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Lord Richard: My Lords, I hope the House will forgive me if I do not exactly follow the geographical and military wanderings and musings of the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle. He lost me slightly in the Hong Kong mud.

I am concerned about this debate. I am not concerned about the issue of open lists and closed lists, but I am concerned about what this House may be doing in respect of its constitutional relations with the other House.

Of course this House has the right--I even go so far as my noble friend Lord Stoddart did at one point in saying that it may have a duty--to ask the House of Commons to think again on an issue on which this House has views. How often are we to ask the House of Commons to think again--once, twice, three times, ad nauseam? Is there really to be a battle of attrition between this House and the other place?

Our constitution is a strange and rather fragile instrument. It is not written. It functions as a result of understandings between the two Houses and those who are in charge of them. If those understandings were to break down, the sensible constitutional relationship between the two Houses would also break down.

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Last week, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, urged us to send this proposal back to the House of Commons. He said that this House had a duty, if there was a new matter that the House of Commons had not considered, to send the Bill back. I listened with great interest to see what was new. The noble Lord's fig leaf last week, if I may put it that way with no disrespect, was the report of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. He said that the House of Commons had not had a chance to consider the report and that we should therefore send the Bill back to the other place so that, in reconsidering the Bill, the other place could consider the report with it. It went back to the Commons, the Commons thought again and decided that they preferred their original opinion and not the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, or the opinion of this House.

I ask the question rhetorically: what is new this afternoon? What is it this afternoon that justifies, on the test proposed last week by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, this House sending it back to the House of Commons to ask the Commons to think again; to reconsider their position in the light of something fresh. There is nothing fresh.

The other side is going to break the understanding that has arisen over a number of years under successive governments as to the circumstances in which this House should insist upon its position. I believe it is wrong. That course is dangerous and is one that it will regret. I hope that those in this House who are capable of looking at and are prepared to look at the matter in its constitutional sense, as well as on the merits or demerits of the narrow issue, will support the Government on it.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene again but there is some feeling in the House that noble Lords would like the wind-up speeches. If they wish to hear another speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has been trying to intervene for some time.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Bethell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and I am glad to have the chance to say a few words. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, reminded us that there are Members of the House who hope to stand for election for the European Parliament in June next year; on my side of the House there are four. All of us, as it happens, are hereditary Peers, so there may be hope for some of us yet.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is aware, I have supported him throughout this debate and believe that he is quite right to continue to support the idea of the open list. Since I was not selected but elected as a prospective candidate, I have seen some of the worst features of the closed list system: the idea that a job lot of candidates is available to be parachuted in, with no chance of people discriminating or differentiating between one candidate and another.

I hope that in the next few days the Government and the Opposition will consider a compromise solution. I have in mind the mixed system--the so-called Belgian

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system--which allows a voter to vote for a party or for a candidate, whichever seems most appropriate. I am not quite sure whether anyone has seen a possible ballot paper for next June. I have seen one for the London area where I am a prospective candidate: in fact, number three. Such a ballot paper will contain about 40 or 50 names. Hardly any of them will be known to more than 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. of the voters. On the London list one will see Villiers, Tannock, Bethell and seven more names. With the greatest respect to all of us, how many voters will be able to make even a vaguely informed value judgment about whom to put the cross against?

It would be good if the party leaders could get together at this stage and work out the mixed list which would enable voters to support a party for an individual candidate, if that seems most appropriate.

I have stood for the European Parliament four times. In each case my campaign had a personal as well as some party input. But in those days it was the simple majority system. We had 500,000 voters. That was enough. On the next occasion there will be 5 million voters in the constituency in which I hope to stand. Conservative, Labour and Lib-Dem candidates will not easily be able to put their names forward to a London public of 5 million voters. It is hard to see how the public will be able to judge between one or another members of a party.

Another problem that will arise under a wholly open list will be that candidates from the same party will be more in competition than candidates from opposing parties. This is something that occurs in Ireland. At the moment, 10 of us in London work harmoniously together against the Labour Party. This unites us. In particular, a fully opened list would throw us against one another.

I therefore hope that we will in the end decide--maybe not today but in the course of the next week--to adopt the half-way system which is the least bad of the many types of PR that have been thrown at us.

I have one final point. A move to a fully open list at this late stage will destabilise the practicalities of next June's elections. There are those in my party who, at our election--not selection--were given the right to stand in a closed list. They turned down that offer because they were low down in the ranking. If they now find that the law has changed and the list is open, they will feel cheated with the goalposts having been moved so widely so late in the match. They may even have a legal claim.

I do not wish to give the impression that I am at all in favour of the closed list system. One thing that this debate has done is to reveal the bizarre way in which candidates from the Labour Party were selected by the leadership. However, I very much hope that the Government can, at this stage, get together with the leaders of the other parties and work out a way in which candidates can be selected on a sensible basis of

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knowledge of the candidate and knowledge of the party; not on a matter of pure random selection on 10th June next year.

Lord McNally: My Lords, in an earlier life I remember attending a meeting of the national executive of the Labour Party. An old Scottish trade union leader was invited to join in voting with a certain faction, with many high principled arguments being put his way. He refused to do so. Afterwards, I asked him why he had not joined the opponents' side. He said: "They must have thought I came up the Clyde in a barrel". I have never worked out why travelling up the Clyde in a barrel made someone particularly gullible, but it seems to me that quite a number of noble Lords are being invited to join such a journey with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay.

In essence, we have a wrecking amendment to the Bill. Those who are prepared to go along with the wrecking amendment should fully consider the consequences.

Many of the criticisms we heard today have been about how one party--the Labour Party--has managed its internal affairs. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, put if perfectly correctly when he said that he would use the offer, breathing space and review from the Home Secretary to campaign within the Labour Party to repair such shortcomings as may be within that party's internal democracy. That is as it should be.

We in the Liberal Democrats have no such problems. We elect our candidates on one member, one vote. As I have said on previous occasions, some members of the awkward squad have ended up on top and some party loyalists have turned up on top. That is the way it is in the Liberal Democrats. From the beginning, we have joined with the Government not under any deal but on the basis that we both fought the general election to bring forward a proportional representational system for the next elections to the European Parliament. During the long course of this Bill through Committee and many other stages, we have argued various cases. At this stage, we view the Bill in its entirety. Elements of the debate have been like a revivalist prayer meeting, with various sinners getting up to confess. Those who today have advocated the open list system acquiesced for almost a quarter of a century in systems of election or nomination to the European Parliament that were not simply less fair than the open list system but much less fair than the system your Lordships are considering now.

Noble Lords: Rubbish!

Lord McNally: Members of the Conservative Front Bench say "Rubbish." There is no doubt in my mind and in the minds of my noble friends as to why we will be with the Government tonight. What is on offer for the 1999 European elections is a fairer system than ever

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before. We know from previous elections that 60 Conservatives have won and some 20 Labour Members have been returned, but no Liberal Democrats or others.

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