NUMBER OF MEPs, ELECTORAL REGIONS AND ELECTORAL SYSTEM

Orders of the Day — European Parliamentary Elections Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 26th February 1998.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendment moved [24 February]: No. 26, in page 1, line 24, leave out from 'region' to 'shall' in line 29 on page 2.—[Mr. Trimble.]

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments: No. 9, in page 1, line 25, leave out from 'be' to end of line 26 and insert 'an open regional list system.3A. An open regional list system is a system which complies with the following requirements, namely—

  1. (a) each electoral region shall be divided into a number of constituencies equal to the number of MEPs to be elected for that region in accordance with subsection 2(4) above and Schedule 1;
  2. (b) each candidate shall nominate on the ballot paper one constituency in the relevant region which he will represent, if elected;
  3. (c) in the event of the same constituency being nominated by more than one successful candidate, the candidate elected first shall represent his nominated constituency;
  4. (d) successful candidates unable to represent their nominated constituency for the reason given in sub-paragraph (c) shall, in the order of their election, choose another constituency to represent, and;
  5. (e) if an elected candidate has nominated a constituency which no candidate elected before him has nominated, he shall represent that constituency even if a candidate elected before him, whose own nominated constituency has been taken, seeks to choose it.'.
No. 1, in page 2, line 1, leave out from 'cast' to end of line 2 and insert 'in one of the following ways:
  1. (a) for a registered party;
  2. (b) for a candidate listed as a member of a registered party; or
  3. (c) for an individual candidate not listed as a member of a registered party.'.
No. 51, in page 2, line 2, after 'candidate,', insert 'whether or not the candidate is a member of a registered party,'. No. 2, in page 2, line 4, after 'candidate', insert 'not listed as a member of a registered party'. No. 3, in page 2, line 4, after 'votes' insert ', with votes for candidates listed as members of a registered party counting towards the total vote of that party.'. No. 4, in page 2, line 8, leave out from 'number' to end and insert 'shown below.

Number of seats already allocatedDivisor
23
35
47
59
611
713
815
917
1019.'
No. 5, in page 2, line 16, leave out from 'filled' to end of line 18 and insert 'as follows—
  1. (a) a quota shall be determined which is equal to the total number of votes polled for all the parties, divided by the number of seats to be allocated, plus one.
  2. (b) votes cast for the candidate at the top of the party list shall be compared with the number of votes cast for the registered party to which that candidate belongs.
  3. (c) where the candidate has fewer votes than the quota, the votes for that candidate will then be topped up to reach the quota using votes from the party vote, reducing the number of votes won by the party accordingly.
  4. (d) this process continues for each candidate on the list until the party votes have been exhausted, except where there are insufficient votes in the party vote to top up a candidate, in which case those votes are allocated to the next person on the list with sufficient votes, who moves one place up the list.'.
No. 6, in page 2, line 20, at end insert— '(7A) The style of the front of the ballot papers to be used shall be in the form set out in Schedule (European Parliament Ballot Paper). No. 10, in page 2, leave out lines 22 to 24.

No. 11, in page 2, leave out lines 25 to 28.

New clause 4—Evaluation by Secretary of State of open list system and method of allocating seats'.—After section 7 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978, there shall be inserted the following section—"Evaluation by Secretary of State of open list system and method of allocating seats

  1. 7A.—(1) As soon as is reasonably practicable after the first election held under the regional list system set out in section 3 of this Act, the Secretary of State shall lay a report before Parliament, setting out what appear to him to be the principal advantages and disadvantages of conducting subsequent such elections by an open list system.
  2. (2) A report under subsection (1) above may also contain proposals for changing the arrangements for the allocation of seats set out in this Act.
  3. (3) In this section, 'open list system' means an electoral system in which the names of those candidates on a party's list are listed on the ballot paper and each voter can choose whether to cast his vote either—
    1. (a) for a registered party, or
    2. (b) for an individual candidate, whether or not that candidate is on a party's list of candidates.".'.
Amendment No. 27, in schedule 2, page 8, leave out lines 19 to 25.

'EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT BALLOT PAPER
EASTERN ENGLAND CONSTITUENCY
ELECTION OF EIGHT MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT
You may vote in one of two ways:
EITHER
Put 'X' in one of these boxes to indicate the party of your choiceConservative PartyGreen PartyLabour PartyLiberal Democrats
OR Put 'X' in one of these boxes to indicate the candidate of your choiceConservative PartyGreen PartyLabour PartyLiberal DemocratsOthers
FORBESSKYLARKCLARKEHOLDERTHWAITE
AnnabelDanielWinstonMaureenNorman
SOCIALIST
LABOUR
SMYTHEANDREWSBLACKCHAUDHRIKENT
Sir AlanMelanieMichaelAjitAnthony
PROCANING
PARSONSVALERIANPETERSHUSSEINMcINTYRE
GilesJenniferAngelaRupalLord
NATURAL LAW PARTY
SIDCUPSVENSONELLERTONMUIR
Lady AnneBobSir PaulSeymour
INDEP'NT
BIRCHBELLBEDFORDSMEDLEY
DominicCeliaBaroness (Anne)Jemima
MARXIST
PRESSMANUL-HAQMEADOWS
MarleneTariqSimon
LANCASTERPOTTERGOLSTEIN
Sir AlfonseAmeliaSamuel
TRUSTFULCHAPLINHUNTER
DerekNazaliaSarah

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party 4:20 pm, 26th February 1998

After the debate had finished at 10 pm on Tuesday, I reflected that perhaps I had been too generous in taking interventions, because, had I not done so, I might have finished my speech and would not be standing here today. None the less, those interventions raised interesting points.

When the debate finished, 1 was responding to an intervention from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) Amendment No. 79, in page 8, line 25, at end insert—

'(3C) Regulations under this paragraph may make provision requiring party lists of candidates and nominations of individual candidates to be supported by signatures of electors in the relevant constituency, and may specify the numbers of signatures required.'. New schedule 1—

to correct what I thought was a misapprehension when he 4.20 pm said of the single transferable vote system that people lose the ability to make a clear choice when their vote is shuffled through the system".— [Official Report, 24 February 1998; Vol. 307, c. 272.] I was about to tell the hon. Gentleman that he was wrong to suggest that votes are shuffled through the system under STV. If votes are transferred, it is because the elector has indicated a preference.

Votes are not transferred automatically. Under the STV system, it is common for an elector to plump—to mark only one preference. Consequently, the vote is never transferred. It is counted for the person in respect of whom the elector has indicated a first preference, and that is it. If a vote transfers to anyone else it is because the elector has indicated a preference.

