Government of Wales Bill
Lord Trimble (Crossbench)
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 opinions—drawn 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.
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 House—this Parliament—against 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.