Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 16:

After Clause 8, insert the following new clause--

Seat of member ceasing to be member of party to be vacant

(" . If an Assembly member returned for an Assembly electoral region as a candidate for a registered political party ceases to be a member of that party, his seat shall be regarded as vacant for the purposes of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships are, of course, aware that there will be two kinds of member of the Welsh assembly. One kind will have been elected on the first-past-the-post system. They will have been voted for as individuals representing their parties in the normal traditional British way. The other kind will comprise four members from each region; they will be elected through the additional member system. Under that system, the Government seem intent that all the electorate will see will be a ballot paper stating the names of the parties. The electorate will be asked to vote for the parties and not for any individuals.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt what will no doubt be another repeat of the speech we heard on the Scotland Bill. Will the noble Lord withdraw his remarks about there being two kinds of member of the assembly? Sixty members will be elected through different methods of voting, but they are all equal participatory members at their point of election.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is particularly sensitive this afternoon. I did not make a value judgment as to whether one kind of member is superior to the other. There are two kinds of member. They will be elected by two different methods. The English language must mean

15 Jul 1998 : Column 295

something. The two kinds of member are not the same. Some 40 of them will be elected by the first-past-the-post system and 20 by the additional member system. If the noble Lord does not like my describing them as two kinds of member, he should vote against the whole system of additional members and advocate adopting a single system, either first-past-the-post or perhaps even the single transferable vote.

As I said, there are undoubtedly two kinds of member. One kind will be directly elected from constituencies; the others will be elected from the list. As far as we can see, people who are elected from the list will be elected on a party basis. They will be elected to top up a party's position after the first-past-the-post ballot. If a party has four seats on a constituency basis and merits another two, it is the party that merits the other two. The individuals' only merit is that they have been placed first and second on a party's list. They will then be elected in order to give the party six seats to achieve some form of proportionality.

When a member who has gained his seat through first-past-the-post leaves his party because he has fallen out with it, conventionally in this country we have always accepted that the person was elected as an individual as well as a party representative. We always tease that person, but we accept that the person was elected by his constituents as a Member of Parliament. That is what the returning officer says. However, the member elected through the additional member system is different--if I may be so bold as to say this--in that he was not elected as an individual. John Brown was not elected as John Brown; he was picked because he came first on his party's list. The electorate did not see John Brown's name on the ballot paper. Furthermore, he was elected to help to gain the six seats that his party merits through the additional member system in order to achieve proportionality.

Let us assume that a member elected in that way decides to leave his party either to join another party or to become an Independent. Clearly the very proportionality that the second ballot is designed to achieve has immediately been lost. The party which ought to have six seats now has only five. Another party may gain an extra seat which it does not merit under the system of proportionality. If one is to treat this proportional representation system logically, I am afraid that the individual who leaves his party, having been elected on the list system, must leave the assembly and allow the party to propose for election the next person on the list to maintain proportionality.

If that does not happen, those who advocate proportionality will not see that achieved. That means that they are not prepared to address the question of proportionality as it applies in all circumstances. If they are prepared to allow a member to leave his party and join another party--and therefore disturb the very proportionality that the additional member system is designed to achieve--they are not following the logical progression of the principles they are trying to persuade your Lordships' House to accept. If a member elected through the additional member system feels obliged to leave his party, he should resign his seat and allow the

15 Jul 1998 : Column 296

party to inform the returning officer of the next person on the list who should receive the additional member seat. That seems self-evident to me.

Over the term of the assembly if two members left a party, the whole concept of proportionality would be blown out of the water. If the additional member seats are designed to achieve proportionality, we must make some attempt to maintain that proportionality throughout the term of the assembly. I therefore recommend that we insert this new clause. It would ensure that additional members who left their party would be obliged to resign their seats and the party whose vote it was would receive another member. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, seems straightforward. It distinguishes between those who are elected on proportional representation and those elected on first past the post. On simple reflection, it could be argued that party democracy needs to be protected. But the democracy of the individual also needs to be protected.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is ignoring the reality of our election process. For a number of years now we have had on the ballot paper for first past the post not only the name "John Brown", to use the noble Lord's example, but, "John Brown of the Labour Party", "John Brown of the Conservative Party", or "John Brown of the Liberal Democratic Party". When people vote in the Westminster elections, in Scotland or for the Welsh assembly on a first-past-the-post system, a large number (dare I say, in most cases a majority?) will not be voting for John Brown as an individual but for John Brown as a member of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democratic Party. It seems a dangerous precedent to introduce a system whereby, on proportional representation, someone can be asked to leave the assembly if he or she leaves the party, but someone who is voted in on the first-past-the-post system on a party label can remain.

Indeed, that has just happened in the other place. A Member has moved from the Conservative to the Labour Benches and still retains his seat in Parliament. He was elected on a Conservative Party ticket. We are playing with a very dangerous weapon if we start introducing this kind of system.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this amendment discriminates against a particular category of assembly member; namely, one who has been elected for an electoral region as the candidate of a registered political party. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, fairly said, that leads to a situation where a member of the assembly, if he ceases to be a member of the party to which he was elected if he is a regional assemblyman, must be expelled from the assembly. The noble Lord's amendment embraces a situation whereby that member of the assembly is expelled by his own party. In those circumstances he would also

15 Jul 1998 : Column 297

be compulsorily expelled from the assembly. As I understand the amendment and the noble Lord's arguments in support of it, that is his intention.

We inserted an amendment in Committee in this House to guard against circumstances where a casual vacancy in a party list seat might be filled by someone who had been on the list at the time of the election but who had since left the party. We have prevented that happening. But that was a matter of preventing someone coming into the assembly in the first place. It was not a matter of dealing with someone who was actually in the assembly. I think that we were right to make that change; however, I believe that the amendment proposed by the noble Lord is a step too far. There is a long tradition in British politics of "tolerating" Members who cross the Floor. I do not think it would be in anyone's interests if we sought to expel an elected party list member simply for moving from one allegiance to another, or because he was expelled by his own party.

It is curiously inconsistent that the amendment is applied to regional members only. If the noble Lord strongly believes in the principle he has expounded I wonder why he does not think it equally valid for other members of the assembly--independents elected from the electoral region and all those elected from the assembly constituencies--to be affected by the proposal. The British political tradition is one which extols the virtues and advantages of the representative rather than the delegate, and we should be loath to depart from that principle in respect of membership of the assembly. In voting for a party list voters have expressed a degree of approval of the candidates put forward on that list. That endorsement should hold good for any member for the duration of the term for which he has been elected. That is the principle which has long been applied to constituency representatives under the British electoral system and I think that it should be extended to all members of the assembly. Their standing in the assembly and their continued membership of the assembly should depend on the same thing. There should not be two sets of rules.

I am surprised that Members of the party opposite, of all people, have come forward with this amendment. We hear much from them about the need to curb centralising tendencies in political parties. This amendment would give the party machine unparalleled control over certain of its members of the assembly. Party whips would have a very powerful weapon with which to threaten maverick members who refused to toe the party line--the threat of expulsion from the party, which would carry with it expulsion from the assembly. In our view this amendment would give party bosses a quite unacceptable and draconian power over their members. We believe it to be totally inappropriate, and I urge your Lordships to reject it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page