As I was saying on Tuesday, when STV was introduced in Northern Ireland, the electors took it very seriously and considered very carefully the way in which they marked their preferences, in terms of voting not just for parties and candidates within those parties, but for other individuals on the list.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman means. If I used the word "shuffled", I should be happy to alter it to "transferred". However, irrespective of whether a voter has preferences, he has a higher preference for one candidate as opposed to another. It is clear that the second preference has a much lower order of priority. The first-past-the-post system provides a real choice. Although we could debate the issue ad nauseam, there is something inherently unsatisfactory about the second preference being given the advantage over the first choice.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

I shall return to the merits and demerits of the first-past-the-post system and the elections for which it is appropriate.

Preferences and the expression of preferences in STV allow the elector to make a sophisticated judgment on individuals and parties. Those preferences can be used not simply to vote for candidates or parties, but to vote against others. It is common in Northern Ireland for people to shape their preferences—parties advise them to shape their preferences—to express positive and negative preferences. That gives the electorate a wider choice, enabling them to express things in a more sophisticated manner. That is part of the attraction of STV. All systems have advantages and disadvantages. I am dwelling on the advantages of STV, but I shall outline its disadvantages as well.

I emphasise that STV has resulted in quite keen electoral interest, which we must all bear in mind. Given the very large constituencies as a result of the Bill—even with the single transferable vote system, there will be large constituencies—something that excites the electors' interest is of value. In addition, political parties have to adopt their voting and transfer strategies. They cannot just sit back and leave it to the electorate. Parties have to consider responses and decide what to do.

One of the criticisms that we commonly make about STV—we are aware of its flaws—is that it encourages competition between candidates of a party. The normal strategy for a party under the STV system is to run one more candidate than the number of the seats that the party thinks it will win. If, by virtue of experience and opinion polls, it is considered that two of a party's candidates will be elected, the standard advice is to run three candidates. One must always allow for the possibility that the party will do better than expected. An extra candidate would take advantage of a movement of opinion in favour of a party.

Running an extra candidate above the number that the party expects will be elected means that probably at least one person will not be elected. That gives rise to competition between candidates. Ideally, one would hope that such competition attracts voters to the party, although candidates quickly conclude that it is easier to persuade people who are already committed to their party to switch from party candidate A to party candidate B than to persuade someone who is not in favour of one's party to switch their allegiance. Competition therefore develops between candidates, which can sometimes be taken to quite interesting extremes.

I remember the case of a former colleague who, back in 1982, stood as one of our six candidates in the 10-seat South Antrim constituency. Our most prominent candidate was then James Molyneaux, now Lord Molyneaux. The party poster listed all six candidates in alphabetical order. The gentleman in question decided to emphasise that his name was first alphabetically by excising from the poster—literally cutting out—the four names between his and Jim Molyneaux's. He tried to get on to Jim's coat tails by that device. I cannot remember whether it succeeded.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

My hon. Friend, who was elected in a different constituency in that election, is nodding, so the stratagem may have succeeded—although the success may also have been a consequence of one other feature of STV, which, in my eyes, although not in the eyes of others, is a serious disadvantage. It is thought to be a significant advantage if one's name starts with a letter at the beginning of the alphabet. However, that is not always an advantage; it depends on circumstances.

Although we consider competition between candidates a disadvantage of STV generally, such a cloud may have a silver lining in European parliamentary elections. It will help to open up the debate on Europe in parties, and enable the electorate to take part in that debate and express preferences for the views on European issues of particular candidates in a particular party.

On Europe, the debate is not between, but within, parties. Pro and sceptical attitudes exist within all three parties and, consequently, a transferable vote system—or a system that enables the electorate to distinguish between candidates for a particular party—will allow the electorate to distinguish between particular wings of a party on these issues. That will develop the debate within the parties and enable the electorate to take part, and their view might be interesting.

That might be of particular interest to the hon. Member for Stone, who is a vigorous participant in the debate within the Conservative party. He might welcome a system that enabled the electorate to join in. Obviously, it would be a stronger point for him if he believed that the electorate would join in on his side—and he may believe that. I commend the system to him on that basis.

4.30 pm

The hon. Member for Stone raised another point about the first-past-the-post system. It is generally known that our party has expressed a preference for that system for many years, and we must deal with the issue in case we are accused of inconsistency. We would never advocate a single transferable vote system, or any proportional electoral system, for elections to this House. We are endorsing STV as the electoral method for the proposed Northern Ireland assembly, and the amendment does likewise with regard to the European Parliament. However, we draw clear distinctions between regional assemblies and the European Parliament and this House.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

I followed the right hon. Gentleman's speech on Tuesday through my magic machine. If we accept the position that he has just elucidated, there will be an inevitable move towards proportional representation in this House, whatever we say. Once the gate is opened, the arguments that are used constantly to encourage people to believe that proportional representation is somehow fairer will result in a push towards Members of the House of Commons being elected that way.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

The floodgates are already open. Proportional representation has been operating in Northern Ireland for more than 20 years, and is being proposed by the hon. Lady's party for Scotland and Wales. One can stem the tide for this House by the argument that I was about to make.

The reason why I draw a distinction between elections to this House and those to other places is that elections to the House are to elect a Government. There are arguments for having an electoral system that reflects a broad spread of opinion, and that is fine if we are dealing with a body where the premium is on having the broadest range of representation and where there is no need for clear policy decisions.

If—as in the House—we have to sustain a Government, that Government must make clear decisions. We want the electorate to be able to make choices, because a PR system will produce a range of representation and will result in coalitions having to be formed. The real policy choices are then in the construction of coalitions, and those take place after elections, rather than before.

The paradox is that PR—which represents a wide range of views—may result in the electorate not being able to choose a Government, which would be created after the event by the deals that people do. For that reason, I believe strongly that the first-past-the-post system must be retained for the House and for the formation of Governments.

Regional assemblies for the United Kingdom will be essentially administrative and will not make major policy decisions, although I know that will not be welcome news for the strong proponents of devolution. I recall the comments made by the Prime Minister during the election campaign when he likened the proposed Scottish Parliament to an English parish council. That was a bold comparison—the Scottish Parliament will go far beyond a parish council, but it will still be essentially an administrative body.

The Scottish Parliament will not have the power to take major policy decisions; nor will the Northern Ireland assembly. In the current inter-party talks, we constantly remind other parties—which are more ambitious in their views—of the realities of life, including the fact that the Northern Ireland assembly will not share the characteristics of a government.

