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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we have actually. If one studies the way in which parliamentary candidates are chosen, one sees that is a good deal more democratic. Whatever disagreements there may be between the noble Lord and myself, I have never pretended to be the man who could say to a prospective
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the Labour Party had a selection process in Scotland, to such an extent that it actually blackballed some of its own existing Members of Parliament, so I shall not take any lessons on "the black spot" from the noble Lord.
According to all the press reports, the Labour Party decided the matter on a London-dominated group. The noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, explained exactly who was on that London-dominated group. The evidence stands on the Scottish list or any other list in this country, but particularly on the way in which those two lists were drawn up.
I thought that I would start with the Liberal Democrats, briefly. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, for coming along and indicating, as he did in his report, that he was in favour of the open list. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, wished me well. At least I think he wished me well; I was not entirely sure.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that the trouble with the open list was that people in the same party competed against each other. As I understand the argument for electoral reform, the point in favour of the single transferable vote is that people are allowed to choose between the various representatives of a party. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, had better get back on the wavelength of what the Liberal Democrat Party thinks. I know that may be difficult for him. During the speech of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, the Liberal Democrat Benches emptied, leaving the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, holding the fort. As I understand it, those noble Lords were not going out for a small dram but to decide how to vote. I am not sure from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, whether those noble Lords made up their minds or whether they have still to do so.
The argument for the open list is overwhelming. The fact that only one government Back Bencher defended it still means that the score over the piece between both Houses is that many more government Back Benchers were opposed to the closed list than in favour of it. That is simply a fact, as any study of the proceedings in another place or here will confirm.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, made the point well to the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that the closed list crushes democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, should know about that. I remind him of some of his colleagues currently in the European Parliament--Mr. Alex Smith, Mr. Hugh McMahon, Mr. Alex Falconer and Mr. Henry McGovan, who was in the last one. None of them will appear in the next European Parliament because, according to the noble Lord, Lord Shore, a group of 11 people decided that they jolly well should not.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, of course he did. According to press reports, Mr. Falconer did so because he knew that he was going to get his throat cut, so there was no point in going through the exercise.
The closed list would be much easier to defend if the Labour Party had not shown political parties in this country how the list could be manipulated in exactly the way that my noble friend Lord Selsdon pointed out was done in eastern Europe. That is why the closed list system is in such disrepute. If the closed list were arrived at by all the members of the party voting, I would not be able to make many of these debating points. However, that is not how it is happening in at least one of our great parties. Let us imagine for a minute that it was to happen that way in all three parties. That would bring our democracy into serious disrepute.
I know that if I maintain my principled objection and ask my noble friends to vote in order to show that we still believe the open list is preferable to the closed list, and we win--which, I suspect, given the lack of Peers on the Government Benches, that we shall--the Government will use the battering ram of the Parliament Acts to get the measure through. If the Government feel proud about using the Parliament Acts to get such a deeply un-British and undemocratic proposition through, then let them feel proud. I seek the opinion of the House.
The Deputy Speaker (Lord Brougham and Vaux): My Lords, the original Motion was, That the Bill be now read a second time; since when an amendment has been moved to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "this House declines to give the European Parliamentary Elections Bill a Second Reading on the grounds that it includes an undemocratic 'closed list' system providing for the selection of MEPs by party choice, an approach which would end the historic right of the British people to choose the candidates they wish to be elected, a step for which the House notes with great concern no mandate was sought or given at the last General Election". The Question is, That this amendment be agreed to.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, given the result of the vote, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House some questions.
The Government were defeated five times in this House in the past Session on the principle of the closed list. The House has shown again tonight, and I believe rightly, that it is unwilling to agree to the replacement of voter choice with choice by party officers. This succession of defeats is an unprecedented humiliation for the Government on a discredited policy which has been repeatedly attacked by their own Back-Benchers in another place.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House must now make the Government's intentions clear. Even at this stage will they reconsider their policy, or do they intend to use, for only the second time in 50 years, the high-handed device of the Parliament Acts to force through a shabby and undemocratic voting system into law--a system which has no place in their manifesto and which would represent the greatest restriction on the freedom of choice of electors since the Reform Act of 1832? If they take that choice, they have the power to do so, but they should use that power with shame and no shred of pride.
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