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Lord Bowness: My Lords, I very much regret that in this amendment I cannot support my noble friend Lady Miller or the noble Lord, Lord Tope, whose knowledge of local government matters I deeply respect. I had rather hoped that those who were elected would be London-wide members in the light of the normal convention that, however people are elected and by whatever means, they then become representatives of the people of the area. Surely it is not suggested that the London members should be purely nominees just to do the bidding of their party irrespective of the wishes or needs of the citizens of Greater London. If one does not like the party list, to argue that that should be the case is to argue for more power to the party in determining such matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, wants a mechanism to deal with this situation. I hope that we shall not have such a mechanism, but that in the interests of democracy (even if people are elected by a list submitted by their party), they
I take exception to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. He said that we had no experience of these matters anywhere in the United Kingdom's political system. We do. We have already had the experience of Scotland and of Wales. During our Committee considerations of the Scotland and the Government of Wales Bills your Lordships looked at exactly these issues when considering the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In particular, we discussed this matter in relation to the Scottish Parliament on 14th July 1998. We discussed it then in the context of two quite different problems. The first was the one that we are addressing today: the position of the additional members who are there only to keep proportionality, now so beloved of the Government as well as the Liberal Democrats. They are not there for any other reason.
Whether a party has two or three members is decided entirely on the basis of proportionality. The intention is to retain proportionality. The additional members are there for that purpose and do not represent anyone other than their party and proportionality. I am sorry to disagree with my noble friend. We may not like it, but that is the reality. The additional members are quite different from the first-past-the-post members. The governing party here and in Scotland has treated them differently when it comes to expenses. It has said that the first-past-the-post members will receive so much expenses and that the additional members will receive less. Somehow they are second-class members when it comes to representing constituents--because they do not have constituents in the same way. The system that has been devised in Scotland, Wales and now London has created two classes of member. I do not like it, but that is the reality.
The problems that your Lordships addressed in the Scotland Bill were even worse than the present ones. If one of the additional members had died, retired or resigned, the returning officer would have turned to the highest loser and asked whether that individual wished to take the seat. If he agreed, he would have taken the seat. He could have left the party by that time, but the legislation as originally drafted would have allowed it. Your Lordships forced the Government to change that. Clause 11(5) now appears in the Bill solely because we forced the Government to change their mind. The situation is that if the highest loser is no longer a member of the party, he or she is not elected.
I believe it is a serious defect in the system. I believe the system is defective, and inside the system there is a serious defect here. As the Bill, the Scotland Act and the Government of Wales Act have addressed the first problem--namely that nobody should inherit a seat if they have left the party whose seat it is--then I believe that nobody should be allowed to keep a seat if they change their place in the chamber, because they are only there to maintain that proportionality. If they move to the other side of the chamber they will have broken that proportionality.
I am afraid that this amendment is totally logical and it is totally at one with Clause 11(5). If my noble friend does not like it, it is because he does not like proportionality and proportional representation. In that I agree with him. I do not like it either. However, it is reality. It is what we have in Scotland and Wales. It is what London is going to have. I believe that we have to grope for ways to make the system as workable as possible. I think that this amendment ought to have been pressed in the Scottish and Welsh Bills. It was not, and I take my share of responsibility for that. I certainly hope that, if it is pressed today by the Liberal Democrats, even though we profoundly disagree on the principle of proportional representation, it will be passed by your Lordships.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I simply cannot agree with my noble friend Lady Miller that because you fundamentally disagree with somebody you lose your seat. We know that proportional representation is a rotten system. If we think in this House that it is a rotten system, which we do because it produces people like Adolf Hitler who, as your Lordships are well aware, was voted into power perfectly legitimately under proportional representation, why should we even attempt to make it better? Why should we attempt to make it better by a method of democratic centralism which provides that you cannot do anything other than I say you can do? This is a deeply, deeply illiberal amendment.
I am sorry to say this and disagree with my noble friends. My noble friend Lord Mackay is saying that it is a bad system and that we might make it better. I think that it is a system which is not made any better by doing anything to it at all and that we should allow people to have some sense of their own consciences. What happens, for instance, if someone is a totally rebellious Tory, Liberal, Labour, Independent, Scottish National, Green or whatever in London? He does not resign, he just persistently votes the other way. Is his party going to have the right to expel him? All he does, if he has an ounce of noodle in his head, is not to resign the Whip. He just behaves as if he has and keeps the Whip.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with both my noble friends who spoke about democracy of the individual. The trouble is, as we have seen with the Scottish Parliament, this is the system we now have. My noble friend said that it does not matter at all who the member is; the members are just there for the party. Alas, that is the position the Government have accepted, as have the Liberal Democrats.
I wonder whether, quite apart from paying less expenses to the list members, it would not be cheaper still just to have buttons which one presses to vote. There is very little point in being there at all if you cannot do anything your party does not want.
The other point to make is that there is no way for list members to use clout against their party to try and tell them they are wrong and persuade them to change. On a number of occasions in local government I remember saying I was going to resign as the chairman of a committee or as a member if it did not do this, that or the other, or that I would change parties. If you move from one party to another in this assembly, no clout at all remains with you. You have no sanction. Nevertheless, this is the system we have and we have to get it to work.
I forget whether, when the Scotland Bill was going through this House, anyone raised the question of the human rights of the individual. I do not know whether the Convention on Human Rights would make it difficult to legislate for someone to have to resign if they moved party. It seems to me it is a limitation on human rights. It is a question that the Government may have looked at and, if they have not, they probably should.
I think we have to go along with this amendment. In this assembly, I think that the system becomes more and more unfortunate and less and less democratic. The Liberal Democrats are being logical. They do not mind who is in the assembly. They just mind that they are there because they belong to a particular party and they are the ones the party happens to have picked out. The electorate can only tell what the balance of the assembly is.
I say that we have to go along with this--I say so with a heavy heart--simply to be logical. Your Lordships usually try to be logical when they are improving a Bill.
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