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Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, we on these Benches commend the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for his deep study of the proportional representation systems and for the enthusiasm with which he advances the proposals of an open list. These are arguments which we have advanced over many years and we enjoy seeing any convert. However, we take the view that it is important that this Bill gets on the statute book as soon as possible and we do not propose to hold up Government business by supporting this amendment.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, made clear, this group of amendments would introduce "pure" open lists for the electoral region element of the additional member system to be used for the assembly elections. We believe
Under the Government's proposals, voters will be asked to make two decisions in the polling booth: to vote for a constituency member and to vote for the additional members for the electoral region in which the constituency is located. The election of the constituency member will be by the same process as applies for the election of MPs to another place, but the additional members' election is a completely new procedure. There will be new duties for electors to perform and new terminology for them to assimilate. In this context there is considerable virtue in making the additional member selection simple and straightforward. This is why we have decided that the selection should be by a method whereby voters are given a straightforward opportunity to vote for the party whose list they wish to support or for an independent who may be standing for the electoral region.
An open list consisting of candidates' names only could well give rise to results which were inconsistent with the votes cast by voters for individuals on the party lists. The process of allocating the additional member seats is dependent upon the total number of party list votes each party wins, having regard to the number of individual constituency seats also won by that party. In a pure open list system, the total number of party list votes is the sum of the votes cast for each of the individual candidates on the list.
An example will help illustrate my point about inconsistencies. Take two parties, neither having won any constituency seats in a particular region. It is conceivable that the total vote for party list 1 although high may rely very heavily upon the votes cast for one individual on that list; the other candidates on the list may have polled very lightly. Party 2 may not have had such a large total list vote, but that total might not be so heavily dependent upon one individual and two candidates may have received more votes than all but the first candidate of party 1. Party 1, on the strength of the total votes cast for its candidates, is entitled to two of the additional member seats. The first seat would be allocated to the candidate with the very high personal vote; the second would be won by the second highest poling candidate on the list, who has actually polled very low. Party 2, however, is entitled to only one additional member seat, which would be allocated to its highest polling candidate. The second highest polling candidate for party 2 would not be entitled to a seat, despite the fact that he or she had received a personal vote higher than that achieved by the second candidate of party 1, who had won a seat.
The proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, leads to the electorate choosing Mr. A from party 1 and Mr. B and Mr. C from party 2, and it gets Mr. A and Mr. D from party 1. That apparent
There is a possible further inconsistency in the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. It will be open to candidates to stand for the constituency and for the electoral region. However, if the candidate wins election for a constituency then his or her name is discounted from the party list for the purposes of allocating the additional member seats. What if that person was the one who had attracted the greatest number of individual votes on the list? Should the party be entitled to the additional member seats allocated to it on the strength of votes cast for someone who, following his constituency success, is no longer on that list, particularly if the other candidates had been much less favoured by the electors?
The ballot paper for an open list election is detailed and complex. The names of all candidates for a party list would have to be listed on the ballot paper. Party lists may comprise up to 12 names. Voters would have to decide between placing their mark either beside the name of one candidate on a party list, or for an independent. I believe that there would be considerable scope for voter confusion.
Returning to our proposal, voters will not be asked to make their selection for the electoral region in the absence of information about the candidates on each party list or their order of priority on the list. We are proposing that notices will be prominently displayed in every polling station, listing each party's list candidates in the correct order. It will also be open to the parties to distribute details of their lists to the electorate beforehand. The choice will be an informed one and voters will know when casting their vote for the additional members exactly who is most likely to be elected from each party.
Our essential objection to open lists in AMS elections is our interest in keeping the procedure as simple as possible. We do not believe that the closed list procedure represents any diminution in voters' powers of choice. Voters will have a clear idea of whom they are voting for on a list and the order in which the candidates from that list will be elected. If a voter disagrees with the list of names he or she can vote for another party list or for an independent.
I note that no noble Lord spoke in support of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. That was no doubt because they were aware that it would lead to anomalies of the sort to which I have referred and would make extremely complicated that which should be sensible. In all the circumstances, I invite the House to reject the amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, intervened there, because if the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General did anything, he illustrated the complexities of the proportional representation system. He also suggested that the electorate might not be able to understand my system. Dare I say that he underestimates the intelligence of the electorate? It will be able to understand my system every bit as well as it will be able to understand the Government's system, or any other system brought forward under proportional representation.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, does not become too excited by what he sees as my conversion to proportional representation. I can assure him that it is not a conversion at all; I am just trying to improve what I think is a bad lot. I, like the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, would prefer to stick to first-past-the-post.
I do not believe that my system is all that much more complex. For example, I noticed that the noble and learned Lord made much of the fact that the electorate might find that someone with a lesser vote would be elected when someone with a greater vote might not be. He pointed out that a popular person might be elected for a constituency, and might be at the head of the list and receive a great number of votes over the region, which would pull other people through on his or her coat tails.
That could happen already, because unless the Government intend to keep the list secret, there may well be someone at the head of the list who is popular and who would be elected for a constituency, and who would pull in a lot of votes on the second vote of people thinking that they are voting for the person at the head of the list. That person is elected for a constituency and, lo and behold, the electorate finds that its votes have been used to elect No. 2 or No. 3 on the list, when they really voted for that list because of No. 1 on the list.
Whether it is my system, or that of the noble and learned Lord, his objection is an objection to both systems, and not specifically to mine. I believe that the electorate will find it easy to understand the principle. The basic point is the additional member seats--the additional members for the party. The electorate should be given a choice of the parties' candidates for those additional member seats. It is straightforward. I have no trouble in understanding it. One could explain it relatively easily to the electorate.