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Lord Alton of Liverpool: Although I do not share some of the views that the noble Lord, Lord Shore, has just advanced about the European Community, I entirely support the remarks he has made about the undemocratic nature of closed party lists and how those are inclined to entrench the party at the expense of constituents and make Members of Parliament less accountable. Although I freely admit that for 30 years, since as a teenager I signed up to the Electoral Reform Society, I have supported the principle of proportionality, I have never been convinced that party lists were the best way of achieving it. That is one of the reasons why later today your Lordships will also consider a further possibility--the single transferable vote in multi-member seats within a region, such as that which occurs already in the Republic of Ireland and indeed in Northern Ireland within our own jurisdiction.
I also admit that I would vote for this amendment in preference to that which the Government are offering, but it is not the best that is available. Having been brought up on the pure sweet milk of single transferable votes, I do not see any reason for changing my view today. Indeed, I think there are good reasons for supporting the single transferable vote. Some of those reasons were advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in his speech. There is a limitation in any list, whether it is open or closed, on voter choice. Single transferable votes keep a commitment to a constituency, to an area, where you are the representative as well as introducing the principle of broad proportionality. We should maintain those principles.
One of the reasons why some Members of the Committee say that there is disillusionment with the European Parliament is because it seems so distant and unaccountable. But there is disillusionment with our own parliamentary institutions, too. Anything that adds to that disillusionment should be strongly resisted. In the city with which I am most familiar and which I represented at one level or another for some 25 years, there were local elections in May of this year. Just 22 per cent. of the voters voted--in other words, four out of five people simply did not bother to vote. That is the city which the noble Lord, Lord Shore, knows well: it was his birthplace.
In the European Parliament election two years ago in that same city just 11 per cent. of the voters voted and in a local council by-election in November last in that city, just 6 per cent. of the voters voted. So when we talk about disillusionment with parliamentary institutions, we must take a careful look at ourselves as well.
I believe that one of the reasons people become disillusioned is because they see parties taking power and detaching themselves from the interests of the constituents. Anything that undermines the relationship between the elected representative and the constituents should be passionately resisted. I was brought up on the principle that you put your conscience, your constituents and your country first and party interests behind those. Like many others in this Chamber, I remember the words of W.S. Gilbert who mockingly said:
Lord Inglewood: I have listened with considerable interest to a number of the points that have already been made in discussing this amendment. I do not wish to go over them at all. I should merely like to focus my few remarks on the particular point at issue.
It seems to me that it is in the very nature of the list system that, if you vote for the list, you are voting for the individuals on that list in accordance with the rules that apply in the particular election. In my view, it is a bogus distinction to try to maintain that if you are voting for a list you are not voting for the names contained on that list in accordance with the rules that apply to the particular election.
We heard a number of Members of the Committee speak about the problems of the elector who does not want to vote for the candidates on the list, but wants to vote for a particular candidate for a particular reason. I have always understood that it was in the nature of democracy that the system was intended to throw up as those selected to represent the electors those whom the electors wanted. My criticism of the Government's proposals is that they simply reduce the electorate's choice. That is essentially antithetical to the process underlying the electoral system.
Lord Evans of Parkside: The one thing that I can say positively about this Bill is that it was a manifesto commitment to introduce proportional representation for the European Parliament. I am happy to support that particular manifesto commitment. However, I part company with almost everything else because the bounds of this Bill are in Clause 1 and there is little that I can support in it.
As the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said, there are four options before the Committee today. There are the three Opposition options, if I can put it that way, and the Government's own proposals. The one that I support the least is the proposition that the Government have placed before the Committee. It is not only a question of there being a closed list, thereby denying the electorate the opportunity to vote for the candidates they prefer and, in addition, to alter the
My noble friend Lord Shore referred to more control being given to the party managers. In this case their control is total. While there is a charade of democracy surrounding the arrival at the list of candidates, which will involve the party members within the constituency parties and within the European constituencies, in fact the selection of the candidates and their positioning on the list would be in the hands of 11 people who are representatives of the National Executive Committee and of the regional executive committees throughout our party structure. The domination of the National Executive Committee in the choosing of the candidates means that it has a healthy majority. Therefore the chosen candidates would undoubtedly be those who find most favour with the party leadership. That may be a good thing as far as concerns some people. But I would have much preferred it if the party members themselves had selected the candidates through a one member one vote ballot and placed them in order on the ballot paper so that at least there would have been a partly democratic input in the process. However, I must make it clear that I still believe that it should be the electorate which has the final say in electing a candidate.
There is another aspect of the Bill which I also find difficulty in coming to terms with. If the Government's proposals carry the day and their method is adopted for the candidates for the European Parliament, that would tremendously strengthen the hands of those who are opposed to any alteration to the system of election to the House of Commons. When we go through the fiasco that undoubtedly we are about to undergo as regards Europe, there will be an overwhelming demand from members of the public not to change the electoral system for the House of Commons.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the low turnout we have had in many elections. It was certainly pretty awful for the last European elections. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that we had the lowest turnout in Great Britain for the European elections. In adopting the Government's method, I cannot see how that will do anything to enthuse the electorate to go out with simply one vote for the Labour Party candidate, the candidate of the Conservative Party, the candidate of the Liberal Democrats or an individual. That is a deplorable method of approach to any democratic election. I certainly cannot see that the voters' enthusiasm will be improved by adopting this particular method.
I want to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has to say when he moves his amendment and what the Conservative Front Bench have to say when they move theirs. There is one thing that puzzles me: why have we not stretched this particular method of selecting candidates to Northern Ireland? Strangely, Northern Ireland has had a method of proportional representation since 1979. We are told that it has operated so satisfactorily since then that we are going to leave it in place. I recognise that my noble friend has an extremely difficult job this afternoon. Can he explain to me, if not
The Labour Government have missed a great opportunity as regards these elections. They could have put before the Committee a system which would have enjoyed widespread support and which would probably have enhanced the case for proportional representation. But as regards the system proposed, I believe that they have set back the case for proportional representation a very long way indeed.
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