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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps I may respectfully ask him an important question on the legitimacy of the amendment. Will the noble Earl accept that the amendment derives directly from the Parliament Acts?
The argument, which has been rehearsed before--we have been reminded of that--as between closed and open lists can be taken at two levels: in relation to these precise elections for the European Parliament; and, as I have pointed out previously, as evidence of this
But that is only one aspect. The other is about the coming elections for the European Parliament. On that point I find myself less enthusiastic. I feel that it is merely delaying the day when we shall have to consider whether we want to elect anyone to that body. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, reminded us of the complete ignorance of the electorate about the European Parliament, and about his own MEP--no doubt a worthy person. But is it surprising when one has a body about which the things we do know are not universally to its credit? The public knows that the parliament spends vast sums of its money on building palaces for itself in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg and on parading MEPs and officials and their piles of documents in caravan from one of these centres to another. The word "nomad" used to conjure up the idea of an Arab on a camel; now it brings to mind the picture of an MEP.
In these circumstances, does it really matter? Of course I shall vote for the amendment because in principle I object to the strengthening of all party bureaucracies and at the moment in particular the bureaucracy of the Labour Party. But, however it goes, it is secondary to the question whether the European Parliament is the kind of body that we want to control the activities of the serious parts of the European institutions, in particular the Commission. I believe that that work can be done only by members of national parliaments. A great mistake was made when we resorted to any form of direct election. The sooner we get back to a direct link between these Houses of Parliament and the Commission, the sooner the latter's record of incompetence and fraud will be made manifest in ways that the European Parliament, so-called, has signally failed to do.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I believe that at least this measure will have earned a small footnote in the record of contemporary history, in part because of the apparent paradox that a non-elected Chamber has done its utmost to introduce genuine democracy into an elected European Parliament and at the same time the elected House has done its utmost to introduce a system that is authoritarian and hands power to parties rather than electors. That in itself deserves a footnote, but there are other features that we need to explore even at this late hour.
The question one asks--it arose at once from the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead--is what is the real wish of the House of Commons in this matter? Is the settled purpose, as he claimed it to be, based on the fact that it has been there five times, and now a sixth time, with large majorities in every case? I have had a look at whatever evidence is available on this matter. The only time that the House of Commons had a genuine opportunity to vote on the election system of the European Parliament was under
What has happened since then? Has the House had an opportunity to change its mind? No. It has been a Three-line Whip throughout, yet we know that there has been no real shift of opinion in the Labour Party, certainly not among Labour Members of Parliament. No document emanating from the Labour Party can be pointed to anywhere that gives authority to a closed list system. There are plenty of documents which say that we must now have proportional representation but none says that it must be a closed list. We know that an open list is the policy of the Liberal Democrats and is supported, as I understand it, by the Conservative Party. So where is that great majority in the House of Commons in favour of a closed list system?
Then what do we find? There is the sheer embarrassment to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred, that in the midst of this really taut issue, as it now is, Labour Members on the Scottish Select Committee, on 18th November, deliberately put in words to say that they prefer the open list to a closed list and that that is a better reflection of our commitment to democracy in this country. My goodness, it is quite a story, is it not? It does not quite reflect the view of a settled will of the House of Commons as claimed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins.
There are two major questions which we must ask. First, why have the Government persisted in this extraordinary way by coming back five or six times to put forward this particular system? I shall not go into detail on the merits of the matter. We know very well that it is better indeed for the electors to have the right to choose or vote for the people whom they wish to have as their representatives. Of course they prefer that to giving that power to the party.
Who is the party? We know about that because we have been helped by noble Lords who have spoken against this measure. They have told us that the MEPs will be chosen by a committee of 11 wise men: six are members of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party; two are nominees of that National Executive Committee; and three are regional officers of the party. Goodness me, that really is power, is it not, in the hands of the party leadership? That is unacceptable.
If I thought that those 11 men consisted of people of the reputation and integrity of my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn or of my good friend the Home Secretary, if I thought that the 11 were adjudicators of that quality, I should be tempted--I will not say that I should wholly go along with it--to go along with the
What other arguments are left? Perhaps I may refer once again to my noble friend Lord Callaghan. He put the point with more force than anyone else that there is that anomaly in the open list system in which it is possible for someone to become a member who has won fewer votes than someone who has won more votes but who does not become elected. But the reason for that is the PR system. It arises naturally under proportional representation.
