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For the first time with this Bill, we will have a Labour representative from the West Country, a Liberal Democrat from the Midlands and a Conservative from the north east. That will produce by far the most balanced delegation in terms of votes cast and their geographic spread. I do not have to apologise for the Bill because it will be a good Bill. It will educate the British people in a new system of regional representation in which two or three Labour Members from the West Country will have a powerful voice in the European Parliament. Those changes are much different from constituencies of 70,000. That cannot be done--as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said--with constituencies of 8 million.
We are dealing with realities. What we have between ourselves and the Government is a partnership of principle that is advancing the cause of fair representation in Europe. Ranged against that partnership is an unholy alliance of those who are first-past-the-post, those who do not like Europe and those who have other reasons for assembling that unholy alliance. I cannot do anything to influence Conservative Members. As we know, they can summon up--we know not from where--vast numbers to vote on certain occasions, when they are not here on others. But I say to Cross-Benchers, as they look to their responsibilities in this House and in a reformed House of Lords, and to those who want to see a proper role for Cross-Benchers in a reformed House of Lords, that they should carefully consider before getting into Lord Mackay's barrel and voting for such a partisan and wrecking amendment.
The government amendment has been little discussed this evening but it is a reasonable and reasoned amendment that will allow the various parties to assess the impact of the Bill. Meanwhile, we send forward the fairest system of election to the European Parliament that this country has yet experienced. As such, we do so with enthusiasm.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we should not forget for a moment nor doubt for a second that we are here on a very serious occasion. That was most notably identified by my noble friend--as he presently remains--Lord Shore of Stepney, who referred to "the old classic reason." Yes. It means justified supremacy after due consideration of the elected Chamber. We revere that principle and we propose to abide by it. It is a fact, not an abuse, to point out that on earlier occasions
The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, in a phrase that I for one, for reasons your Lordships know, found particularly offensive, spoke of Jews and black people. I say this. No Jew that I know sits here because of his ancestral faith, nor any black woman by virtue of her skin.
We have voted twice already to amend the Bill. It has gone back to the Commons. Last Tuesday--and allow me to permit fact to intrude for just a second--the Commons voted 307 to 125. The Home Secretary introduced his own amendment to have a review, which is intended to be speedy, to be established within one month and to report within six months. And that report will be placed before Parliament. That is a reasonable outcome, offered by way of a genuine desire to accommodate your Lordships' views. Not, I appreciate, to capitulate but to accommodate and offer what I regard as a decent, acceptable, compromise--if compromise is in the air at all.
The Home Secretary said that the review would be wide. If it concluded that the closed list system was the wrong system, there would be huge pressure on the Government to change. Open lists have defects. No one on any occasion has disputed my proposition that with the open list system some candidates can be elected with fewer votes than those who fail to be elected. It is worth bearing in mind the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell--who is number three on the London list--that we will have on an open list internal, internecine party squabbling. In other words, it will be the uneasy illegitimate offspring borne out of a sort of sub-primary system and a sort of general election.
It is a fact that political parties bring forward candidates. It is not ignoble for a party to put forward a slate of candidates any more than a slate of policies. It is not improper or constitutionally illegitimate for us to say, if we wish, that we want particular expertise in Europe and a fair geographic spread within a specific European constituency. Above all, no longer do we want ethnic minorities and women to suffer the disabilities that they presently suffer. That is why we want a closed list system. Questions about internal party choice and whether or not one party air-brushes out rather more vigorously than another are utterly not to the point and I waste no time upon them.
It is a fact that cannot be disputed that this system was first introduced, not by the then Mrs. Thatcher, but by Mr. Major's government in the context of Northern Ireland. It was perfectly acceptable then. Both Houses voted for it. The Government of Wales and the Scotland Bills have passed through your Lordships' House with a closed list system. I ascribe no ill motive to anyone, but the question that offers itself to my mind at least is: what is the real purpose of this long drawn-out trench warfare?
Your Lordships know the issues and I hope that I have faithfully defined them as the Government see them. The elected House has a moral legitimacy that we do not. It has considered the matter not once but twice and the majorities have been overwhelming. We shall use every means at our disposal to ensure that the clearly expressed will of the elected House is carried through and put into effect. We propose to stand fast.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has again suggested that in the open list system members can be elected by fewer votes than others, but that is not so inside the same party. I do not believe that electors will fail to understand that distinction. They will understand that inside the same party those with the most votes will be elected. That is the point about an open list. I do not pray in aid Northern Ireland; it is neither for nor against because it is such a uniquely difficult place in which to advance democracy and peace. But what was done in Northern Ireland was for the forum, not a parliament, and was a precursor of the peace process that we hope will move towards success.
The review that we have been promised is fine. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, rightly chided me with the fact that I had asked for the review. I suppose that if I push at the door for long enough I shall get something. The review was not in place of voting systems but was designed to look at whatever one chose to adopt in place of first-past-the-post. All one gets from the Government's promise of a review is what noble Lords have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn; namely, if the review comes out against the closed list there will be huge pressure on the Government to change. We should expect a little more than that before we are able to agree with the other place.
It is interesting that at least in this debate we have managed to get a few government Back-Benchers to their feet. However, I noticed that they did not defend the closed list. They said, perfectly justifiably, that the Commons had been asked to think again, had responded and we should accept what we had been given with good grace and not go back. But I could not fail to notice that no one defended the closed list. As always, it was left to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to defend it. I shall not go into the various points made by the noble Lord, save that I do not believe the correct expression to be "coming up the Clyde in a barrel" but rather "coming up the Clyde in a banana boat". I did not do that either.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that there was time to ask the Government to think again. It is a serious matter for your Lordships' House to ask the Government to think again. But we are not shutting the door on the Bill. Over the weekend the Government have every ability to come up with something else and to make another suggestion. As the noble Earl said, we are detailed to be here again next Tuesday to see what the Government bring. That tells me that the Government are already working out what they have to bring if the arguments of the Minister have not carried the day.
This House should say to the Government that it is not convinced. The Government have put forward no arguments in favour of the closed list over the open list. Frankly, a review is not sufficient. Think again about how to accommodate the views not only of the Conservative Party, a few members of the Liberal Democratic Party, the majority view of the Cross-Benchers and the views of a good part of the press--I could have quoted a good deal more--but also the views of a good number of the Government's Back-Benchers down the corridor. I believe that we should ask the Government to think again. I beg to move.