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The hon. Gentleman argued that the fundamental problem was the system of proportional representation, and that the amendment was necessary only because we were proposing such a system. In fact, the only recent example of an extreme right-winger and racist being elected was in Millwall, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick). He was elected in a 1993 by-election under the first-past-the-post system. Extreme right- wingers can be elected even under a first-past-the-post system in certain circumstances.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) rightly stressed that democracy must be defended against its enemies. He pointed out that previous experience showed that support for the National Front and the British National party tends to be localised, and that, in the present circumstances, such a party would be unlikely to secure a 5 per cent. vote across London as a whole.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) spoke of the risk of excluding reputable smaller parties. I have already partly answered that question by saying that the 5 per cent. threshold in the German constitution has not prevented the Greens from securing election. Conversely--this is not the fault of the d'Hondt system, which I know the hon. Gentleman does not like--in the 1990 European elections, the Greens in this country did very well in terms of the proportion of the vote, securing something approaching 15 per cent., but did not manage to get a single member elected.

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The first-past-the-post system can and does exclude small parties that have a legitimate place in the democratic system. All that adds to the complexity of the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Ms Perham) mentioned the concerns of communities--in her case, the Jewish population in her constituency, but also the Sikhs and the Bangladeshis--which have been understandably alarmed by the threats made in recent weeks by hard-line extremist parties claiming responsibility for bomb attacks, although they turned out not to be responsible. We should bear in mind that bodies such as Combat 18 have been only too pleased to use the circumstances of the past three weeks to promote their own deplorable attitudes.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that the issue should be considered very carefully, because this was the first occasion on which we had proposed a threshold. I remind him, and the House, that we are doing so because no electoral system has previously been proposed making it possible for a party to secure election on the basis of a relatively small proportion of the vote. In both the Scottish and the Welsh frameworks, which involve the additional member system and a list top-up, the percentage necessary to secure membership through the list is very much higher than that which will apply in Greater London. The hon. Gentleman himself made the point that London has had rather more of its fair share of experience of the activities of the extreme racist parties. That is why we are proposing a threshold.

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have thought carefully about this. We have not jumped rapidly to conclusions. We initially proposed that the Secretary of State should be given power to set a threshold but, on reflection, we concluded that it was right to put a threshold in the Bill. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support, and that of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), for our decision. I also confirm our decision, in response to a request from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, to refer the matter to the electoral commission so that there will be an independent review of the process.

Let me say to both the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) that, in practice, the mathematical threshold is 3.85 per cent.: a party that secures that percentage of the vote is guaranteed a member through the top-up list. In certain circumstances, however--I admit that they are not necessarily normal circumstances--it would be possible for a party to be elected with significantly less than that percentage. Figures that were prepared for us while we were considering the matter demonstrated that a party could secure a member through the top-up list system with a vote of less than 3 per cent. That is where the real worries come into play. That is why it is appropriate that there should be a threshold. In practice, it will not be only marginally higher than the natural threshold, as was implied by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East. Five per cent. is a substantially higher hurdle to get over than, say, 2.5 per cent., which could, in certain circumstances, be the mathematical threshold.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town rightly referred to the fears and anxieties that were felt by the Bengali community in Blackwall after the British National party secured the election of a candidate

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in a 1993 by-election. I visited Blackwall frequently during those months and played a small part in organising the campaign to ensure that that particular pedlar of race hatred was evicted in the subsequent 1994 council election.

I am delighted that the democratic process triumphed and that the BNP was rejected in 1994. I pay tribute to all the decent people in the Blackwall community who came together in adversity to ensure that democracy and decent values prevailed against the BNP and the pedlars of hatred, but I have not forgotten the fears and anxieties that I experienced at the time. I have not forgotten the sight of thugs--one can describe them by no other word--marching in a bully-boy way through the streets of a community that is largely populated by Bengalis, deliberately stirring up hatred and fear.

We cannot allow such spectacles in our society. We have a duty and responsibility to take action to prevent our democracy from being subverted by people who have no commitment to it at all and who use the opportunity of a democratic election to undermine all the democratic values, values of decency and good relations between races that are fundamental to our society.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town referred to the new democratic system that we are putting in place and emphasised how important it is that it is inclusive. I cannot do anything other than concur entirely with his views.

I have already referred to the support of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet for our decision to put a threshold in the Bill; I am grateful for his support. He made the point that a party that can secure 125,000 votes deserves a voice. That is the effect of what we are proposing. A party that secures about 125,000 votes will secure a voice; below that, it will not.

As I have said, it is, to some extent, an arbitrary figure, but there are good precedents for the 5 per cent. It seems to us to be a reasonable level. It will establish that a party that cannot secure that level of support among the electorate as a whole does not get the opportunity to voice its views, obnoxious as they may be, through the Greater London assembly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East referred to the natural threshold. I have explained that it is 3.85 per cent., but can be lower. That is the justification for a 5 per cent. threshold. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that, in Europe, the extreme right has secured much higher percentage figures in polls. I agree. That is one of the great lessons that we have to learn. It is not a cause for complacency, but, in the past 50 years, we in this country have been fortunate in ensuring that the views of extreme right-wing and racist parties have not built the sort of bridgehead that has been possible in other countries, including France.

We must remain constantly vigilant against the threat, which can do enormous damage to good community relations and democracy. I believe that the threshold that we are putting in place will contribute to the process.

I remind hon. Members that it was this country that contributed to the establishment of the threshold in Germany in the post-war era. In many respects, that has proved successful as a bulwark against the resurgence of extremist, racist views in Germany, which has seen more of that than any other country in Europe this century. Therefore, we must be serious and careful. What the

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Government are proposing is appropriate. It is a step taken, not lightly but with considerable care and after consultation. I hope that the House will endorse the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 137, in page 166, leave out lines 35 to 37.--[Mr. Dowd.]

Schedule 3

Amendments of the Representation of the People Acts.

Mr. Raynsford: I beg to move amendment No. 102, in page 174, line 38, at end insert--

'Broadcasting during elections

21A.--(1) Section 93 shall be amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), after "local government election" there shall be inserted ", other than an Authority election,".'.

Hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will recall that I wrote to them on 4 March, setting out my intention to disapply section 93 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 for the purposes of the GLA elections. As I said in an earlier debate, elections to the authority will be treated as local authority elections for the purposes of the RPA, except when our proposed new electoral systems make current local government provisions impractical or inappropriate.

When changes are needed--as, for example, in broadcasting regulation at elections--I have been keen, as on other issues, to adopt a bipartisan approach. I have written to the main Opposition parties on a number of electoral issues, so that we might achieve--so far as possible--a consensus.

Hon. Members will recall that section 93 stipulates that an item cannot be broadcast during an election campaign without the consent of all the candidates in a particular constituency. As I said in my letter to Committee members, it would be completely impractical--given the arrangements for election, across the whole of London, of assembly members on the top-up list--to apply those provisions, as only one candidate would have to refuse consent for there to be no possibility of a broadcast. Such a situation would be nonsensical.

An approach similar to the one that we are proposing was adopted, after consultation with the parties, for elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Equally, section 93 will not apply to elections to the European Parliament.

Amendment No. 102 is essential to ensure that workable arrangements can be put in place for coverage of the elections. Broadcasting organisations will still be bound by the requirements of impartiality, accuracy and balance that are placed on them by statute and by the broadcasting regulatory bodies. It is a practical and sensible amendment, which I hope the House will accept.


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