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Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: I support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Mackie. I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to one small area that has been ignored: the view that the voter takes about this matter. I refer to three studies that have been conducted. I quote from the McDougall Trust, which carried out a survey based on a series of focus groups last January, and a Home Office survey last February. The findings of both were almost exactly identical; namely, that voters reacted strongly to the removal of the right to select a candidate themselves. I believe that one can overdo party. I am slightly alarmed by the emphasis placed by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, on the fact that party is almost all. The character of individuals in politics is of supreme importance. Voters should have the chance to express their views about individual politicians, not just about the party with which they are associated. Finally, a survey was carried out by Professor Patrick Dunleavy. He also concluded that the majority of voters preferred the open list system.
I had hoped that the Government would give an indication that there would be an element of choice here. I conclude from what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, that as to members on the list there will be no choice at all. I find that very depressing.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I am not concerned with surveys and matters of that kind. However, I talk to people. One matter which people are thoroughly fed up with is that in all parties their candidates are chosen
Lord Sewel: To make it absolutely clear, I have said nothing about the central party imposing candidates on the electorate. When talking about "party" I include constituency parties, local parties or whatever structure the parties themselves wish to use.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Does the noble Lord agree there is a danger that the central party will, as I believe Labour has already done, produce a list of approved candidates--approved in the sense that their views accord with the views of the leadership--and the role of the constituency parties will be to choose candidates from those who are centrally approved? Surely the element of local control and democracy is lost in that process.
Lord Sewel: That is a total travesty of the situation in my party. That approved list of candidates includes myself and a certain Mr. John McAllion. I believe it is fairly well known that there are certain areas in which Mr. McAllion and I are not in total agreement.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We have had an interesting debate. I enjoyed the last intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel to the effect that his party was not controlling the system from the centre. I do not think that that will be the view of the constituency Labour Party in Glasgow Pollok, which has been told that it will not be allowed to consider its current Member of Parliament, Mr. Ian Davidson, who would like to be a member of the Scottish parliament. Nor will it find much accord with the constituency Labour Party in Falkirk West, which has indicated, I understand by an enormous majority, that it would very much like to have Mr. Dennis Canavan as its constituency member for the Scottish parliament. But the constituencies have not been allowed to make that choice because the centre party has decided that those two gentlemen are somehow or other not New Labour and therefore must be banned from the list.
It is rather heavy handed of the party opposite. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, must not come to the Dispatch Box and try to pretend that all is open and democratic in his party. He is about to try to do so again.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is rather a diversion. However, I am one of a team of three people who considers, listens to and chats to everyone who wishes to stand for the Scottish parliament. We are two wise men and one wise lady, and we make wise judgments. I have to say seriously that we would have to think long and hard before we decided that someone who had been a Member of Parliament for our party was not fit to be a member of the Scottish parliament. We
I can understand the Labour Party's problem. It is a control job nowadays. Those of your Lordships who watched the House of Commons last night saw an example of that. Apart from Mr. Dennis Canavan and Mr. Tam Dalyell, all the others found other things to do--including most of the former members of the National Union of Students. However, I must not revisit that argument even though it is nice to see the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, again at the Dispatch Box. I rather hoped that he might have been more co-operative. Having failed to co-operate with me for months, he had to be replaced by the noble Baroness this afternoon, who was a little more co-operative.
However, it is a serious matter. I mentioned that the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, would come back to haunt her. In the first debate, where she insisted that we had two votes, her words were that we must not restrict the electorate's choice. What is more restrictive of the electorate's choice than saying, "You must vote for the Conservative Party but you do not have any choice about which of those 12 people the Conservative Party should put top of the list"? That is not a choice. It is simply saying, "You will kindly vote for the party and you will leave us to choose".
The noble Baroness should revisit her previous speech. Of course the parties are important; none of us would deny that. That was the whole point of one of my earlier amendments: that we are considering the proportionality of the parties.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and was puzzled by his answers. He said that there would be electorate fatigue. The electorate will be asked to put only one cross. We are not asking for up to 12 crosses, but simply one cross. The elector decides to vote Labour; he thinks, "The man I want most is Sewel", and he puts his cross against "Sewel". Nothing could be simpler. I suggest that even the simplest Labour voter might get that right. That is the proposal. The figure is then added up. It is a simple business; it is not complicated.
I accept that in Amendment No. 40 I am being a purist in proportional representation matters. As the Liberal Democrats have vacated the pure world of proportional representation, I feel obliged occasionally to put forward such amendments. However, I concede that it would be complicated to make the ballot papers entirely neutral by mixing up the names so that the advantage of the first name on the ballot paper would not come into play.
I should be prepared to see the order of the list determined by the party. It would seem to me to give the party and the party's decision-makers some advantage. But thereafter those people who will vote for the Labour Party--and there will be a few left despite the efforts of the Scottish National Party to erode its vote--should be able to decide which of the 12 they consider should be the top dog. It is quite simple.
The same argument applies to the Conservative Party. I suggested idly at the beginning of the debate that the simplest way would be for me to decide the order of the list and that would save argument. I should make terribly wise decisions. However, wisely, my party decided that that would not be entirely democratic and it decided to go for a more open system of choosing. But that is open only within the party membership. No party has a membership anything approaching its voter power--the electorate's power--and I am thinking about that.
As regards the statement that the voting paper will be complicated, I have, courtesy of the Electoral Reform Society, an open list AMS ballot paper. It is not complicated. It is a good deal less complicated than the Inland Revenue self assessment form; and it is no doubt a good deal less complicated than all the survey material which the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, circulated in his capacity as a lecturer at Aberdeen University.
I am afraid I must tell the Government that people are used to filling in forms and ticking boxes. It is happening to us daily. It is like assuming people do not understand computers when so many people have them in their homes. I do not believe that the argument about the ballot paper being complicated stands up. It will be different, but the system will be different in any event. I must repeat that I do not greatly approve of the different system, but if we are to have it let us do it properly.
I am disappointed that the Minister has set his mind against even considering an open list ballot paper, especially when his noble friend Lady Ramsay wishes to ensure that the electorate's choice is not restricted. I should have thought that she would be entirely on my side. But there you are, I live and learn!
We must give some thought to this issue in order to decide the best way to pursue an open list. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment, but shall return to it after the Recess, during which time I hope that the Government will give some thought to the matter.