Similarly, the European Parliament does not have to sustain a government. The European legislature is the Council of Ministers, and the European executive, in so far as there is one, is the European Commission. The European Parliament is a consultative body, and there is a strong argument for ensuring that a wide range of views is represented there.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The right hon. Gentleman has, no doubt, studied the Amsterdam treaty in some detail, as some of us have. Has he noticed that it will grant extensive powers to the European Parliament, which have been minimised by the Government because they do not want people to know what is going on? The reality is that, under the procedures for majority voting and co-decision, the arrangements for an individual member state to achieve its objectives will be severely curtailed. The right hon. Gentleman's argument will be eroded by the Amsterdam treaty, because the Council of Ministers will be given increased supranational powers in the movement towards one country called Europe.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

I defer to the hon. Gentleman in his knowledge of the detail of the treaty. None the less, my point remains valid, because the legislature in Europe is the Council of Ministers. Provisions are made to give the European Parliament some influence, but it is still only a consultative body. The argument that 1 made earlier to justify the retention of the first-past-the-post system for the House of Commons does not, therefore, apply to the European Parliament, and I hope that it never will. I do not believe that European institutions will develop in such a way that the European Parliament will acquire the characteristics of a genuine parliament or will be required to support a government.

All electoral systems have characteristics and biases, and we must choose between them. They all produce representation to a greater or lesser extent, and we should be open about the effect that is sought for a particular institution. That is why I drew a distinction between the need for the first-past-the-post system for the House of Commons and a representative system for elsewhere.

The representative system that I have suggested for the European Parliament would place a premium on producing a proportional result and would give the electorate considerable influence in deciding the representation of the various parties. Although list systems may produce proportional results, they do not give the electorate the opportunity to choose. The closed list system, in particular, has the disadvantage of favouring party leaderships, which is, of course, why it has been proposed.

The system proposed by the Liberal Democrats is an unhappy compromise. I especially dislike the formula that the Liberal Democrats propose in amendment No. 4 for the allocation of seats. It has been deliberately chosen to favour small parties and departs from the clarity and simplicity of the d'Hondt formula. We debated that issue in some detail in 1996, and eventually chose the d'Hondt formula. If one is to have a list system, it is better to have the d'Hondt formula, rather than the proposal in amendment No. 4, which is designed simply to be advantageous to smaller parties. On that issue, the Liberal Democrats, like some other parties, want to get their thumb on the wheel.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful speech and, later, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) will seek to deploy the case for the Sainte-Lague, rather than the d'Hondt, system—it is, after all, used in a great many countries. However, on his earlier point, does he not recognise that if we are to have a list system, which is not our highest preference either, it is much better to have one with open lists, whereby the public have some influence over the choice of candidates, than one with closed lists?

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

As I said on Tuesday, it would be much better still to go the whole hog. If the Liberal Democrats were to go the whole hog and support our amendment, they would be supporting their first preference. At this stage, they ought to express their first preference; if they have to haul down their sights later, so be it. However, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for providing the name of other formula—the one that is biased in their favour—which I confess I had forgotten.

On Tuesday, the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said that the legislation was providing a test run on proportional representation. I want to repeat a point I made on Tuesday, which is that test runs on proportional representation have already happened: they happened in Northern Ireland, and hon. Members should look closely at that example. Having looked at the two different systems that have been applied in Northern Ireland, we think that the advantage lies with the single transferable vote system.

The Liberal Democrats confirmed on Tuesday and again just now that the single transferable vote is their preferred system—the system which they would go for if they could, and if they were not scared of offending the Government. They should remember that the STV system was introduced into the United Kingdom by the Conservatives and, when it was reintroduced in modern times, it was the Conservatives who did that; the Labour Government who followed them endorsed and re-enacted the STV system.

Therefore, my amendment offers a proposal which is the first preference of the Liberal Democrats and has been introduced by the Conservatives and endorsed by Labour. On that basis and if rationality were to apply, I would expect all of them to rally round the amendment.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall speak to amendments Nos. 9, 51, 10 and 11, which stand in my name and the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I shall seek your leave, Sir Alan, to press for separate votes on amendments No. 9 and 10, which deal with important subjects.

I enjoyed the speech of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). He raised some important points and I shall touch on three of those, as they lend support to the arguments that I shall deploy in support of our amendments. The first point was about candidates' order of priority on the ballot paper. In a closed list system, the ranking of candidates is an important matter.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman made a thoughtful point about what happens under the new system when a Member of the European Parliament crosses the floor and moves from one party to another, but the response he received from the Home Secretary was not really satisfactory. The point is this: under the new system, MEPs will be elected under a party banner and not, in any sense, as individuals. If they cross the floor and join another party, it cannot be pretended that they are in the same position as a Member of this Parliament who crosses the Floor, which was the argument the Home Secretary used.

Members of Parliament are elected as individuals, but MEPs are not—they are elected purely on a party basis and that fact has implications that have not been sufficiently answered.

I was also interested in the right hon. Gentleman's arguments about the differences between, and the reasons for using, different systems for different assemblies.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 4:45 pm, 26th February 1998

On the point of people who switch parties, the situation is worse than my hon. Friend says. Under our current system, when people are nominated, the process ends with an election. Under a list system, people are nominated for four years—until the next election. A situation can arise where, although the next person on the list has long left one's party, that person may fill a vacancy.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend made some important points in earlier debates, and he has hit the nail on the head again today.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Upper Bann that the first-past-the-post system has served the House of Commons and this country well and has provided us with stable government. However, the arguments go further and extend in favour of using the first-past-the-post system for European elections as well. It is our belief that first past the post is the best way of ensuring quality representation on behalf of electors and a good quality of MEPs in Europe. All I say now in support of the amendments will be coloured by our conviction that the first-past-the-post system has served us well in this country and in Europe.

There is evidence of the first-past-the-post system earning wide admiration, not only in this country, but throughout Europe. Many MEPs from other countries view with admiration our first-past-the-post system. In order to dismiss that system, which has served this country well, the Government will have to do better than the bald statement in the Home Office press announcement, which stated: The relationship between Members of the European Parliament and their constituents is by its nature different to the closer ties expected of a Westminster MP. We accept that the work of an MEP is different—we have heard that from Members of Parliament on both sides of the House who have served as MEPs. In many cases, MEPs work for a different clientele, but they also serve individual constituents and we believe that a constituency system serves the interests of electors and helps MEPs to discharge their functions and form relationships with the different groups in the constituency.

Amendment No. 9 is designed to reintroduce the link between an MEP elected under the new system of voting—of which we do not approve, but there it is—and a constituency. We find it hard to understand arguments against that link, because it will help MEPs to serve their constituents.

