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The Home Secretary this afternoon prayed in aid the grandfather of my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the Salisbury convention. Your Lordships are not breaching that convention. Noble Lords would be breaching it if they removed PR from the Bill. But noble Lords are not removing PR from the Bill; they are just saying, "Let's have an open list and not a closed list". So, in my view, the Labour Party's manifesto would be honoured just as well with my amendment as with the Government's original suggestion. Indeed, I suggest that it would be better honoured, because the open list system is a more honourable system than the closed list system.
If the Government are keen to obey their election commitment and, more importantly, to obey their pledge to the Liberal Democrat Party, they can just accept the amendment and have the open list. There is nothing wrong with it. In fact, it is in the tradition of the voting system of this country that one votes for party and for individual. I believe that your Lordships have been insisting, and I hope will continue to insist, on standing on a major constitutional principle about how our citizens actually vote. That was a point put in another place by Mr. Martin Bell, who actually knows a thing or two about individuals versus the party system. As I do not have the Hansard report, I have to hope that my memory and my writing were quick enough. He asked earlier today whether the British, as a free people, should have a right to be able to choose a candidate by name to represent them. That is a very valid point.
A closed list, however, could be more acceptable to us all if the actual choosing of the list was democratic. We and the Liberal Democrat Party, to be fair to it, have made an effort by opening up decisions to our party members; not, however, to those who vote for our party, so it is a fairly narrow "selectorate", even although we have widened it. The elector has no choice, but at least the party members have some choice. It might encourage more people to join parties. However, the problem is that the way the Government have approached the closed list shows us all how a party can deny all choice; deny choice to the people and even deny choice to its own party members.
In Wales, for example, the current MEP, David Morris, who received overwhelming support from his own constituents, has been replaced--rather, dropped down the list--by the parachuting in from the Millbank high command of Mr. Lyndon Harrison, who is an MEP over the Welsh border in Cheshire. The whole way in which the Labour Party behaves over selection brings the closed list into suspicion and disrepute. It is its obsession with control that will so damage the electoral system if we proceed with the closed list. In London it is to stop Ken Livingstone; in Wales it is to stop Rhodri Morgan; and in Scotland it is to stop Dennis Canavan. My concern is that if this were to be taken on board by other parties it would bring the whole electoral system into disrepute. The electors would find that they had no say at all on who represented them in Brussels. The people would have no choice. Only the party would have any choice at all.
Your Lordships are not alone when it comes to thinking, as we have done, that the open list is hugely superior to the closed list. In an amusing article in the Daily Express today, Mr. Andrew Marr said this:
Moved, That the House do insist on their Amendments Nos. 1 to 4 to which the Commons have disagreed and do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 4L in lieu thereof.--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I have little to add to what has already been said. I am as happy as other noble Lords that this long and unnecessary debate--unnecessary in many different ways--is at last coming to an end. I have nothing at all to say additional
We heard some very impressive speeches yesterday. I refer in particular to the speech of my noble friend my former leader, whose words always reinforce my natural tendency towards conformity--when allied to the leader of the Labour Peers it is a formidable combination. When I listened to what he said I felt that he really did deserve a reply. I do not mean a reply in any hostile or personal sense but a reply on the very heart of the matter. He put it to me, and not just to me but to other former MPs, "What right have you to oppose the will of the House of Commons? Have you that right?" I thought about it a great deal overnight because it would not be proper, frankly, to do other than to give the closest attention to what so experienced and admirable a man as my former party leader had to say. I think I have the answer. If I did not think I had the answer, I would join my colleagues tonight. But I have an answer, and I shall give it, and I think the House will understand why I shall persist yet again in voting against what the Government are proposing.
The crucial question is: what right? The answer is straightforward. It is self-evident that we have not breached the Salisbury convention. There is a special obligation that when a particular proposal is written into a manifesto it shall be treated with great care and tenderness and accepted by the House. But that is not so here. It is the principle of proportional representation that is part of the manifesto, not the method--so much so that the Home Secretary himself was not able to make a recommendation on Second Reading because he wanted to examine the various possibilities.
