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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I think there is a real danger. To me, looking back over a number of years of fairly hot local government politics as well as observing the scene from this House, I do not give great credence to assurances for the future. I do not think you can do that. It seems to me that you could manipulate the question of individuals standing. You could work out what might happen in a region and what the result might be and then talk to sympathetic individuals and suggest that your party will vote for them.
There are many ways in which the system could be abused. I have not been into it in great detail, but it sounds to me as if my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish has an answer. There is a price to pay and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, has explained what it is. If it prevents abuse and gets the kind of result that the Government are trying to achieve in terms of proportionality, we should consider it.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: The amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is addressing includes the words "or individual candidates". He said that he could not envisage any single individual being elected under the proposed system. That very much depends on the form of the ballot paper. If the party lists do not appear on the ballot paper at all it would say, for example, "Liberal Democrats", "Conservatives", "Labour Party" and the "Scottish National Party". Then one would turn to individuals such as "Mr. Billy Connolly", and "Mr. Sean Connery". There are people with known views who are popular figures in Scotland who might find themselves elected as individuals. One has to think only of the recent Irish presidential election to appreciate that people well known in other fields played a part in that election. The Government should take on board that individual candidates may declare themselves as individuals and be sufficiently popular to be elected, but nevertheless have known political affiliations.
The noble Lord also addressed the issue of phantom parties. He suggested that they might split themselves into two. As a party the Liberal Democrats have given an undertaking as regards Wales that we would not do that. My noble friend Lord Mackie has also given such an undertaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats for Scotland. It seems to me that the public are not so easily
As regards the single vote as opposed to a vote for the constituency candidate and for the region, to say that only one vote should count for both elections is to deny choice to the elector. I had hoped that both in Wales and in Scotland we were moving to a less adversarial style of politics so that the voter could choose perhaps an outstanding personality in respect of one party, but nevertheless give his support to another. To have a single vote for both the constituency and the regional candidate suggests that the vote of an elector must be fixed in stone for one party or another. It is rather like every person,
That is not the case: people think and they choose. I hope that both in Wales and in Scotland the electorate will consider more than a single party. It would be a missed opportunity if we were not to allow a full choice to the Scottish electors.
Lord Howie of Troon: I have made my views clear on a previous occasion as regards the party list system. I regard it as totally deplorable. I cannot stand it at all: it is wholly wrong. I shall not rehearse the arguments again because once is quite enough. The way to get round this particular problem of dealing with party nominees and individuals is to utilise the single transferable vote. There would be no problem and none of that worry would afflict us here.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has spoken of phantom parties. I know he is a Highlander and they go in for phantoms, but I am a Lowlander and I do not go in for that kind of thing at all. I believe that he is whistling in the dark. It is wonderful stuff, but there is no reality about it.
He is a great advocate of the first-past-the-post system. He must realise that there have been peculiarities in that system as well. People have stood under the same name as other candidates. I remember a man who called himself "The real Liberal" or something of the kind. He caused an upset in the European elections a year or two ago. Most systems have these problems, but all of them can be ironed out if one uses the single transferable vote. As I have pointed out before, it has precedents in the other place.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: With such a large group of amendments it is important to cut through to the main effect of this particular group, the main effect being to restrict the electorate's choice in two ways. The first way is by preventing independent candidates from contesting regional seats and, the second, by proposing that electors should have only one vote instead of two. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, ranged
I would like very much to concentrate on what this particular group of amendments will achieve if it is carried. I shall deal with Amendments Nos. 37, 44, 45, 51, 58, 59, 60 and 65, which hang together as one particular group. The Government are completely opposed to these amendments because they would prevent independent candidates from contesting regional seats in the Scottish parliament.
I find myself more than a little astonished that Members of the Committee would want to bring forward in, of all places, this House, which prides itself on the independence of mind of many of its Members and on its Cross-Bench traditions, amendments which deny the Scottish parliament the opportunity to have independent candidates elected to it in regional elections. Why should the electorate be denied the choice of voting for an independent MSP as these amendments try to do?
As we have said before--there have been echoes today from the Liberal Democrat Benches--the Government are keen to ensure that there is an inclusive parliament which represents the diversity of Scotland. Allowing independents to stand in the regional election where it is likely they will have a more realistic chance of success, is one way in which that can be ensured. We want parliament to be able to draw on the widest range of talented people. We recognise that not all of them have a party political affiliation, but we are keen not to exclude them from standing as independent candidates just because they do not have that affiliation.
It has been suggested that that would lead to another category of MSP. I do not agree with that. They will have just as important a part to play in the parliament because they will be representing those who elected them. It has been claimed that there is little prospect of an independent candidate being returned. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay or Ardbrecknish, put forward that view. I am surprised that Members of the Committee are so pessimistic. Clearly, much will depend on the pattern of voting. However, using last year's general election results as a model, an independent candidate who secured some 25,000 votes, which in some regions would be around 5 to 6 per cent. of the electorate, could have been returned as a regional MSP. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that that could happen.
These provisions have received considerable support particularly in those parts of Scotland where there is a long tradition of independents in local government. Many people, for whatever reason, do not feel properly represented by the political parties. By allowing independent candidates to stand in the regional election, we can ensure that the electorate has as wide a range of candidates to choose from as possible. The Government believe in giving the electorate more choice. Noble Lords opposite would by this amendment restrict that choice. I do not believe it would do credit to them to
Amendments Nos. 47 to 49, 52, 53, 56, 57, 74 and 75 propose that voters in Scottish parliament elections should be entitled to only one vote where they vote for a constituency candidate standing for a party. The vote for a candidate representing a political party in the constituency elections would then be deemed to count as a vote for that party in allocating the additional regional seats. The Government cannot agree to that approach. It is quite simply another attack on voters' choice. The Scottish electorate voted overwhelmingly in favour of the electoral arrangements set out in the White Paper. Voters endorsed our proposal that they would be entitled to two votes: one for a constituency candidate and one in the additional member section of the poll, for a party list or individual. The proposed amendments greatly limit their right of choice in the additional member poll.
It may well suit the larger political parties to limit the opportunity for electors to switch their votes in the two polls, but is it right to deny voters that democratic choice? For various reasons not all electors may want their constituency vote also to count as a vote for the candidate's party; for example, they may consider that a particular candidate would make a good constituency MP and vote accordingly, but their natural political sympathies may lie elsewhere and they may revert to them in casting their second vote. It would be wrong to deny the electorate this opportunity.
The amendments would also tend to work against the smaller political parties which may be able to gather more support for regional candidates than they could achieve in the individual constituencies. The amendments would force such parties to contest all the constituencies in a region when it might be more sensible for them to focus on the regional poll.
I have already said that one of the Government's aims is to encourage greater participation in the elections to the Scottish parliament. These amendments would prevent that and would restrict voter choice. I hope that on reflection noble Lords opposite will agree to withdraw their amendment.
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