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Viscount Thurso: Before the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, responds, does the Minister agree that the appropriate place to consider the question of hanky-panky and split names, to which the noble Lord referred, is the legislation dealing with the registration of political parties rather than this Bill?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: In response to the noble Viscount, as currently framed the Registration of Political Parties Bill does not address this problem. Even as we speak some of my right honourable and honourable friends in another place are trying to devise amendments--whether or not the Government accept them remains to be seen.
Although we have had an interesting debate, far from my fears being allayed on these matters they have been increased. Despite the kind intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I did not hear the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, say that his party would not indulge in this kind of activity. Before the noble Lord rises to his feet, perhaps I may outline to him the advantages to his party if in the Highlands and Islands it did what I suggested. The calculations before me may not be precisely accurate. In the previous election, the Liberal Democrats did extraordinarily well in the Highlands and Islands. The Liberal Democrats gained five seats; the Labour Party gained three seats; the SNP gained two seats; and the Conservative Party gained one seat. I apologise: the Conservative Party gained none. I am looking at the d'Hondt divisor. Phantom parties, phantom seats! One must take one off each of those results. I have told the Committee that PR is complicated! So, the Labour Party gained two seats; the Scottish National Party gained one; the Conservative Party gained none; and the Liberal Democrats gained four. Under the additional member system, using the results of the previous election and assuming that the first and second votes are the same, the Conservative Party would gain two seats (which is fair given its 37,000 votes, just half the Liberal Democrat figure, resulting in the Conservative Party gaining no seats and the Liberal Democrats four); the SNP would gain three seats; the Labour Party would gain two; but the Liberal Democrats would have none. They gained a considerable advantage under the first-past-the-post system on a minority of the vote.
However, if members of the Liberal Democrat Party are not men and women of high principle and if the party decides to divide itself, as I suggested it might, the Labour Party would gain one seat; the SNP would gain two; the Conservative Party would gain one; and the Liberal Democrats would gain three. By that method, the Liberal Democrats would gain three more seats. Having reflected on that matter, I look forward to hearing assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: I am glad that the noble Lord has been able to explain it to me. I would have thought that the intended humour with which I asked for this would be sufficient assurance that we would never even think of it. We know quite well that because of the quality of our candidates in the Highlands we gained seats under the first-past-the-post system. We are perfectly well aware of the system. We would not gain extra seats in the Highlands in this way, but because we believe in proportional representation and a fair show we are willing to hand the Conservatives some seats in the Highlands.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, for that assurance. I am also prepared to give an assurance that the Conservative Party would not indulge in this little game. I did not hear the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, give that assurance on behalf of the Labour Party. I shall be
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is fine as far as it goes. We have had assurances from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, but we do not have an assurance from another party that is not represented here. I do not believe that that party has given any such assurance. If I were the Government, I would be cautious about brushing aside this problem. The noble Baroness, the noble Lord and I may be great people in our time, but we shall not be here for ever. Our successors may not feel bound by the commitments that we have given today. That should worry the Committee quite considerably. However, we have made some progress on this issue.
The idea that parties could indulge in this practice is something that at least the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, recognised. He indicated that precautions should be taken to guard against it. I do not say that my precaution is necessarily the best one. I understand that it prevents people switching their vote between constituency and additional member, but no one should be fooled by this. The basis on which the current system is now devised means that the second vote is the important one. It is the second vote on which the proportionality will be built, not the first-past-the-post vote. I do not think that that is the principle underlying the additional member system but it is the reality.
The noble Baroness said much about restricting the electorate's choice by having only one vote. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said, if one wants to give electors choice, the additional member system does not give them much choice. We shall consider the open and closed list in a moment. If the Government wish the electorate to have choice, and they want proportional representation, as the noble Lord said, they should be going for the single transferable vote. But the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, is now almost alone on that island because the Liberal Democrats have deserted the single transferable vote in the three variations of proportional representation before the House in the Welsh Bill, the European Parliamentary Elections Bill and now this Bill.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, should appreciate that the STV is the policy of the Liberal Democrats, and always has been. It is also the policy of the Liberal Democrats to have a Scottish parliament up and running as soon as possible. To that end we are prepared to go along with the system the Government propose.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We know now that we are compromising on a single transferable vote, but we can have it in the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. The Liberal Democrats could at least advance the case. It will be interesting to see whether they vote with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill.
It is a bogus argument to say that I am restricting electors' choice and the Government are not. The Government are restricting electors' choice to a considerable extent, as we shall see when we debate the open list. As we shall see when we debate further amendments, by choosing the d'Hondt system they are choosing the system of additional member that is least friendly to independents and small parties, and most friendly to large parties. As for what the noble Baroness said in this debate, she will have to eat her words when we have further debates. If the Government wished to be fair to small parties they would not have chosen the d'Hondt system. They would have chosen other variations that are available and used elsewhere in the world to give the additional member seats.
There are two large groups. I am sorry that the noble Baroness did not seem to like the grouping. I grouped the amendments so that we could have one debate and make some progress on an issue which has an underlying relationship. The two problems are different but the solutions are the same. It was the solution that I was considering.
The double voting is not a problem. I am prepared to wear the proposal in respect of independents. I think that the Government tried to buy some support in those parts of the country which still have independents. But any independent who is able to add two and two and make four can see that there is nothing in this system for an independent candidate. Any successful independent will have to find a way to stand in the first-past-the-post