That is not the main answer to the question. The main answer is that I have the right to oppose this because Parliament has given it to me. In the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 limited power is entrusted to the House of Lords. That power is to revise, amend and turn down particular proposals within the limit of those Acts. As noble Lords know better than I, the limit is a one-year period. That period will lapse very shortly. Thereafter, if the Commons persist in what I regard as folly it will have its way. But up to that moment we have the right to turn down proposals that we believe to be grievously mistaken. That is the answer to my noble friend. With great regret, I shall adhere to my original intention.
Lord Garel-Jones: My Lords, when noble Lords debated this matter yesterday my noble friend Lord Tebbit spoke disparagingly of party apparatchiks. We live in a time when "outing" is all the rage, so perhaps noble Lords will not be too shocked if I confess to being an apparatchik. No doubt after such a heinous confession I shall receive letters of sympathy from many of your Lordships, perhaps even a written note from Mr. Jeremy Paxman.
When my noble friend Lord Tebbit held very high positions with verve and skill in my party I did not find him notably squeamish in availing himself of whatever skills those of my profession had to offer. I am content that my noble friends on the Front Bench have tweaked the Government on this issue and have won the argument. My noble friend Lord Mackay made a bravura speech yesterday and followed it with another this evening. My inclination is against PR. As to open or closed lists, while there are arguments on both sides I remain a first-past-the-post man. But I do not believe that PR with open or closed lists constitutes a crime against humanity or a mortal assault on the democratic process.
Today's debate is no longer about the narrow issue before us. I make three brief points. When I was in the other place I had a number of dealings with the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, who may be described as an arch apparatchik. The noble Lord does not enjoy the affection and esteem on those Benches that he deserves but among those of us who are apparatchiks he is an important figure. I see the noble Lord in his place. On one occasion the Government in which I had the privilege to serve under my noble friend Lady Thatcher had a Bill in progress through the House of Commons. We were in danger of losing that Bill because of the loquacity of a Labour Member. After a brief discussion with the noble Lord he went into the House of Commons and arranged for an intervention. When the Labour Member of Parliament took his place the following conversation took place. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks: "Shut up!" The Labour Member of Parliament: "But, Michael, it's a bad Bill". The noble Lord, Lord Cocks: "Of course it's a bad Bill. We have a Tory Government and all their Bills are bad. Shut up!".
Just so, my Lords. This is a bad measure. My Front Bench was right to raise it and I am pleased that it has won the argument. But the Government must have their business. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, I suggest to my noble friends that it is time to shut up.
Secondly, I am a new Member of your Lordships' House. I am proud to be here. In my short time here I have been amply reinforced in my view that a wise, responsible Second Chamber is an essential brick in our democratic edifice. The Government have plans as yet undefined to reform your Lordships' House. I have not yet despaired of the hope that my noble friend Lord Cranborne will be able to steer us through to a settlement that will provide Parliament with a revising Chamber that serves our country as well as your Lordships' House has and does. Denial of the Government's business today will damage that prospect and provide ammunition to those whose motives and intentions towards your Lordships' House are entirely partisan.
I ask myself: what are the motives of the Shadow Cabinet in inviting us to vote against the Government yet again? I hope that your Lordships will understand if I spare myself the embarrassment of speculating upon them. I believe that these matters are best discussed indoors. Suffice it to say that at this stage they can
In conclusion, if the Government are defeated tonight I believe that it will be a defeat for your Lordships' House. It will also be a defeat for my party. Politics is about being grown up. Your Lordships' House is not a sixth-form debating chamber but a grown up, integral and influential part of the parliamentary process. Its place and high reputation are based not only on the high quality of debates in your Lordships' House but on the instinct that your Lordships have shown for knowing to what point the elected Chamber can be pushed. I respectfully submit to your Lordships that that point has been reached.
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