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Noble Lords: The House!

Lord Bach: I am glad that noble Lords are still listening to me. Of course, I meant to say, "the House".

It is possible that under this system a candidate might be elected who has received fewer votes than an unsuccessful candidate. That is bad in itself, but, for a party which supports first-past-the-post, it is the ultimate sin.

Secondly, under the proposed system party labels will be mentioned as part of the ballot paper, but there will be no mention of a party order of preference. We are talking about electoral areas which are regions of Great Britain with millions of electors, not about counties and not about cities, let alone constituencies or wards. How on earth will the electorate be able to choose sensibly in order--I emphasise that--from the ballot paper? This is not an attack on the intelligence and good sense of the voting public--I believe that they showed great intelligence and good sense on the 1st May 1997--but plain common sense. We all belong to clubs or organisations big and small that every year hold postal elections for, say, an executive committee. A list of names appears, sometimes with a short biography. But soon after we start to put down crosses we find that we are voting randomly and for the most stupid of reasons. We are not making a judgment about a candidate's abilities at all. How much more likely is that when dealing with regional elections with perhaps three or four million voters in each region? It will lead to chaos and unfairness.

Perhaps I may quote briefly from a publication entitled Counting on Europe by Professor Dunleavy, Dr. Hix and Dr. Margettes:


That major study of voting systems, carried out just after the 1997 general election, provides good survey evidence that British voters do not like complicated ballot papers with multiple names and tick boxes. They

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have a strong preference for simple, short ballot papers. All the evidence suggests that this would amount to a real injustice, not just to women or ethnic minorities but to those who are discriminated against because their surnames unlike mine are at the end of the alphabet.

I come to my third point which was dealt with so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, in his speech last Thursday and in his letter to the Daily Telegraph earlier this week. Each individual will be fighting against every other candidate including--perhaps specifically--members of his or her own party. Here I attempt to help the party opposite. This is a particular danger for the Conservatives where candidates who are selected clearly disagree with each other on their attitude towards Europe. For example, in my region the number one Conservative candidate is under the impression that the Second World War continues and that the Germans are our enemies to the death, while the second candidate is an ex-member of the European Parliament whose pro-European views make Sir Edward Heath look alike a Eurosceptic.

At Report stage on 12th October, just after I entered this place, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, moved Amendment No. 13 which proposed,


    "the setting up of a commission within six months of the first election to be held under the Bill in order to report within two years on the merits of the electoral system that is proposed".--[Official Report, 12/10/98; col. 761.]
He said nothing about an open list then. As the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, said, that did not arise until Third Reading.

Yesterday the Home Secretary in dealing with the amendment that is before the House today proposed a review within seven months, not two years, of the operation of the system of elections. The review will consider the ability of electors to vote for particular people on a party list and how that may affect the result of an election. The noble Lord has got his way and there is to be a review. That review has been strengthened since last week by a concession from the Secretary of State. If the noble Lord does not accept that, more cynical people than I may begin to wonder whether the motive behind all this table tennis between the two Houses is something rather different from the merits of the Bill.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, got to his feet first; perhaps he should speak now.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, so far no Back Bencher on this side has spoken to the amendment.

Lord Carter: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has tabled a later amendment it may be useful to hear him at this stage.

Lord Bethell: My Lords, I shall speak briefly because I have tabled an amendment that may not be called if the vote goes in a certain direction. I have listened throughout these proceedings to every word that

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has been said by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I agree with him. It appears that several noble Lords opposite and Members of another place on the Government Benches agree with what my noble friend Lord Mackay said. This is a terrible example of cronyism that we see very often under the closed list system. Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody who was with me in the European Parliament in the 1970s is right to point that out.

If one is at the top of the list one wins easily; if one kicks against the pricks during the Session of a Parliament one is pushed off the list or, as the French say, biffe de la liste and the party leadership has the last word on the matter. That is what we have seen happen in the Labour Party. With the greatest respect, we have not seen it in the election of candidates for the Conservative or Liberal Democratic parties. I again declare my interest in that I was elected as a member of the closed list in the London area.

It is very difficult to campaign in this system under an open list as proposed by those who see the individual as the main criterion. For example, in the London area there will be some 6 million voters and 10 candidates for each of the major parties. There will be perhaps 40 or more candidates seeking the votes of those 6 million voters. Each of those 40 candidates must go for that one cross and get the message across to the millions whom he hopes will elect him. How is this to be done other than to some extent on a party basis?

I know that we cannot have a closed list, which is abominable. My noble friend on the Front Bench is quite right. But if there is a possibility of a voter being permitted to vote for someone he knows, or knows of, or has read about, that is excellent. However, I believe that in 90 per cent. of cases--as emerges from those countries where lists of this kind exist, such as Belgium, Finland, Cyprus and elsewhere--the voter votes for the party. Rightly or wrongly, he takes the job lot or group. That is why the mixed list is, I believe, the least obnoxious of those that have been mentioned in these proceedings.

There are 187 types of proportional representation available for Parliament to choose from, but I believe that the mixed list is the one which works best. I do not relish the idea of campaigning with colleagues of one's own party, ostensibly on their side but secretly in rivalry with one's own party. I am sorry to say that but I know that that would happen. I hope that that does not come to pass. I have worked, I hope, as a colleague with the other nine members of my list and I should like to be able to do so, all for one and one for all, without trying to steal a march on the others whenever I get half a chance.

Therefore, I ask noble Lords to concede that my noble friend has won the argument good and proper in your Lordships' House and in another place. He has shown that the leadership of the party opposite has not put up a very good performance over the selection--the parachuting--of candidates into the ballot paper. I ask noble Lords to look at the practicalities of the matter. Most of the candidates for the three major parties are already selected--nearly 300. The party activists, I

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submit, do not relish the idea of going back to square one and starting on the first-past-the-post system which has been the law up until now.

We have carried the ball several hundred yards down the pitch, if I may use a rugby analogy. We have to decide now whether to go for the line or kick for touch. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will consider my amendment for the mixed list system. Though not perfect, it has a great deal of merit. However, on this particular Motion, I shall abstain.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I have had a somewhat rough passage.

Lord Carter: My Lords, we have just had a Conservative speaker. I think we should now hear from this side and then perhaps from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, first we heard from the noble Lord on the Front Bench over there. We have had no Back Bencher--

Lord Carter: My Lords, I suggest that we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, and then from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.


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