During the short interval that we have had between the last occasion on which we debated this matter and now, I took the trouble to contact the Finnish Embassy. Finland operates an open list system. I put it to the Finnish Ministers there in a wholly open way. I said to them, "What is your experience? Do you find that, when someone is elected as an MEP to the European Parliament from Finland who has won fewer votes than a member of another party who is not then elected, that is acceptable? Is there a great fuss and a row?". "Not a bit", they said. "We accept it as being perfectly natural and normal and something that must arise out of the proportional representation system which we in our country support and have no intention whatever of changing it". So much for the anomaly.
What is left? First, the closed list system is in operation in Europe. Seventy per cent. of the member states operate it in the European Parliament. While we have many things to learn from our continental neighbours, and I mean that quite genuinely, we really must not set them up as being superior in experience and wisdom in the matter of the practice of democracy; they are not so. Perhaps I may give examples of what I mean. The great problem for our democratic comrades across the Channel is that the system has resulted in a gap and gulf between the elected representatives and their own people. There is what they call a classe politique; something separate and apart from the people they are supposed to represent. It arises out of the PR system and the closed list.
Perhaps I may give one illustration. On 3rd May, just after that great meeting of the European Council during the British Presidency when the 11 Euroland members were declared, the German Bundestag had before it the proposition that it should join the single currency. The same day an opinion poll taken in Germany showed that the majority of the German people--not for the first time--were not in favour of the single currency. Yet that very day the German Bundestag voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining it. Are we surprised that the gap exists between representatives and people in continental Europe?
I shall add one final point. We may object to it; some people may laugh at it; some people may try to fiddle it; but we are committed at least to a referendum in this country before we join the single currency. Not one of the 11 member states which has become part of
So there it is. Certainly the reason the Government are pressing the legislation cannot be on merit. Why are they doing this six times? It is not on the merits of the case, so why is it? I seriously ask whether there is somewhere here a secret agenda. Is there something going on about which we have not been told? I have looked, naturally, as you would expect me to, at what was going on in continental Europe over the same period. I found three matters of genuine relevance which I believe one has almost a duty to report to the House. First, as part of the Maastricht Treaty there were changes in the clauses in the European Community treaty affecting the election of Members of the European Parliament. It changed the formula into a looser one; that it can go ahead and have a uniform system provided that members are in agreement on common principles.
The European Parliament also changed the treaty to include a clause which greatly stressed the importance and desirability of cross-frontier political parties; multi-national political parties. It then set up an institutions committee, not surprisingly, and it reported in favour of adopting a system. A long resolution was passed on 15th July 1998 before the sequence of votes took place here, the first of which was on 20th October. That was the immediate background.
If we accept the system we shall be committed to it, joining in a common European system from which we cannot withdraw. In addition, we would be committed in principle, though not under an immediate threat, to opting for a system of cross-frontier elections based upon proportionality and the cross-frontier parties: in the parties with the entitlement to additional seats--it is about additional seats amounting to 5 or 10 per cent. of the total--the cross-frontier party managers themselves can allocate who are to be the MEPs. It is not even the 11 good men of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, but a number of men, perhaps 11 or so good men, of the European socialist party and the European equivalent of the Conservative Party who will decide. That is not an attractive prospect and I can well understand why the Government would not wish to have this matter brought into the general background of our debate.
I say to my noble friend and to the House that I am amazed that in these long debates--we have had at least six--not once has a Minister in either House referred to the parallel developments occurring in the European Parliament and the European institutions. I say that with considerable emphasis, because in its resolution of 15th July 1998 it included the sentence:
I conclude with a few words about the lessons to be learnt. One of them is that, in my view, this House behaved admirably. It did its duty, it stuck by its guns and it had every right to do so during the one year which the Parliament Act allows us to return measures we dislike to the House of Commons. It has no reason to be other than proud of that resolution and achievement. However, it is now a different ball game. The Parliament Act comes into effect; we have had our 12 months' delay, and moreover we are in the second Session. We cannot stop the measure. Therefore, I will not vote for the amendment, partly for constitutional reasons but also because it is now the easiest way of helping the Government to get the Bill through. It is only by passing that firm resolution that they will get the timetable which they need. Having said that, I had better sit down.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, after that pyrotechnic display from the noble Lord, Lord Shore, what I have to say will seem a trifle flat. I hope to be brief and to curtail much of what I might have said, owing to the hour.
