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Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I support these amendments. I shall tell the House why I am convinced that the Government must rethink in this direction. We have a great step forward here. It is not as big a step as the Liberal Democrat party would have wished, but at least we are moving towards a Parliament, a Senedd, that will have more responsibilities, possibly on the Scottish model, within a few years. With additional responsibilities, we need sufficient Members of the Assembly to allow them to carry out their duties thoroughly. If we look at local authorities in Wales, very few of them have fewer than 40 or 50 councillors because they need to share their responsibilities. I suggest that the National Assembly for Wales is at least as important as any county council in Wales. According to the Government's plans, 60 Members will be elected. Of them, two will immediately be out of the ordinary running of the Assembly and will be the Presiding Officer and the Deputy Presiding Officer. Then there will be 12 Ministers who will have specific responsibilities, which do not include the scrutiny of legislation. So we are down to 46 Members, which is less than nearly every county council in Wales. I suggest that with the additional responsibilities, it is time for the Government to agree that this is a reasonable amendment.
One fact brought up time and again is that we have a bicameral system in Westminster whereby the House of Lords exercises scrutiny responsibilities, which it does very effectively. Wales does not have a second Chamber, which means that there is no similar level of scrutiny. With additional Members, it would have people who could scrutinise legislation far more thoroughly.
As my noble friend Lord Livsey stated, an STV system, a proportional system of election, will be far more representative and will dispose once and for all of that lack of satisfaction with the dual candidaturesa list candidature or a constituency candidature. With an STV system in multi-Member constituencies every Member has the same responsibilities and is elected with the same amount of authority.
We could of course go to a first-past-the-post system throughout Wales, but that has already been rejected as being unfair, inadequate and unrepresentative. You can have 40 per cent of the electors, or, say, 36 per cent as in the UK elections of last year, who can elect the government of the country. We say that a fair system would mean that 40 per cent is 40 per cent of the Members, and with 50 per cent we will have
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about 50 per cent of the Members. That type of electoral system exists throughout Europe. Why do we have to be the odd people out in Europe?
I went to the opening of the new Assembly building in Cardiff. I was delighted to see that it was a circular chambernot adversarial but a chamber where people were going to gather together and discuss in a consensus the needs of Wales. The same goes for the Parliament in Scotland. STV is to be adopted there for its next set of local elections. So democracy moves; it cannot be static. Democracy must always evolve and move forward. Adopting this new systemnew to usof the single transferable vote would be our recognition that we, too, are still an evolving democracy. With those words, I support the amendment.
Lord Rowlands: My Lords, I draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, to the fact that the Richard commission recommended STV and an 80-Member seat on the transfer of full primary powers to the Assembly and not in the context of this Bill.
Thirdly, I would like to say to him and to the Liberal Democrats that I do not believe that you can possibly suggest that these amendments fall within the scope of the original settlement. The proposal is to increase the membership to 80, to completely and utterly change the electoral system, and, incidentally, reduce the voting age to 16. In the absence of a referendum on these issues, I could not possibly support them.
Lord Trimble: My Lords, the core of these amendments refers to the single transferable vote system, proportional representation. As your Lordships may know, it is a subject in which on an earlier occasion I claimed a certain expertise. It has operated in Northern Ireland since 1973. I fought approximately 10 elections under the single transferable vote system, and, indeed, in one election was part of a very successful vote management arrangement whereby we maximised our results quite significantly and achieved many more seats than mere proportionality would have given us. Like all electoral systems, it can be manipulated.
I appreciate that this matter was debated in Committee, and I shall try to avoid the temptation to speak at any length, but I want to make some points on which I hold very strong opinionsdrawn from experience. I am not hostile to proportionality as such; I am quite content to see proportionality at district and regional level; but I am very strongly opposed to any attempt to have proportionality in another place.
