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Lord Hughes of Woodside: I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said about constituency responsibility and whether Members or Parliament spend too much time on such work, and that reminded me of an argument which has been going on for a very long time. I remember Nye Bevan once chastising Jennie Lee on the basis that she spent too much time in her constituency and telling her that she had not been elected to be a social worker.
In my experience, constituency work has increased over the years largely because of centralisation of power and many local government councillors have given up the ghost of being able to do anything at all. I have no particular romantic attachment to constituency work. In my view, the only thing worse than the situation described by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, of being involved in such work on a wet Saturday morning is being involved on a bright Saturday morning; indeed, that is infinitely worse. Of course, there are two schools of thought as to whether constituency work is of any benefit to a sitting Member of Parliament. Some people take the view that the more people you see at a constituency surgery the less chance you have of being re-elected because you satisfy very few people.
However, I shall leave that aside and pass on to the main argument about proportional representation versus first-past-the-post. I must admit that I am at times a little old fashioned. I was certainly brought up in the tradition that the purpose of having an election was to gain a majority of seats in Parliament so that, thereafter, you could implement your election manifesto and exercise power.
Contrary to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, I am not sure that the first-past-the-post system has punished parties which have become out of touch with the electorate. In my view first-past-the-post kept the previous Conservative government in place long after it should have expired. It appeared that over the 18 years nothing we could do in subsequent elections could budge the then government. None of us knows why people vote as they do at a certain time. Some people say that the Falklands war saved Mrs. Thatcher, now the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. However, I must admit that I have a sentimental attachment to first-past-the-post.
However, I am primarily opposed to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, because it does away with regional representation. I know in the part of the world I come from, the city of Aberdeen and its surrounds, there is a great deal of distrust of the central belt. I do not wish to upset my honourable and noble friends who come from the Forth/Clyde Valley. However, in the north east of Scotland we have a healthy disrespect and suspicion of people in the Forth/Clyde Valley. At the time when the SNP was at its height, I received a letter with the heading, "Labour voter turning SNP". The letter contained a great tirade about the great number of people coming to Aberdeen
Another anecdote reminds me of how people feel in our part of the world. I recall that during the devolution debates in the other place in the 1970s I made what I thought was a spoof speech to illustrate the way in which the people of Grampian in particular had their own almost sub-nationalist feeling of alienation from the rest of Scotland. In the speech I said that I intended to establish a new political party, the Grampian unilateral independence party, to be known as the GUIDIES for short. I said that if we drew the boundaries correctly--it would be a narrow band along the coast of Grampian, including the city of Aberdeen--we would have a parliamentary socialist majority. If we then projected the lines out in the right way, it would be a case of Grampian's oil and not Scotland's oil. I thought that was a funny speech. Some of my friends--I still had a few in those days--told me they thought it was a funny speech. I thought it was funny until over the next two to three weeks I received about 50 letters from people asking how they could join the party. Irony never comes across on paper.
However, there is a serious point here. Although I do not know Caithness and Sutherland as well as some noble Lords, my wife comes from a small village, Canesbay, in Caithness. I am a frequent visitor there. People in that village have their own culture and are almost sub-nationalists. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, who comes from the southern part of the country, will recognise in his heart of hearts that in the Borders there is also scepticism about the centre. We have to live with the fact that the Scottish population is concentrated in the Forth/Clyde Valley. I can understand that the members for the Forth/Clyde Valley take a great interest in what is happening there. The greatest deprivation in Scotland is to be found in the Forth/Clyde Valley. I have been to some parts of Glasgow where the poverty and deprivation are enormous. It is a culture shock to see that, especially when one comes from the north east of Scotland where we have a first-class health service. However, nothing is perfect. We have to address certain issues. We have nothing in the north east of Scotland. People will argue that rural poverty is worse than urban poverty, but I do not agree with that. If you suffer from poverty and deprivation it does not matter whether you live in a city or in the country. Therefore I can understand that members for the Forth/Clyde Valley will seek to address those problems, but they should not ignore what is happening elsewhere.
People in the new Scottish parliament will want to prove that their actions are effective. It is natural, however, that they will seek to look after the interests of those areas where the majority of the population live. That is where the majority of the members of parliament will come from. Despite my reservations about the arguments for first-past-the-post versus proportional
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I am trying to envisage what the parliament is likely to look like. As a result of the list system there is likely to be a wider spread of parties in the parliament. It appears that everyone will have to be a little more consensual. We have been discussing the pre-legislative scrutiny of Bills. If a Bill is to go forward in the parliament, both its drafting and its content will have to be examined. I can picture a scene where it will be hardly possible at all to get a Bill about schools in Scotland, for example, launched in the parliament as there will not be sufficient agreement about the content to launch it. Will the Minister reply to that point?