Twice in the previous Session I spoke on the topic of open and closed lists. In between the first and the second of those occasions, as I explained on the second occasion, I had been selected as number one on the list of prospective Conservative Euro-candidates for the European parliamentary elections in the North West of England. So that there is no doubt about the matter, I should like to explain to your Lordships that I was born in Carlisle.
I want to reiterate my comments about the closed list, which I consider to be a horrid thing. I had intended to illustrate the matter, but the noble Lord, Lord Shore, has already done so in a manner, with respect to illustrations from his party, which, if he had not been more fastidious, I think he would have described as in the manner of Tammany Hall, and the aura of the closed list is the reek of the stench of the smoke-filled rooms of that building.
In the past, I have always voted on this topic in accordance with my opinion of the merits of the closed, as opposed to the open, list. In trying to understand the nature of proportional representation, it is helpful to liken it to sin. Both of them come in a number of different forms, some of which are much more attractive than others.
The Labour Party's manifesto flags up that party's intention, were it to be elected to government, to introduce a form of proportional representation for the European parliamentary elections. However, it does not specify what that form should be. As the debate has moved on, we have ceased to debate the nuances of the merits of the closed versus the open system. We are now talking about whether or not the system that is necessary to bring proportional representation on to the statute book should be the form favoured by this Chamber or the elected Chamber.
If it is the purpose of politicians fundamentally to frustrate the government of the day, I believe that that should be done on the Floor of the other place. It is the nature of the European Parliament that it sits for a fixed five-year term and, therefore, it follows that in this Government's term of office there can be but one European parliamentary election. If we continually return this matter to the other place under the guise of asking the other place to think again, we could have the effect of fundamentally frustrating that project because the Government will run out of time to implement the proposals.
I believe, like Dicey, that the general rule is that the House of Lords must, in matters of legislation, ultimately give way to the House of Commons. That is one of the best-established maxims of modern constitutional ethics.
As I have already mentioned, I was chosen to be number one on the Conservative list of prospective candidates in the North West for the European Parliament. As I explained on a previous occasion, I received conflicting advice on whether to participate in the debate and the vote. On reflection, I decided to do so. However, on this occasion, although I believe that it is constitutionally correct that the Government should get their business through, I am told by informed and expert commentators on such matters that by virtue of being number one on the list, the Government getting their business through is likely to enable me to achieve something that I want; namely, to be elected to the European Parliament, so I intend not to vote. To vote for the Government is promoting my candidature and, in the particular and peculiar circumstances of this evening, to vote for the amendment has the same effect.
Before I sit down, I hope that your Lordships will allow me to conclude with some points which I believe are very relevant and can be held by all candidates and all those involved in the elections. Proportional representation is unknown political territory on the mainland of this country. The preparations for an election held under it are not straightforward and the necessary pre-election work is complicated, time-consuming and novel. All those matters have had to go on hold during this period of uncertainty. The longer we are all kept waiting, the less effective the various political parties will be in the election which is to be held in June next year which is, after all, only six months' hence.
Traditionally, European parliamentary elections have had a low turn-out. That is not only bad when looked at from the perspective of the European parliament--some noble Lords may find that an attractive proposition--but I believe that it is also bad for the political process and democracy in general. It is particularly so in a world where there is evidence of increasing disillusionment with politics. I have no doubt at all that I speak for everybody involved in those elections when I speak to
Lord Monson: My Lords, I believe it is fair to say that most noble Lords who have opposed this Bill in its present form over the past months have done so as outright opponents of PR. I readily agree with those noble Lords in maintaining that the first-past-the-post is by far the best system for general elections, given that they result in the formation of a government. And they, ideally, should not have to depend on horse trading or shifting political alliances.
However, none of those elected to the European Parliament is to be granted executive powers. I believe that was a point made in so many words by my noble friend Lord Weatherill. Therefore, PR in some form may well be appropriate for European elections.
But there are at least two things wrong with the form of PR proposed by the Government. The first is multi-member constituencies as such. One of the glories of our British tradition is that MPs take pride in working hard and conscientiously for all their constituents, no matter that the political opinions of their constituents may be the precise opposite of their own. I said our "British tradition", but the same applies to Northern Ireland as my noble friend Lord Molyneaux and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, would undoubtedly agree were they here. Unionist members are normally assiduous in attending to the day-to-day problems of their nationalist constituents, and nationalist members are equally zealous in looking after their unionist constituents.
