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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have been over all the ground of PR before. I did not bother to say it, but the noble Lord knows that on each previous occasion I have made it perfectly clear that we prefer first-past-the-post.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I have studied the debate in the House of Commons very carefully. I think we at least owe that to our colleagues in the Commons, who have unhappily disagreed with our amendments. I have studied very carefully what the Home Secretary had to say to see whether I could discern there an additional reason or argument which we have not previously met and which might justify us changing our minds. I genuinely regret to say that I could find no such new argument of the case.
Self-evidently, it is surely better to have an open system and not to give so much extra power to the party managers. It is no longer the electors choosing their MP or MEP; it is a selectorate of a small, anonymous group of party officials; a selectorate which decides who are to be the MEPs of the future. It really is not good enough. It does not conform to the standards of democracy which we expect from the British parliament.
We have discussed the Finnish system before. I looked particularly again at that. It is very difficult, quite frankly, to find any reason at all why the electorate should not be given a list of candidates and be entirely free to choose from it. There is no disadvantage to that system, although there is one possible anomaly.
Let us imagine a seven member regional list and a situation in which the fourth successful candidate has slightly fewer votes than the fourth unsuccessful candidate in the party which has been allocated one seat fewer because of the proportional system. It is difficult to express this situation as clearly as one would like, but it is just possible that because of the allocation under the proportional system a party's last successful member could have fewer votes than the last unsuccessful candidate in the party that had been allocated one seat fewer. However, if that is an anomaly, it is one that arises straight out of the proportional system. Anyone who approves of the regional system and of PR would not object to that. So no serious objection could possibly be sustained on the basis of a remotely possible anomaly.
There are two other considerations that have weighed heavily with me in deciding my continued resistance to what is being proposed. One is how this House voted last time. I asked the Library to look at the composition of the vote and, being a good party man, I looked carefully to see whether the majority was not composed of perhaps ultra-critical Conservative Peers. I was reassured on that point because the analysis showed clearly that the whole of the majority--the extra 25 votes in favour of the amendment in the 165 to 140 result--was accounted for by Cross-Bench Peers. The Cross-Benchers voted overwhelmingly in favour of the rejection of the Government's proposal. That is important because, while I hope and believe that noble Lords who are members of the two main political parties are able on many occasions to consider matters dispassionately, Cross-Benchers have a special role in this respect. They are above suspicion. If the Cross-Benchers had not voted, the Government would have got their way. But they voted and the Government did not get their way.
I have a third and final point. Article 190 of the Treaty of Rome calls for elections to the European Parliament by a uniform procedure. That uniform procedure has not been put into place, largely, I suspect, because the British system has been, as it were, so distant from the practices of our Continental neighbours. If we were to go forward now with a list system of this kind I am quite sure that there would be an amendment to the treaty introducing and enacting a uniform procedure. Why does that matter? It matters because it blocks off any possibility that, if experience shows this
Therefore, for those three reasons, I strongly urge the House, despite the difficulties of the Upper House having to, as it were, impose itself upon the Commons, to vote against the change that has been proposed. We would still be doing our duty. We are well within our year. If the Commons cannot bring themselves to consider the matter yet again, with the additional material supplied by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, which was quoted to us, we will probably have to accept the inevitable. But I hope that they will consider the matter again and I shall certainly therefore vote against the change that has been proposed.
Lord Carter: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I think it is important to correct him on one fact. The Commons will not get the chance to think again. They will either have to produce an amendment in lieu or we lose the Bill.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shore, for his indulgence. Further to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, I hope the House has it clearly in mind that it would be open to another place to amend our amendment. Therefore, this need not necessarily be the end of the matter.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I am awfully sorry but I think we have to get this absolutely correct. The Commons have to amend the amendment if we send it back. If they insist on it again, we lose the Bill. I was just correcting what my noble friend said. He said that the Commons had the chance to think again and to insist on it again. They cannot insist on it again. They have to produce an amendment in lieu.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, when this matter came before your Lordships' House before, I voted in favour of the open list system. I voted in favour of this amendment. I did so against the three-line Whip of my party but I did so in the knowledge that I was voting in the way that I had urged everyone else to vote and to argue since I joined my party in 1949 and the way that my party thinks the thing should be. The Commons have sent this back to us again. We sent it to them with the request that they think again. One might charitably suggest that they have possibly thought again, although there is not much sign of it. They have sent it back to us. At this moment I think we have reached a stage when if we want the Bill to go forward, as I do--and as I think most of your Lordships do--we have to swallow our pride and accept the situation. I am therefore going to change my vote. However, I am not going to do it without a protest.
The protest is not for once in my life that I cast any aspersions on the motives of the Conservative Party, as I know some of my colleagues do. I do not know what its motives are and I am prepared to give it the benefit
Lord Beloff: My Lords, one is often surprised, but never for long, at the capacity of Liberal Democrats to turn somersaults in your Lordships' House. This example will, I believe, go down as one of the most striking. Coming as one does from the groves of Academe, one is also impressed by the extraordinary political innocence of this House including members of my own party. They still appear to cherish the belief that the present Government are interested in the promotion of democracy in the sense that the voters should have some say in who represents them. We are discussing one example of their failure in this respect. However, since we have discussed it we have seen another. Here is Her Majesty's Government devoting enormous energy to parachuting into South Wales a candidate for the leadership of the Welsh assembly who clearly is not the first choice--or even a choice--of most active members of the Labour Party in Wales. One comes to a point where one wonders whether there is any need for elected institutions at all. Could not this country's policies and the people who carry them out be decided quite rapidly by Mr. Alastair Campbell or Mr. Mulgan, neither of whom has ever been elected to anything so far as I am aware? Why do we pretend that we live in a democracy when we have a government who repudiate the very idea of it?
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the arguments for proportional representation in elections to the European Parliament are overwhelming. We believe that a delegation to the European Parliament from any country which is a member of the European Union should reflect the broad balance of the political views of the voters in that country. A first-past-the-post system totally fails to do that. Labour is now grossly over-represented in the Parliament at Strasbourg, and the Conservatives were equally grossly over-represented in some earlier elections. Our supporters have been consistently under-represented, as were those who voted for the Green Party in 1989. We therefore strongly support proportional representation for the European Parliament.
But no voting system is perfect and there are drawbacks as well as advantages in open lists as compared with closed ones. This is particularly true of the Finnish system proposed by the amendments we are debating today. The Finnish system does not allow voters to select a party list in preference to individual candidates as many no doubt would wish to do. One sees that happening in the US where many people choose to vote for the Democrat or Republican list as opposed to an individual candidate for the various offices. Indeed, the opportunity to vote for a party list as opposed to individual candidates was recommended by the Jenkins Commission. Therefore, the system proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is not that which has been recommended by the Jenkins Commission.
I shall not go into the merits of the different list systems because that is not the real issue today. I believe that I speak for almost all Members of my party both in your Lordships' House and in the other place in saying that the crucial issue is that the next European elections should be conducted under proportional representation. That is why my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley has very frankly explained to noble Lords that despite his very strong preference for the open list system he proposes to vote with the Government.
Compared with the importance of deciding that the next election should be conducted by proportional representation, the question of whether there should be open or closed lists, however important, is still an issue of secondary significance. It has already been fully argued. I remind noble Lords that on 24th June the Liberal Democrats proposed and voted for an amendment to substitute open for closed lists. On that occasion the Conservative Front Bench did not support us, although a number of individual Conservative Peers did.
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