That answers the question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) on Tuesday. He asked: Who will identify with what and how will they go about it? Under the new system, how will MEPs elected on a list of seven, eight or even 10 Members representing a giant constituency go about their task? My right hon. Friend asked about what would happen on the day after the election: Will it be a colonial carve-up with the appointment of divisional governorships of various parts of the region?"—[Official Report, 24 February 1998; Vol. 307, c. 230.] Will the MEPs sit down and decide what each of them will do? Would it not be better if, from the outset, there was a known constituency system and a constituency link about which the electorate knew in advance? As a result, after the election, each elector would know which individual MEP was serving his or her constituency.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I recognise that the purpose of amendment No. 9 is to attach a constituency to a Member of the European Parliament, once that Member has been elected. That is a perfectly fair aim, but does the hon. Gentleman recognise that to describe that as an "open regional list system" is misleading? It is not an open list system in the sense that it would give voters the opportunity to change the slate of candidates put forward by the party. Perhaps, on reflection, it might have been better to describe it differently.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I make common cause with the right hon. Gentleman's criticism of the list system. Our amendment is designed to combine the new voting system—which we do not like—with a constituency system. I certainly make common cause with criticism of the Government's proposal for a list system. In fact, I would go further. I think that it is difficult—almost impossible—for anyone to defend it. It has been widely criticised and is recognised as a system which leads to party placement. I shall deal with that in the debate on a later amendment, and I shall now confine my comments to support for this amendment.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

While I recognise the difficulties inherent in having to keep pace with the times, and given that Labour has a massive majority and is determined to drive through a system of regional lists, may I invite my hon. Friend to accept that the long title of the Bill—whatever advice my hon. Friend may have received—does not appear to preclude the idea that we should insist on a first-past-the-post system?

Does my hon. Friend accept that we are getting dangerously close to accepting the principle of regional lists, and that that may be held against us in due course? I urge him to consider carefully the significance of the wording that has been adopted in amendment No. 9 and, for that matter, amendment No. 53.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I accept my hon. Friend's comments. I thought that I had given a sufficient health warning, but if I have not, I make it even clearer now that we support the first-past-the-post system. We believe that the proposed system is a bad system, and we have tabled our amendment to improve the system a little bit. It will be an improvement to have a constituency link for individual Members.

There is common ground between this group of amendments and an earlier group. The amendments that deal with the size of the regions are based on arguments that link directly into the argument about constituencies. The regions that the Government have decreed are so vast, so incoherent, so lacking in justification and will be so difficult for electors to understand or MEPs to represent that we believe that it will be an improvement to divide them into constituencies. I have listened to the debate, and I have found little compelling argument in favour of the proposed regions and constituencies.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made some comments about a town in Scotland—I think it was Eyemouth. He chose it as an extreme example. Does it make it any easier or better to put that town into not just the south of Scotland but a vast region covering the whole of the rest of Scotland, with a list of MEPs to represent it? The town would be thrown in not just with the south of Scotland but with central Scotland, the highlands and islands—to which the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) referred—and so on. Does that make any sense? Surely it makes the problem even worse.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Office)

We suggested that it could not make it any worse and would have the advantage of creating a team of MEPs working on a regional basis with other regional organisations. They would have a single voice in defending the interests of Scotland. The fundamental problem is that the constituencies are already so large that the connections just are not there.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman must accept in all fairness that it is a pretty vast region. There is a problem with the argument that he and his right hon. Friend have advanced. It is a trap that people who argue on the basis of what they see as an extreme example fall into. The extreme example under the present system is infinitely better than the best of the new system. The new system will involve a group of MEPs—the hon. Gentleman called it a team—who will inevitably be more remote than under the present system and will be asked to do far more work.

We all tend in the House to argue on the basis of our own examples, so I give Liberal Members an example that is dear to my heart. My Westminster constituency is part of the European constituency of Hertfordshire, which includes most of the county of Hertfordshire. The European constituency is to be abolished and merged into the giant Eastern region, which will cover many other counties in what is described as the east of England.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) referred to the various organisations and interests in a region. Business and education interests are organised on a county basis. The chambers of commerce and the local Confederation of British Industry branches are organised on a county basis and speak for the county and nowhere else. My hon. Friend the Member for North—East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) knows that to be the case.

The local education authority is the Hertfordshire county council. Most of the voluntary groups in my constituency are part of a Hertfordshire group. Everything tends to be organised on a county basis. In the reorganisation of local government there was a vigorous debate about whether there should be a county council or a series of souped-up district councils with greater powers than previously. A strong argument was made on behalf of Hertfordshire. People identified with Hertfordshire and wanted to keep the county, and they did so.

Hertfordshire organisations speak for the people of Hertfordshire. This is just one example. In an earlier debate about regional identity, the Minister of State, Home Office said: It struck me as bizarre to introduce sub-regional divisions that seemed to have no coherence, and no historical or current justification."—[Official Report, 23 February 1998; Vol. 307, c. 255.] I do not know whether she suggests that the Eastern region has more significance for people in Hertfordshire than the county of Hertfordshire. I have to say that the history of the peoples of the Eastern region of England is a volume that has yet to be written. If a person from abroad asked my constituents where they lived, they would say that they came from Hertfordshire. If they were asked where Hertfordshire was, they would say that it was in the south-east of England, or in the home counties around London. Not one in 100 would say that they lived in the Eastern region.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If the regional boundaries are so bad, will the hon. Gentleman explain why, in November 1993, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the then Secretary of State for the Environment, came to this Dispatch Box with a great fanfare to declare the new regions not just for minor administrative purposes but as a major arm of government and representation of people at regional level?

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Home Secretary is making a jump there which is not justified by fact. The regions were set up for administrative convenience to bring administration closer to people. They were not set up as electoral regions to represent electors or as an expression of any cultural or historical identity—specifically not. They were put there for administrative convenience. To their discredit, the Government have hijacked those regions and tried to turn them into something that they were never intended to be.

The right hon. Gentleman would be hard put to find any cultural or historical significance, fellow feeling or identity of purpose between all those people who live in the region described as the South East, stretching from Kent to Milton Keynes, or the Eastern region, stretching from Hertsmere to Norfolk.

I say nothing against the other counties in the Eastern region. My constituents like Norfolk. Many of them go on holiday there, but they do not think that they are part of the same region as Norfolk.