In the report of the Constitution Unit on the way in which different parliaments are set up and whether they have a second chamber, it is stated that PR is a helpful system and that it should be helpful as regards the parliament we are discussing. I can see that working as regards European-type legislation, which is framework legislation within which one administers, but our kind of legislation is precise. It is not just that every word matters but the precise content is clear. Will it be possible to achieve agreement at the start in an evenly balanced body? That is a question that is well worth thinking about.
Earl Russell: When I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, I was reminded that every time I have been in Glasgow I have been complimented on how well I speak English and that I speak it awfully well for a foreigner. In the context of this Bill, whenever I think of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, I think of Italy. I cannot think why that is the case. I am therefore reminded of an incident right at the end of the war when my parents had an Italian cook. She was a partisan and a refugee with a passionate hatred of fascism. To my parents' great astonishment, on the news of the death of Mussolini, they found her in a profound state of grief. They asked her why she felt such grief. She replied, "He not suffer enough". As Mussolini was hanged with thin wire, this caused my parents some surprise.
When I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, speaking of his party and first-past-the-post in the Scottish parliament, I am much reminded of that Italian cook. I know the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, says that this is a weak argument and that he has a soul above such things. He reminds me of the magnificent dedication to principle of Sir Stafford Cripps in 1951, arguing that a pre-election Budget must be immoral, and therefore forcing his party into a February election in the most appalling weather, which it lost by a whisker while winning a majority of the votes.
The noble Lord's principle does him great credit. His self-denying ordinance moves me to some admiration. But even though he is under that inhibition, I am under no such inhibition. I am entitled, even if he is not, to believe that in the Scottish parliament first-past-the-post would work to the systematic disadvantage of the Conservative Party. I believe that that is bad for democracy, even if he does not.
We hear constantly about the virtues of the single-member constituency. Those virtues are sung much more often by single members than they are by voters. When I look at my own postbag, I am constantly reminded of the weakness of the single-member constituency. A great many people write to me and, I am sure, to many other Members of this House because they are not covered by the Bridlington agreement against "poaching" which prevents MPs from taking up each other's cases. I cannot count the number of letters I have received about the Child Support Act from people who have written to their constituency MP and found absolutely no sympathy or understanding whatever. There are a great many people who can get along and communicate with one MP and not with another. There are a great many subjects that can be taken to one MP and not to another. We should have a slightly more open mind about the virtues of the single-member constituency. A choice of members can be very much to the advantage of the voter.
The noble Lord argued, as he always does, about the power of third parties. He appears to think that third parties exist in an electoral vacuum and that they never have to compete for votes. However, if he studies, for example, the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, he will observe that the behaviour of the third party there has been much influenced by the changing attitudes of the electorate. In many parliaments a third party will be given only one option by voters. So in those cases voters must dictate its option. In others, third parties are no more immune to electoral considerations than first or second parties. So the voters will have a considerable input. The hermetic ceiling that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, supposes is a great deal less likely than he thinks.
The noble Lord talked about stable and effective government. Stable? I am not quite sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, would have agreed. Effective? It depends what is meant by the word. I said last Monday that I was dealing with the second measure that I had seen through from Second Reading to repeal; namely, the Child Support Act. The other was the poll tax. There is a certain relativeness about the concept of effectiveness. I am inclined to think that the Government who came to power under the first-past-the-post system were, in practical terms, not quite as effective as the noble Lord thought.
Lord Waddington: I have been interested to hear some of the comments in this debate about the role of the constituency Member. I remember being told many years ago about the way in which Duncan Sandys responded when he was called to account for rarely turning up in his constituency. He replied robustly that his job was to represent Streatham in Parliament, not Parliament in Streatham. On the whole, I believe that one of the most important of all the activities carried out by a Member of Parliament, and the one which keeps his or her feet on the ground and makes him or her a useful Member of Parliament is contact with ordinary people in the constituencies. I assure the noble Earl that when I was first elected to Parliament for Nelson and Colne, there were not that many Conservatives about the place. My postbag was certainly not full of letters only from Conservatives. I received letters from members of all parties. It did me a lot of good to have to deal with the problems of all manner of people and hold surgeries which often kept me on a Saturday from 9.30 in the morning to three or four o'clock in the afternoon. It was character-forming. I did not like it all the time, but it is certainly an important part of an MP's work.
It is crucially important to bear in mind that this new system of voting will produce two classes of members of parliament--one class whose members will be accountable to the electors and another class who will have no specific responsibilities to any particular group of electors and who will not be accountable to any group of electors within the region.
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