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The great advantage of the first-past-the-post system is that it produces Governments, not coalitions. Coalitions are intrinsically weak and undemocratic, because they end up with decisions taken after an election by horse-trading between politicians rather than decisions taken by the electorate in the election. It is no small part of the economic and other success of this country that we have retained the capacity to have Governments able to govern. We sometimes do not like what they do, but that is much better than having coalitions, where decisions are not taken, issues are not faced and necessary changes do not occur. I could go on at length on that matter, but it is important that we limit proportionality to district and regional level.
Then we have to choose what proportional system we are to adopt. I find it interesting that Liberal Democrats, who tend to be great advocates of European practice, do not draw the appropriate lesson. Do they have single transferable votes in Europe? No they do not. They have proportional systems, but your Lordships will know what those systems are, so I do not need to go into them. Indeed, one of those European proportional systems was adopted for Wales and Scotland and is now being criticised.
Scotland, we are told, is now adopting STV for local government. It has now become the only place in the world that has ever voluntarily chosen STV. STV was imposed in the Republic of Ireland by this Housethis Parliamentagainst the will of the people. STV was imposed in Northern Ireland by this Parliament against the will of the people. I think that the same was done in Malta. That is all. It is not a good system. In my criticism, I shall mention just a couple of points. It promotes fights within parties. In a multi-Member constituency, if your party has, say, 30 to 40 per cent of the electorate, you would count yourself as having two quotas.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question about the Republic of Ireland. He says that the STV system was imposed on it. Am I not right in thinking that there was a referendum in which the people of the Republic of Ireland decided to keep that system?
Lord Trimble: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite correct. There were two referenda, two attempts by the Irish Governmentboth under de Valera, I thinkto go back to the first-past-the-post system. It is quite correct that on both occasions, the proposals failed because people did not want to go back to that system. I do not think that you can read into that a positive preference for STV against other proportional systems. My comment on STV having been imposed goes back to 1920, when it was introduced. I take the point that is made, but I do not think it affects my argument. Essentially, my point is about the negative effects of STV compared to other proportional systems.
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Lord Trimble: My Lords, indeed we do. We have it at that levelI forgot about that in my summary of the matter. We have also had STV at district council and regional level. I was drawing the distinction that it is undesirable at the parliamentary level. As for having it for the European Parliament, that tempts me to make comments about the nature of the European Parliament, its effectiveness and whether it is ever capable or likely to approach being capable of supporting or maintaining a government. There is too much to say about that.
I was making a point about how STV encourages fights within parties. If you have a multi-Member constituency with, say, five Members and you get 30 to 40 per cent of the vote, or think that you will, you have two quotas. The conventional wisdom is that you run two existing quotas plus one in such a situation, because you cannot make gains if you do not run an extra quota. For those three candidates, who know that two of them will certainly be elected and that one has only a chance of being elected, the most important thing is to be among the two who will certainly be elected. It is easier to persuade existing party members to vote for you rather than for another member of the party, rather than converting persons who are not part of your party's support to support you.
You then get considerable fights within parties. Parties can make some efforts to control that but it is not easy, because the other thing that happens is that the STV gives the elected Member much greater independence vis-à-vis the party itself. There is a benefit to being out of line with the party and to taking an independent line, because you gather publicity as a result. There is a comparative penalty to being a loyal party member. This is bad for political parties and for the health of democracy. Our democracy depends on political parties. We do not elect Parliaments or bodies of independent members. That ceased to happen hundreds of years ago. If you undermine parties, you weaken our democratic process.
The system also promotes parochialism. It becomes necessary for people to maintain their base and constantly to cultivate their grass roots. I can understand Liberal Democrats' thinking that it is a good idea to do that, but that has impacts on what you do. One criticism that you might make of the Northern Ireland Assembly is that more than 80 per cent of the Members elected are also councillors. You dare not leave councils under an STV system. In the Irish Republic, most TDsI do not know the exact figureare also councillors. I can hear something being muttered at the end of the Chamber. I shall take an intervention.
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