The proponents of the multi-member constituency argue that only a Conservative can effectively look after the mundane interests of Conservative voters; only a Liberal Democrat can look after Liberal Democrats and so forth. That is surely a counsel of despair, alien to our traditions.
The second thing wrong with the method proposed is the closed list. So far what has not been pointed out is that the closed list system is much more attuned to the late 19th century than to the late 20th century, and still less to the 21st century. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, implied, it reeks of Tammany Hall, when bewildered, semi-literate men arriving in a strange country after an arduous ocean crossing, were told, "Forget about individuals and names. Vote the straight Democrat ticket year in and year out and the ward bosses will guarantee to wangle you a job and accommodation". Nowadays, partly thanks to radio and television, we have an informed, even streetwise electorate and accordingly most of them are not content to vote the straight party line unthinkingly. They want to be able to fine tune, so to speak, their selection by putting at the top of their list, for example, an anti-abortion Labour candidate, a Conservative who
In trying to defend the closed list system, the Government argue that it is necessary in order to ensure the election of women and members of ethnic minorities--the implication being that, left to their own devices, Labour voters would be reluctant to vote for individuals in those categories. Is not that assumption insulting to Labour voters? The Government also argue that France and Germany operate closed list systems; indeed, they do. However, France and Germany are the two most elitist nations in Europe. Except when the mob are allowed to take over briefly--as happens from time to time--France is run by "les enarques", while the political class in Germany is so contemptuous of the German man-in-the-street that it refused to consult him over abolition of his beloved deutschmark (he would certainly have voted against abolition had he been given the opportunity). So France and Germany are not very happy examples.
This is one of those rare occasions when the broadsheets, the tabloids and most of the public are as one in declaring that, for today's educated electorate, the closed list system will not do. The stance taken by your Lordships' House in October and November, which was the right one, cannot suddenly become the wrong one in December. The general public would, understandably, regard such a volte-face as totally unprincipled. Accordingly, I contend that all noble Lords who oppose the closed list system should support the amendment this evening.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, it is always fascinating that the further one goes away from Westminster in a southerly or an easterly direction, the greater the respect and the enthusiasm for our political and parliamentary institutions. In fact, spending much of my time now in central and eastern Europe, I would go as far as to say that we enjoy very considerable respect. People there look at us with some amusement as they see us seeking to destroy the very institutions upon which democracy is based. They say to me, "Watch out for the closed list; watch out for the party".
In the Ukraine the other day, a closed list was defined to me as, effectively, "life Peers" and the open list as, effectively, "hereditary Peers". The open list of hereditary Peers was obviously far more open because you could see what was coming a long way off. The insults that we throw around about each other are wrong. Some of us on this side of the House feel that we are here by accident of birth or even conception; indeed, I was conceived on the beach at Ocho Rios in Jamaica. I happen to be a Peer because of the accident of birth and have never had the privilege of having a vote because my father died young. I feel that it is not a matter of trying to justify one type of Peer rather than the other. We are both illegitimate and, if I had my way, we should all stand for election.
What worries me is a certain moral dishonesty in the socialist world. The noble Lord, Lord Shore, reminded us that it was in December 1977 that we had the defeat on proportional representation. However, I should like to return to 1st January 1973 when we joined the EEC. I seem to remember that that wonderful Labour Party, with which I co-operate very much on the Council of Europe, decided that the European Parliament was totally undemocratic and refused to send a delegation to it. Therefore, our own delegation, which was desperately short of funds, had to turn to a rather humble couple of people called the Treasurers of the Conservative Group for Europe. We had to go out and raise commercial money from companies, some of which, I note, give donations today to the Labour Party. But, at that time, they had to fund our delegation.
Moreover, two-and-a-half years later the people said, "We are in the European Union [or the EEC] and of course we should participate in the Parliament", but the Labour Party still refused to send anyone. Indeed, it sent people there only after a referendum--and that was two years later.