May I put it to the Home Secretary that the amendment is relevant not only to the ease of electors knowing what is happening and who represents them, but to the quality of representation that MEPs can provide? Westminster Members of Parliament are always emboldened in our dealings with the Government or whomever by the fact that we have a constituency link and speak on behalf of our constituents. I know of the affection and interest of the Home Secretary in all matters Belgian—[Laughter.]

He is very interested in Belgium. He plays the admirable party game "Ten Famous Belgians". I have received a letter from a former ambassador to Belgium and to Austria. He writes with some knowledge of the European scene. I refer to a Mr. O'Neill, who writes: The party list system (or even multi-member constituencies) destroys the personal link between the member and the elector: the legislature becomes less responsive and more remote. The member no longer has any kind of authority or standing deriving from his personal mandate in his dealings with his Party, and he becomes entirely dependent on the Party for whether or at what point (sheep or goat) he appears on the Party list. The consequence is that the quality of candidates falls, and they come to be chosen almost exclusively from the ranks of career Party officials.

5 pm

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman speaks for himself and his party.

I turn from the defects of the Government's proposed system and how they would be remedied by amendment No. 9, to the closed list system, with which amendment No. 51 deals. There are Liberal amendments on the same subject.

The closed list system is extremely difficult to defend. When the Government unveiled it, it attracted almost universal criticism and concern. The Times stated in a leading article: This is bad for democracy and will be bad eventually for the parties too. The Government plans to introduce the worst possible kind of PR for the European elections. Its closed list system allows voters no say over which candidate they want. They can merely vote for a party which will then appoint its own placemen to the Parliament. On Second Reading, there was scarcely a friend to be found in the House for the closed list system. It will be interesting to see whether any hon. Member will defend it. It did not win many friends among the Home Secretary's colleagues in the European Parliament. One Labour MEP is quoted as saying: The Prime Minister will not tolerate people who know about European issues, only authentic brain-washed Blairites. That was the voice of Mr. Ken Coates.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Perhaps Mr. Ken Coates was in a good position to judge, and he may now be in an even better position to do so.

Whether among serious commentators or members of the Labour European group, few are coming forward to defend the closed list system. It was therefore not surprising that—possibly as a result of his interest in all matters Belgian—the Home Secretary told us on Second Reading that he was launching an interesting consultation on the Belgian electoral system.

In fairness to the Home Secretary, he made it clear—rather like a judge passing sentence—that he was giving no promises about what the eventual sentence would be, but he led us to believe that it was an interesting development. He was as good as his word and put a paper in the Library on the operation of the Belgian electoral system. I have a copy of that paper.

I should be interested to know why the Home Secretary chose the Belgian system. He looks perplexed. I hope that he knows the answer—he chose it, not I.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Good, the Home Secretary knows the answer. Perhaps he will tell us why he chose the Belgian list, rather than any of the other lists in the European electoral systems—the Danish system, for example, which he also mentioned in his speech. The open list systems are not strange in Europe. On Second Reading, the Home Secretary told us with pride: I am prepared to listen to the arguments for adopting a Belgian-type system and to give them careful consideration. Since then, there has been a deafening silence from the Government for three months. We do not know what great debate has been taking place. We will be interested to learn what arguments the Government considered during the consultation and which argument clinched it for the closed list system, which was the Government's original preference. Did new facts come to light about the Belgian system that the Government did not know on Second Reading?

As a Belgian detective—Poirot, Simenon's Maigret, or Tin Tin—might say, it is all rather perplexing. Were those all red herrings that were thrown into the plot to mislead us, or have we yet to come to the final twist of the plot?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall deal in more detail with the Belgian system when I speak. Meanwhile, let me put the hon. Gentleman out of his misery about where the suggestion of the Belgian system came from. He has it in front of him. It was not my suggestion. As I said on Second Reading: It has been suggested, both by the constitutional group Charter 88 and by the Liberal Democrats, that we could introduce an electoral system of the sort that operates in Belgium and Denmark, whereby voters can vote either for the party list as a whole or for an individual candidate from the party list".—[Official Report, 25 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 813.] I then spelt out how that would operate and went on to say that we were willing to consider it, without giving commitments about our final decision until there had been a chance to consult the House, which is what we are doing.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Home Secretary has missed his vocation. He has thrown another red herring into the plot. We did not hear the argument that clinched it for the Government, but no doubt we shall hear that in due course.

I am fully aware of what was said on Second Reading. The Home Secretary said that it had been suggested that they could introduce an electoral system of the sort that operates in Belgium and Denmark"— and, one could add, in many other European countries.

Why did the Government chose the Belgian system, rather than the Danish? Is it entirely coincidental that those of us for whom the differences between European electoral systems are not the natural stuff of our reading now discover that, in Belgium, there is a history of the preferential voting system not making much difference to the order of candidates, whereas, in Denmark, which the Government did not choose as one of their examples, there is an established history of preferences being expressed by voters, and the voters' preferences making a difference to the final outcome of the election? We await an answer from the Home Secretary.

We have heard nothing yet from the Government, and the situation remains as unsatisfactory as it was on Second Reading. We believe that a closed list system is a bad system. One word that has been used to describe it is degrading. That is appropriate. It will not get our support in any circumstances.

The Home Secretary also told us on Second Reading that he was interested in the differences between various divisors and methods of election. I remind him of another point that he made. I refer to proportionality, which relates to some of the amendments tabled by the Liberals. The comments about Belgium and Denmark are not the only ones for which the Home Secretary owes the House an explanation.

The right hon. Gentleman told us on Second Reading why the Government had chosen the d'Hondt system in preference to the Sainte-Lague system. I am grateful to the Liberal Democrats for that pronunciation, of which I was previously unaware. The Home Secretary set out the reasons why he chose the d'Hondt system and said: Sainte-Lague does not necessarily produce more proportional results. I have already introduced the proportionality index to the House—I noticed how hon. Members listened with bated breath. By calculating the index score for six regions using the 1994 European election vote in the United Kingdom, we found that, on average, d'Hondt scored higher than Sainte-Lague."—[Official Report, 25 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 812-14.] Divisors are not my natural interest and I am not an expert in these matters. I have about the same level of interest in them as does the Home Secretary. However, this is an important matter and he explained why the Government had chosen that system. It has important consequences in terms of how many MEPs are elected from each region. Other people are more interested in this subject, and one of those is Professor Ian Maclean of Oxford university.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

