fairer and more proportional system. The Plant report, which considered these systems in 1991, concluded that:
Having received that report and realised that the d'Hondt system favours the large parties, what have the Labour Government chosen to do? They have chosen the d'Hondt system; the one that favours them and excludes smaller and minority parties.
The Home Secretary discussed the issue at Second Reading and suggested that, based on the 1994 Euro election results, d'Hondt was more proportional in six regions. However, Professor MacLean of Nuffield College, Oxford, showed that the calculations were incorrect and that the Saint-Lague system is more proportional than d'Hondt. The Home Secretary's argument therefore was based upon incorrect information which has since been put right.
I return to my first point. From the elector's point of view there is nothing complicated. He has a list of parties and possible individual candidates. He puts a cross in the box. It is how the machinery works thereafter to achieve a proper proportion that is important. Why should the Government choose the one that favours them? We support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.
Lord Hardie: I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in rising to speak instead of my noble friend Lady Ramsay. I am pleased to note that the noble Lord identified and acknowledged that there was an error in the amendments as framed. I was concerned when I saw the amendments. As framed, they gave an extra advantage to the Conservative Party based on the vote in Scotland at the last election and I could not believe that that was the intention.
The noble Lord explained the intricacies of the systems and the importance of the choice of divisor when it comes to allocating additional member seats. In describing the effect of Amendment No. 54, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, outlined the advantages of adopting an interpretation of a modified Saint-Lague divisor proposed in his first amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will note that in relation to pronunciation at least, we are at one; whether we are both right or both wrong remains to be debated.
This is based on the Saint-Lague divisor, which has been applied in list elections in Scandinavia, in preference to the pure form of divisor set out in Amendment No. 55. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, observed, that is used in New Zealand. As has been noted, the Government favour the d'Hondt divisor as set out in the Bill and, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, it is not because they favour the Labour Party. In fact, we have done calculations to see how the different systems would operate applying the vote cast in Scotland at the last election. The difference between the two systems is only two seats--one going to the Conservatives and one going to the Liberal Democrats. I can understand therefore why the Liberal Democrats support this other form.
The reason for the Government favouring the d'Hondt divisor is that it is simple to understand and more logical to apply. It is also easier to explain to the public and to those who have to apply it. It has the virtue of being consistent with the approach proposed for the European Parliament elections and the elections for the Welsh assembly. Moreover, it is the approach set out in the White Paper.
The alternative approaches suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, may have some benefits for smaller parties, but, having made the calculations, I suggest that the only smaller parties that would benefit--assuming that the same votes were cast in Scotland as in the previous election--would be the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. None of
The benefits claimed for the Sainte-Lague system--in its amended or unamended form--do not outweigh the advantages of the d'Hondt system, which I have already outlined. To summarise the advantages, the d'Hondt system is simpler to understand; more logical to apply; easier to explain to the public at large and to those operating it; is consistent with the approach adopted for the European Parliament and the Welsh assembly and it is the system explained in the White Paper. For those reasons I invite the noble Lord to reconsider and to withdraw the amendment.
The noble and learned Lord defends the Government's decision to use the d'Hondt system by saying that the public will understand it better. The only difference of any significance between the counting systems is that the d'Hondt system uses the divisors 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and the Sainte-Lague system uses the divisors 1, 3, 5, 7, 9. Are any of your Lordships any the wiser because I have said that?
If the public see that 55 per cent. of the electorate vote Labour and Labour get 55 per cent. of the seats under the Sainte-Lague system whereas under the d'Hondt system they get 80 per cent. of the seats, the public might smell a rat and find that there is something unfair about that. It is not enough to say that the d'Hondt system is simpler and more easily understood.
Lord Hardie: As I explained to the Committee earlier, the position in Scotland is not reflected in the percentages indicated by the noble Lord. In Scotland the difference between the two systems--amended or unamended, Sainte-Lague or Sainte-Lague--is simply two seats. The disparity to which the noble Lord refers--if it is correct--does not apply.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: We appreciate that the Scottish figures may work differently, but why should not the public understand that a more proportional system is fairer than a less proportional system? Supposing the Sainte-Lague system produces one extra seat for the Liberal Democrats and one for the Conservatives, in so doing it would only be more closely reflecting the wishes and the views of the people who have voted. What is wrong with that?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am in a dilemma. Do I agree with the pronunciation of my fellow Scot or with that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who, on this issue, is on my side? I shall not refer to the name again or allow myself to take sides on this. In Scotland they talk of little else and it is probably Sainte-Lague or Sainte-Lague or "What is that?". The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, makes a good point that these are matters about which the electorate does not need to concern itself. The essential point is the voting paper.
The real point is that, modified or not, Sainte-Lague is more beneficial to the smaller parties. I regret to say to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate that in Scottish terms the Liberal Democrats and my party are the smaller parties. We are even smaller than they are in terms of seats but not in terms of the number of votes cast, which should actually drive me into the arms of the proportionality people. But it has not, as your Lordships know.
I think there is an argument here that the Government are setting aside. Normally, we hear from the Government that if it is done in Scandinavia it must be close to the perfect solution. In this case, Scandinavian usage is being set aside. I suppose that shows the Government to be unslavish followers of the Nordic example, despite the noble Baroness's long experience and residence in that part of the world. I come back to the real point. It is difficult to decide that the second vote will be cast in the future in the same way as the first votes were cast in the past. If the Government are right and some independents may stand and get reasonably decent votes, if they have to jump the d'Hondt hurdle it will be much more difficult. The Sainte-Lague hurdle for an independent would be that much easier. The same is true for a party like the Greens.
The Government seem to want to have it both ways. Earlier, on my amendments to try to prevent what everyone seems to agree would be a serious abuse of the system by a political party, the objection given to all my amendments was that they were unfair to independents and unfair to parties other than the four main parties. Now, when we are saying to the Government, "Yes, but the mathematical system you are using is unfair to lesser parties and to independents", that argument can be set aside. There is a degree of inconsistency about the Government's argument. However, at this time of night it would not be right for me to take this any further, especially as my amendments are defective and do not deliver Sainte-Lague in any shape or form but would make it much more difficult for smaller parties. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.