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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he telling me that in both the Labour Party manifesto and the Liberal Party manifesto this system of election was put forward? That is what I was trying to indicate. I must confess that I did not see it, nor did I hear about it.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, the noble Lord knows that election manifestos do not consist of the publication of details of a Bill. The central issue was PR for the European Parliament and reform of this House. They were two good examples of what was decided. As I indicated, there was plenty of publicity given at the time to
The Earl of Dartmouth: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Surely the basic point is that we now know--and we did not know before--that the Liberal Party is in favour of a closed list system for the European elections in June 1999. I for one look forward to conveying it to the electors when the time comes.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, not for the first time it falls to me to try to lower the temperature a little. It is well known of course that all constitutional arrangements have elements which are decorative and stately rather than necessarily functional. I think there is still someone around and about who rejoices in the title of Bearer of the Cap of Maintenance. It is very interesting to me to understand that our constitutional arrangements are developing organically, because according to what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has told us, north of the Border he is to be the Keeper of the Black Spot, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Indeed, he said most beguilingly I thought, that he would have nothing to do with whether anyone got on the list or not: even better, he would stop them even applying to get on the list. That must be new conservatism.
The fact is that if we adopt the present system which is proposed in the Bill, 70 per cent. of our fellow colleagues in the European Union will be voting on this system; namely, Germany, France, Greece, Spain, Portugal and ourselves-- 70 per cent. This is not an enormous constitutional innovation, intended to subvert all our regimes. It is intended to be a development to make people more interested in Europe in a parliament which of course is not the same as the Westminster Parliament. Its functions, its constitution and its structures are designedly different.
What the Government propose is a simple list system. The noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, is quite right. The Home Secretary did look at other models and came to the conclusion that they had deficiencies. He is also quite right in that the Finnish system is the same generally as the system proposed by these amendments. The Luxembourg system is not: it is quite a complicated system in which each voter can vote up to six times, spreading votes between the parties. That is not, I believe, a very practical way of going forward.
Perhaps I may offer a suggestion. At present the first- past-the-post system which the irredentists cling to depends on a closed list of one. We do not have primary elections in this country, as far as I am aware, to choose that one. To suggest that a closed list of one is rather more democratic somehow than a simple list of 10 or 11 simply is Cloud-cuckoo-land. To suggest that party discipline is going to focus on this list of 10 or 11, as opposed to the prospective deselection of the one, I believe it wholly unreal.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, if I have understood my noble friend, a closed list of one is how he refers to the present way of selecting candidates to bear the party's standard in Parliament. But surely you could only use that phrase if only one candidate came before the selectors. Where there are half a dozen candidates coming before the selectors, the party members, and being interrogated by them and then they decide on the one that they prefer, that surely cannot be described as a closed list of one. Have I wholly misunderstood my noble friend?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend has wholly misunderstood what I was saying and he has at the same time wholly confirmed the thrust of what I was actually articulating. What, on a first-past-the-post system, is offered to the voter is literally a closed list of one. It derived of course from a list which offered itself forward and was allowed to be offered forward in the Labour Party--in Scotland it is not allowed to be put forward--and then that closed list of one is offered to the electors. Equally, assume that there are 10 persons on the simple list: in the Labour Party they derive from a field of hopefuls and others of perhaps 20 or 30, and so what I said earlier was the literal truth.
The electorate at present is given a choice to vote for this Labour candidate or nobody else, if they want to vote Labour. I repeat that the research which has been commissioned generally indicates that the system proposed by the Government is one that is likely to work. I shall not repeat it at any length, because we have worked through the systems often enough. The fact is that if you have a so-called open list it is perfectly capable of producing anomalies so that those with the largest personal vote may not be elected and others on the party list may well be.
The Government's position, I am glad to say, had strong support from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on an earlier occasion. He described the earlier proposals as "fiddle" and "manifestly unfair" in that some persons could be elected on fewer votes on candidates who were not elected. We believe that we have got a workable system. All electoral systems, in the nature of things, and particularly new ones, are likely to be compromises. We think we have reached a fair compromise. It is not unprecedented in this
I repeat again that one does not need to be a slavish follower of everything European, but if this Bill is carried in its present form 70 per cent. of our colleagues in Europe, including us, will be voting in this way. I think that the arguments put forward--substantially on the basis of "Where will it all end?"--are not convincing.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have had an interesting debate, made more interesting by the fact that it took three interventions from the Liberal Front Benches to deal with a fairly simple issue. I suspect that was to cover embarrassment at what I think was described as "a squalid deal". It also probably took three interventions to cover the simple fact that, as I said earlier, Celia Thomas, writing in the Liberal Democrat News, gave the game away when she said that in the end they would have to give in gracefully to the closed list. So it has taken three Liberal Front-Benchers to give in gracefully to the closed list. Does a Liberal Back- Bencher wish to intervene?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I was just about to take my seat; but at the next European elections something like 20 Liberal Democrats will be elected. They will be elected because they will represent something like that proportion of people voting Liberal Democrat at that election. That will be the first time that the Liberal Democrats will have got a fair deal from the electoral system for the European Parliament. I do not call that a squalid deal: I call it electoral justice.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, that was the fourth intervention from a Liberal Democrat Front-Bencher: I had thought one was coming from the Back Benches. So it is really all to do with making sure that the Liberal Party gets its place in the sun: in fact I have never had any doubt that this was the reason why they supported proportional representation.
However, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, by intervening has reminded me that he seemed to be implying that next June the proof of the pudding will not just be in the vast number of Liberals who are elected, but in the vast number of the electorate who will turn out, because they will be so enthused by this new system of voting. We may well find that that is not so, but we look forward to the proof of that particular pudding in June.
As always, the Minister makes interesting submissions to your Lordships' House. He came close to saying, as usual, that just because we do it differently from other parts of the world we are wrong and we must change. I am surprised that we are not being invited to drive on the right-hand side of the road which is the practice on the Continent. The fact of the matter is that five states--Germany, Spain, France, Greece and Portugal--adopt a closed system where voters cannot alter the order in which the candidates appear on the list. In nine states--Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Austria and Ireland--the order of names on the list may be changed by casting personal votes for particular candidates. In Luxembourg and Ireland voters may in addition vote for candidates from
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was careful to tell the House that Westminster elections are different. That little caveat is inserted just in case the Government decide--as I hope they will in a month or two--not to have any truck with a Jenkins report that favours that kind of voting for Westminster.
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