He may well be. He is certainly an expert on electoral systems, and he knows his stuff on these matters. The Home Secretary's comments came to his attention and he suspected that something was wrong—in fact, it was a bit more than a suspicion. It was impossible for the Home Secretary to be right, because the Sainte-Lague system is never less proportional than the d'Hondt system and is frequently more proportional than it—contrary to what the Home Secretary told us on Second Reading. The good professor thought that there had been a mistake—I am glad that the Home Secretary admits it now—he carried out simulations and he found that he was correct. I am glad that the Home Secretary has realised his mistake.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Before the Home Secretary intervenes again, I must advise him that it would have been a good idea for the Government to answer my written question on that subject.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall certainly give way, but the Home Secretary might also like to respond to my next point. I asked the Government last week whether they had made a mistake, and I received the answer earlier this week that they were still thinking about it. The Home Secretary has obviously thought about it, so perhaps he can give us an answer.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman's implication is preposterous. He should know that, because I wrote to the shadow Home Secretary, his right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney)—just as I wrote to the Liberal Democrat spokesman and other party leaders—as soon as we were aware that an error had been made. I apologised for that error and I have placed in the Library the details of the revised calculations. Furthermore, the Under—Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), put on record in the Official Report of 20 January exactly what the situation was, and he repeated my unreserved apology to the House.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I welcome that apology, and I accept the Home Secretary's explanation. However, he will understand that some issues flow from that mistake—not least what the Home Secretary said about comparisons between this country and Europe. He knows that, if we dismiss the argument in favour of the d'Hondt system that he gave us on Second Reading, there is little left to support the Government's chosen system. The Government say that they believe that the d'Hondt system is fair—that is a subjective opinion. They say that it is simple—I leave it to the Committee to judge whether any of these electoral systems are simple.

The Government also say that d'Hondt is commonly used in Europe, but it would appear that they have not used the system to calculate the relationship between seats and regions. According to those who are expert in such matters—I am not one of them—the Government have apparently used a different form of divisor for that calculation, which looks very much like the Sainte-Lague divisor that the Government dismissed for the purposes of electing MEPs. Perhaps the Home Secretary will explain that. What is the basis of the system that the Government have finally adopted for determining the relationship between seats and regions?

That decision has important consequences. The Home Secretary will know that the system that he has chosen for electing MEPs—the d'Hondt system—gives the Labour party an extra seat in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman is looking quizzical: he would do well to take up the issue with those who are authorities in such matters. The different system that the Government have chosen to allocate seats between regions produces one fewer seat for the south-east and one more seat for London. That is an important consideration. In those circumstances, the Home Secretary owes it to the Committee to confirm whether there is a difference between the divisors, what divisor relates seats to regions, and what the justification is for those decisions.

We hold no brief for any of those issues. We have some sympathy with the Home Secretary because we know that it is not his natural terrain.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. There is a legitimate argument about whether d'Hondt or Sainte-Lague is the best and fairest mechanism of allocating seats according to votes. It has nothing to do with the allocation of seats to regions.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:15 pm, 26th February 1998

The Government must explain why they have chosen different systems for those two functions. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has not heard my reply; I ask him to do me the courtesy of listening to what I have to say. The Government must explain why they have chosen different systems. The hon. Gentleman is a fair man and he must accept that, as the different systems apparently produce more favourable results for the Government in both cases, they owe the Committee an explanation.

It is no use the Government's claiming that the divisors are used commonly in Europe. As I understand it, the system that the Government have produced is unique in Europe: it is the only system that has a closed list at a regional level. Perhaps the Home Secretary will identify any other European country that has a closed list at a regional level. I am not aware of such a country within the European Union.

The Home Secretary is looking hopefully to his box: I suggest that he will find no other country with that system within the European Union. There may be another such country elsewhere in Europe. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) provided the example of Bulgaria earlier. I am sure that the old Communist rulers of Bulgaria would recognise that system, but it is not recognisable to hon. Members.

We have some sympathy for the Home Secretary, and we recognise that a mistake was made about the electoral systems. We always accept an apology, and we are aware that this is not natural terrain for the Home Secretary. He does not compare too badly with certain other members of the Government—I am thinking specifically of the command of arithmetic demonstrated by the Minister for School Standards and the command of theology exhibited by the Minister for the millennium dome. I do not intend any disrespect to the dome. The Prime Minister has told me that I must visit the dome, and I am looking forward to that almost as much as I am looking forward to my guided tour of the Lord Chancellor's apartments.

There are serious matters for hon. Members to consider. We cannot approve of a system that is based on a mistake and on a closed list that we believe is undemocratic and which destroys the link between candidates and their constituencies. They are bad features of the system, and our amendments are designed to set them right.

We are also concerned about the important subject of party registration. We are alive to the concerns that have been expressed in this place about the registration of parties and party names. We know of the problems that were caused in the last election, and we treat the subject seriously. We regret that the Government have approached the registration issue in this way and introduced it into the Bill at this stage, after two important pieces of constitutional legislation have passed through Parliament and when this Bill is in Committee. It is rather late in the day for the Government to announce their ideas on registration. We believe that there should have been wider consultation at an earlier stage.

I know that the Home Secretary recently wrote to my right hon. Friends giving details of his plans. We would have preferred to receive those details much earlier— certainly before the Bill reached its Committee stage and before the consideration of important constitutional legislation. A subject of such seriousness cannot be dealt with in this way, amid the shambles of the Government's plans for different electoral systems and against the background of this Bill, which destroys links between Members and their constituencies, and damages and degrades our electoral system. We are not happy about that, and we shall register our unhappiness in due course.

As I have said, we shall seek a separate vote on the question of party registration in order to signal our concern about the Government's plans. We shall also seek a separate vote on the constituency link, because we do not believe that the Government have offered sufficient arguments to support their proposals. We believe that our constituency link would slightly improve a bad and an inferior system.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

My speech may be a brief interlude in the melodrama being played out opposite. During the many hours that we have considered this legislation, we have heard about the Opposition's unwillingness to embrace electoral reform and their absolute hatred of regions. One wonders why that hatred is so strong. Some of us believe in regions, have regional accents and look to building up regions. As we look to the next millennium, one wonders whether there is a present or a future, as Conservative Members always seem to look backwards.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I shall take an intervention, but I must first make some progress.

I rise mainly to support new clause 4 standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg). We feel strongly that whether it is an open list or a closed list system, it is right and proper that an investigation is made at an appropriate time after the first elections are held. I am very much in favour of an open list system, but if a closed list is chosen, it is right and proper that an appraisal is made of how well it operated. The clause allows that to happen.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

If the hon. Gentleman is arguing in favour of the open list system, will he join those in the Division Lobby who wish to vote for such a system for the election, when it happens, and not just conduct a post mortem on it afterwards, which he appears to want to do?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

We do not know whether a Division will be called, and, if so, which way we shall vote. Many of us have worked long and hard for reform of the electoral system.