There is a certain dishonesty about that, but what worries me more today is what my East European friends are saying about the closed list and the party. I suppose we could say, as I was once told, that a communist is a socialist in a hurry. I believe that that goes back to 1926. But, in trying to change things in the way that we are now doing, we should not think just of Europe as it is today; we should think of what Europe will be in the future. We should think of the countries that will join. Where does Europe stop? Where does it end? We should think of the painful process taking place in some of those countries where political power still remains in the hands of the party; where there are still closed lists; where closed committees of 12 appoint people, but only the 13th has the vote--and nobody knows who he is or how long he will remain; where people are not disenfranchised but deselected or possibly disappointed. I do not like closed lists and I do not like the possibility, however remote, that we may see the return of the creeping paralysis of socialism.
Lord McNally: My Lords, as we move towards our 11 o'clock Vote I realise that 25 minutes is not very long to deal with all the issues that have been raised in this debate. It is very strange, coming round this course for the sixth time; it is not long since we discussed it previously. Since then I have felt as though like I have been in an episode of "House of Cards", with all the plots, skulduggery and deals which have been going on.
It is amazing to think how well the present incumbents of the Conservative Front Bench have done out of all this. The present Leader of the Conservatives was of course Chief Whip on the previous occasion. On that occasion he replaced the parliamentary traditions of Burke and Locke by the machinations of Burke and Hare.
We have had a merry canter round. The noble Lord, Lord Shore, as always, was magnificent. I enjoyed that speech the first time I heard it more than 30 years ago. It will go down well when he addresses it where it should be addressed--a Labour Party Conference--when the Labour Party decides how it wants to select its members for the European Parliament. It is not a speech which is particularly relevant to what is before this House tonight.
Two themes are before the House tonight. The first concerns the merits of closed and open lists. Two points have been best made. First, we should stop this parliamentary pantomime, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said, and allow these elections to proceed. Secondly, we should recognise that there are demerits in the open list system, not least that it causes competition and rivalry between party nominees rather than presenting a party case to the electorate.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has not responded to the point that a general election presents short lists of one, chosen by precisely those same party machines--Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour--as will choose in the European elections. It really is double-talk to pretend that this is something new. These are proposals that have been passed in other legislation and that align us with many other parts of Europe. But most of all, as far as we on these Benches are concerned, they will produce by far the fairest Euro-elections that have yet been held. They will give all parties a chance to be properly represented; they will bring party representation--for Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats--to parts of the country that have been denied it by the unfair first-past-the-post system.
I do not want to delay the House. I see the serried ranks of the Conservative Benches, probably the death rattle of the ancien regime. There they are, once again about to defy the elected House. It is an abuse of power. It is a vote too far. We will not join them this evening. We will rely, we believe rightly, on the other place to have its will. The House should proceed, I hope fairly soon, to that decision.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney made an important speech. He accused us of being party to a conspiracy and suggested that I had never mentioned it in the past. He is right. I was on the telephone to King Herod only last weekend and he and I have agreed on a massacre of the innocents, directed from Brussels.
Quite a good deal of humbug is still washing about. Every former MP in this House was elected on a closed list of one. All Life Peers got here by the determination and nomination of a party machine, one way or the other. As it happens, if one criticises the present Government, Mr. Blair is the first Prime Minister ever to
No one is able to give us any lessons about open and closed lists. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said on the first occasion--or was it the second, the third, the fourth or the fifth?--we discussed these matters that he was in charge of the choice of candidates for the Scottish Parliament. He was Lord Blackspot. He could stop them even standing--Lord Blackspot of Ardbrecknish, I beg the noble Lord's pardon. What happened after that with the English Conservative Party, such as it was? It would not even allow the late Nicholas Budgen, who was in fact the grit in the oyster, to stand at all, or Mr. Winston Churchill.
So let us not have any more humbug. The truth is that the principle is as I have always contended it to be. Is it legitimate to continue to assert unelected, unaccountable power against the elected Chamber? On that principle there is no dispute capable. We stand on the principle. I am sorry to say it but those who are playing this ping-pong are deeply flawed and deeply and irremediably wrong.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am not entirely sure exactly how the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has advised his troops to vote on the subject of my amendment, but perhaps that will be revealed later on. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, as Lord Mackay of the Blackspot, that the Conservative Party in Scotland had an election over the weekend. Its party members were able to come along to a meeting and listen to all the people who put themselves forward as candidates. The party members decided in what order they should be on the list. I shall give way to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, if the Labour Party has done anything even vaguely resembling that.
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