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Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, I confess, from the outset, that I have lost count of the number of times we have discussed this issue. I must also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. There is not a great deal of difference between the government amendment defeated last week and the government amendment before us today. It is also fair to say, as I said on that occasion, that at least the Government had offered an olive branch--a review of the electoral proceedings to be conducted soon after the European parliamentary election. I regret that it was not possible for the national executive committee of the Labour Party to say that it would review its method of selecting candidates for future elections. That would have been an even bigger olive branch and would have been even better received within the Labour Party.
This Bill is probably one of the most bizarre ever presented to an assembly. It is worth mentioning that it appeared before the House of Commons last November, more than a year ago, and here we are, right up against the wire, still discussing what has now turned out to be the most controversial Bill the Government have put forward in a very long Session.
If the Bill receives Royal Assent, it is worth examining the impact. The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democratic Party would gain a substantial number of seats within the European Parliament. There is even a chance that the Scottish nationalists and the Welsh nationalists would gain an additional seat. In fact, the only loser would be the Labour Party who, at the last European parliamentary election, won 62 seats. Although one cannot be totally precise, it is a certainty that Labour would lose between 22 and 25 of those seats. Additionally, there has been considerable turmoil in the party over the method used to select our candidates. The major support within the party for the
However, if the Tories carry the vote tonight and the Bill is lost, Britain will revert to 84 contests in single member constituencies conducted under the first-past-the-post system. It will also mean that in the Labour Party the original rules will come back into play and the party members in each of those European constituencies will select their candidate by the traditional method. The NEC method of selecting candidates will have been killed. Labour will hold most, if not all, of the 62 seats it currently has and we will have a happy and united party. In other words, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, that he has an interesting choice tonight as to whether or not to force his amendment to the vote. If he does, the Labour Party will be the undoubted winner and the party will greatly rejoice that the old system of selecting candidates is restored. I shall be very interested to see what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, does when the Question is put.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I suppose I am not the first Member of your Lordships' House to have been given a somewhat rough passage by the Government Chief Whip. Nevertheless, let there be no bad blood between us. I have the deepest respect, as I always have, for holders of his office.
Your Lordships will be doubly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Shore, first, for an excellent speech. I have heard him speak many times and recognise him as a cogent debater, even though I have not always had the luxury of being able to agree with him. Your Lordships also have another ground for gratitude; namely that as I agree with him totally on this occasion, I have been able to shorten my remarks considerably. While I am on the subject of brevity, perhaps I may say that I know of no other word more generally abused in your Lordships' House and elsewhere. Perhaps I may delicately refer to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, from the Liberal Benches. He also promised to be brief. I feel quite happy to give the same undertaking here, knowing that it will not bind me overmuch.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, if I could have his attention for a moment, bewildered me somewhat. First, he mentioned in passing that he was addressing a court. There is no court visible to me. The nearest I can get to a court is the Bench of Bishops. The noble Lord might care to apply himself to some occupants of the Bench of the right reverend Prelates for guidance and representation at a higher court. I suspect he will need it.
I do not mind very much what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor wears. As long as he observes the rules of general decorum--and I am sure that we can be confident of that--I shall be perfectly comfortable. However, there are other issues on which I join in the fray with some eagerness; and this is one. I dislike very much indeed the idea of any political party handing me
I have thought hard about this issue. I have said this in your Lordships' House before in one of those dim, twilight hours when there is no one here to listen. I had the advantage of rehearsing it on that occasion; I shall therefore repeat it with, I hope, more polish. I know of no one who becomes more intelligent, wiser, more charming, nicer, more gracious, more anything favourable that one likes, when he wears a party hat than when he does not. I am the first to testify to the charm of the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip. But when he wears a party hat, I have to be very careful of him. If the noble Lord has anything to say, I shall be pleased to hear it.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shore, is no longer in his place. I thought that he was absolutely right when he said that this occasion was not just another one in a long-running dispute between the two Houses. Much has been made of the defects of your Lordships' House, real or imagined. Very little has been said about those of another place which--let me use my customary restraint and moderation--falls somewhere short of being wholly immaculate. I hope that that will not give offence elsewhere. We in your Lordships' House have very little power. Those who sit in another place, who have to an extent been sanctified by a popular vote, have not earned anyone's gratitude or applause when they persist in handing over the power that they have been given by the people to party machines. Whips and all the myrmidons of spin doctors and the rest take over power which was given to people who sit in another place; and in my view they are greatly to be blamed for that.
I earnestly hope that this amendment will be passed, not out of any partisan, fractious wish to see the party which I sometimes support win a vote. This is not that kind of issue. It goes to the root of our whole system. When I hear the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and when I find people like Mr. Tony Benn with whom I do not regularly agree coming down as emphatically as they do against what the Government propose, I very much hope that the amendment will be carried.
Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, I was almost overcome to hear the encomiums that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, paid to our Chief Whip. Remembering the performance of my noble friend Lord Peyton (perhaps I
However, I must make a confession. I find it difficult to display the same enthusiasm and passion that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, or my noble friend Lord Shore can summon up about this matter. It is of course important, but to make the same speech, as I have heard them both do, time after time seems to me to require a degree of faith that I cannot summon.
I wish to make two observations: first about the issue; and, secondly, about the tactics of the Opposition. First, I have listened to the debates. I have voted only once, which demonstrates the degree of my enthusiasm; and I have read what happened in the Commons yesterday. If anything has been demonstrated by the series of debates, and in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, it is that he can be guaranteed to prove that there is no system of voting in this country which will be fair and just--none at all. He admits that even the first-past-the-post system which some of us in our old age still support has its defects. Yesterday, in another place, I heard the Home Secretary demonstrate--I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, did not refer to it today--that under the amendment it would be possible for someone with a smaller vote to be elected against someone with a bigger vote from a different party. What system is that? Is that accurate or not? I understand that it is accurate.
Let us imagine a situation in which one of the parties (let us not name names) has half a dozen candidates, one of whom is so popular, so well respected, so well known, and can command so much audience that he gains a vote that is much larger than the rest of his colleagues. I refer, of course, to the noble Lord, Lord Archer. By virtue of his own magic popularity, he can carry with him a series of third-rate candidates who otherwise would not have a chance. That is the effect of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.
We all know that the Cross-Benchers are the epitome and the residuary of wisdom and intelligence in this House. I say that because I do not want them to vote today. Do they think that they are doing a service to the cause of democracy by voting for an amendment which will elect someone with fewer votes than someone else from another party? The plain truth is--and here I am almost in line with the Cross-Benchers; and I repeat my first observation--there is not a perfect system. What has been proposed by the Opposition is certainly not a perfect system. I confess that I am not over enthusiastic about the system here, but we have to choose one system.
I come to my second observation as regards the tactics of the Opposition and I include my noble friends Lord Shore, Lord Stoddart and all the others whose enthusiasm I so much admire. What gives them the right to say--unelected as they are and accountable to no one--four times in a row, "We insist that you, the Government, and the Members of the Commons shall lose your Bill"? They have no right at all to say that.
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