There are other reasons why it is important that there is an investigation after the first elections using the regional list system. We could look again at the allocation of seats. As always, we on the Government Benches are open to persuasion that it might be possible—[Laughter.) The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) laughs, but that is what those of us who have supported electoral reform over many years believe.

We are prepared to take on board the different opinions of others from outside the party, and, as I said on Second Reading, those who represent no party. It is important that we understand. We are not all electoral reform "works" on the Government Benches. We genuinely want to open up democracy. We want a different form of democracy—one that has been a long time in coming in this country, which we shall see in due course.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I noted what the hon. Gentleman said about openness and his readiness to embrace other opinions and to see them represented. Will he therefore explain whether in his judgment it would be acceptable if an open list system secured the return of Labour Members of the European Parliament who were fundamentally opposed to the European single currency?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

Of course. That is one reason why I support an open list system. If the electorate choose to elect a person with a different policy from that of the leadership, that is a strong reason why it is a better system, and it is one for which I shall argue.

Another reason for a revision—this is not something about which I feel strongly—is the tabulation system, the use of divisors. It might be useful, after the first regional list system, to look again at divisors. It was put to me by a representative of a party that is not represented in the House that it is important that its point of view is heard. It feels strongly that national tabulation is preferable to regional tabulation. I have an open mind on that point. When we form the legislation, as we will, it is important that we have an opportunity to look again at whether particular parties or individuals have been discriminated against. That is a strong reason why the clause has been introduced.

I shall talk now about the benefits of an open list system—the main reason why I support the proposed change. There has been much argument about breaking the constituency link. There are those who strongly support the constituency link for the Westminster Parliament, but there is no constituency link for the European Parliament. It does not exist. There is no rapport between the Member and the constituency, because it is too large.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

Yes, but I must make progress afterwards.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

I can identify on the Government Benches a number of colleagues who have served, as I have, in both Parliaments. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, now that it has been reduced to a mere 500,000, the existing constituency of a Member of the European Parliament is the same size as that represented by a congressman in the United States; that most of the work is done through channels similar to those of a congressman and a Member of Parliament; and that it works effectively?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I bow to the hon. Lady, who must be superwoman, because she represents a European Parliamentary constituency and is a Member of Parliament. She represents different parts of the country.

The very nature of the point that she made proves that it is possible to change the way in which we elect our MEPs. It is a different system with different jobs.

Opposition Members made the point on Tuesday about functional specialism, which is quite different for an MEP. That point was not lost on me. It is a strong argument for having a regional list system. MEPs do a totally different job, and therefore can be elected in totally different ways. That adds to the checks and balances, about which I spoke at great length on Second Reading. We feel strongly that the advantage of a regional list system must be put across.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

Like my hon. Friend, I hope that the Home Secretary will look closely at the advantages of an open list system, but would my hon. Friend care to comment on the fact that, contrary to the impression that we are getting from Opposition Members, in a recent survey undertaken by three academic institutions—the London school of economics, Birkbeck college and the university of Essex—more than two thirds of voters revealed that they would like a regional list system for elections to the European Parliament, whether a closed list or an open list?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I thank my hon. Friend. I am not aware of that study, but it is important that we listen to the electorate. When they are polled on the change, they seem to like the idea of being able to vote for a person or party or, indeed, an individual who does not represent a party. The open list system presents the best of both worlds: it gives an elector the chance to vote for a person—that person will usually represent a party—but if the elector just wants to elect a party, he or she can do so. That is the best thing about the system.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I counsel caution. Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, when polled, 70 per cent. of the Welsh electorate supposedly supported a Welsh assembly, yet, when the judgment came, only 25 per cent. voted for it and 75 per cent. did not? One has to be cautious about polls showing supposed attachments to prospective systems in which they have not been involved.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I accept the hon. Gentleman's observations. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating, but we are starting from such a low participation base anyway. That is a strong argument for change. People do not vote in the European elections.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I cannot give way any more; I must make progress.

The open list system can and will allow people to participate differently.

On Second Reading, I spoke about people who, year in, year out, vote for a party that has never represented them. Under this system, they can be assured—if that party is one of the major parties—that, with good fortune they will be represented. That is not unimportant. That gives a whole new opening to the democratic structure of this country.

Such a system brings us into line with Europe, most of which now elects MEPs through a regional list system. There may be a difference between an open list system and a closed list system, but if we adopt the system that some Labour Members want, we shall be in the mainstream—[Interruption.] Some Conservative Members obviously would not want to be in the mainstream, but that would tie us to the good will that exists, which is not to be frowned on.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Does my hon. Friend agree that the turnout at European elections in this country so far has been deplorably low and that it is important to consider mechanisms that will lead to a much higher turnout at future elections?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud 5:30 pm, 26th February 1998

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is why it is so important that we try to improve our democracy. I look forward to increased participation.

This forms part of the constitutional changes which the Labour party was elected to deliver. It is not a whim; it concerns a stated policy in our manifesto and comes about through the joint consultative committee with the Liberal Democrats, to which we signed up. I admit that we are being asked to compromise; as I said on Second Reading, some of us would have considered STV, but that was not to be. It was more important that we found a system that introduced proportionality into the election of MEPs as the first and foremost principle. Whatever system it was, it had to be an improvement on the awful first-past-the-post system under which people do not participate in the European elections. There are many good reasons why the constitutional changes that are afoot will improve our democratic basis.

My noble Friend Lord Plant did much good work in terms of electoral reform when he chaired the Plant commission on behalf of the Labour party, which formed a large part of the work that we were able to take into the joint consultative committee with the Liberal Democrats. The Plant commission identified a check list of the measures that would result in a good electoral system. The first on the list was representation. We hope that MEPs will be a different sort of elected representative and will pursue a different role from that pursued in the past because they will play a regional role. That is to be welcomed. This issue is about checks and balances; it is about a system whereby people can be elected in different ways and pursue different roles.

The second item on the list was the nature of the elected bodies. No one can pretend that the European Parliament is not fundamentally different from this place and from the representation that we shall have at a regional level. The system used to elect those people can strengthen rather than weaken those bodies. The third item on the list is legitimacy. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We want to increase voter participation and we strongly believe that an open list system will result in a higher turnout because people will see the benefit of electing their representatives in that way.

The fourth point was stability. The system is robust, and whether we come up with an open or a closed list—I argue strongly in favour of an open list—whether by the d'Hondt or the Sainte-Lague method, there will be stability because the system's transparency will increase the electorate's interest and involvement.

The fifth item on the list is the key principle of proportionality—making votes count. Those of us who have always supported electoral reform feel strongly about that. Under the first-past-the-post system, people build up huge majorities, which may do wonders for their egos, but for those who vote time after time for a party that has no chance of getting to power, the system is disillusioning. Under this system, there is a proper relationship between the votes cast and the seats delegated. If we can achieve that in the European elections as well as in the Welsh and Scottish elections, we shall have proved that we can improve this country democratically.

We should like to think that the list system would reflect society, and result in the election of more women and people from ethnic minorities. People who would not normally be elected would have a chance to be elected. I support the open list system and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on staying open-minded, despite Opposition Members' taunts that he must come up with this or that system. He has had an opportunity to hear the debate and has allowed hon. Members, including Labour Members, with different opinions to state their case. We think that this is a better system which will lead to a much more representative set of people in the European Parliament.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I warmly commend the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). I hope that it has made a strong impression on the Home Secretary, as he made his point very clearly.

The breadth of the debate under this group of amendments is illustrated by the fact that it started a couple of days ago with a thoughtful speech by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), who gave a perceptive analysis of the single transferable vote system and put to bed some of the misconceptions harboured among Conservative Members. His preference for Westminster is the first-past-the-post system, but today we are discussing how we elect MEPs and I share his view that the best system for doing that is the one used and endorsed in Northern IrelandSTV.

As the hon. Member for Stroud pointed out, we have all had to reach compromises in trying to find a system that will command sufficiently wide support in the House, secure proportionality and ensure that the electorate play a significant role in determining who is elected. The amendment turns on the latter point.

Amendment No. 4, on the merits of the divisor system, will be dealt with later by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), in a characteristically short and well-informed speech, if he manages to catch your eye, Sir Alan. I hope that you will agree that we can, as I have requested informally, have a separate vote on amendment No. 4 on the d'Hondt and Sainte-Lague systems, unless the Home Secretary says that he has at last realised, following the understandable miscalculations that were made earlier along the line, that this is the better system.

Amendment No. 79 simply flags up a point about which the Home Secretary may need to think—whether we should have signatures as well as a deposit. We have seen what happened at some by-elections with the Buy the Daily Sport party. For example, if there is a free-post delivery, the electoral system and public funds may be commercially abused by people using the ballot paper to promote a product. Having a significant number of signatures would be a way of dealing with that danger. There is provision for six, 10 or 12 signatures, but a significant number—several hundred signatures—would be a barrier against that abuse.

I do not particularly favour amendment No. 9, but it has a genuine purpose, which is, in a slightly artificial way, to attach a constituency to someone elected under this system. I disagree with its description, an "open regional list system", which is misleading, but I understand what it is getting at. That problem would be resolved informally by candidates in a constituency. It would be in a party's interest to ensure that the candidates whom it put forward came from various parts of the constituency. It would be in the candidates' interest to ensure that they had a strong basis of support in that constituency. If there were several Members of the same party, they would want to agree on some specialisation when attending events and maintaining contacts. It would also be in their interest, whether as the only Member of that party or one of several, to ensure that there were sufficient contact points throughout the large constituency that they represented.

The key issue is the question of open and closed lists, which can make a big difference to the quality of the system. We welcome the Home Secretary's offer on Second Reading to reconsider the issue. He has taken a long time over that, but I shall not complain if he comes to the right decision. Allowing voters to express a preference for particular candidates is an essential part of the Bill, and ensuring that voters continue to be involved in the choice of individual candidates helps to validate the system.

Few people like the idea of a closed list of party candidates, but the current system, against which we are judging the proposed system, is a closed list of one. People who do not like a party's candidate have to vote for another party, which most electors do not want to do. That usually happens only extreme circumstances such as those that led to the election of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell). Under the current system, people must accept the party's choice or vote for a different philosophy or set of beliefs, which most electors do not want to do.

Electors could at least be presented with a slate of party candidates, one or more of whom they might like, but our view is that they should be able to influence which of a party's candidates is elected. That is the purpose of our amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 and new schedule 1. Voters would be able to choose whether to use their vote as a simple party vote, as many people would. Hon. Members are deceiving themselves if they think that most voters vote for individuals, because the evidence is that they vote for a party.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Office)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the detailed work of Dr. Patrick Seyd of Sheffield university's department of politics clearly shows that the vast majority of voters vote for a party and that the personal vote is tiny in all normal electoral circumstances?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

All the evidence points in that direction. I take the romantic view that we should encourage people to vote for individuals. It is an incentive for Members of this Parliament or of the European Parliament to know that electors see them as individuals. I am strongly in favour enabling people to vote for individuals, but hon. Members must recognise that most electors have a different preference. They want to vote for the party philosophy in which they believe or in line with their party allegiance. The system that we propose would ensure that they have the further option of influencing which candidate is elected.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

If people vote for a party, not a candidate, why does the right hon. Gentleman's party perniciously focus on personal issues, rather than policies, at elections?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Hon. Members of all parties sometimes focus on the personalities of candidates. I have heard extraordinary exchanges at the Dispatch Box in which the personalities of individuals within the parties have been criticised. Reasonable argument about a candidate's views is relevant to an election. It is proper for people to decide whether they want the Euro-sceptic or the pro-European element in the Conservative party to predominate, but they do not have that opportunity. The decision is made through the Conservative party's selection procedures, not by the electorate. Many Conservative voters would prefer to vote for a pro-European rather than for an anti-European candidate, but would not vote for another party. The merit of the system proposed in our amendment is that voters would become involved in that process.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

The poll to which I referred was of course dismissed by Conservative Members, but it was undertaken by ICM, the pollsters often used by the Conservative party.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

Yes, ICM got it wrong.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that poll showed that, when a large number of voters were presented with the type of ballot paper used in the Belgian list system, three fifths crossed just the party box and two fifths voted for individuals? That bears out his point that, although the majority go with the party line, a significant minority want a choice.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:45 pm, 26th February 1998

Exactly. More people would want to influence the choice of individuals if a party nominated a candidate who was extremely unpopular with some voters or did not represent their views and aspirations. We all know of circumstances in which that has happened, or would have happened if people had had the opportunity to exercise a choice.

The public should be able to influence the range of candidates who are elected to the European Parliament. Under the electoral system in Norway, the ability to influence which candidates are elected by crossing out a candidate from a list has significantly increased the number of women in Norwegian politics. Indeed, it has transformed Norway's political system. We sorely need that in our system. Despite legal complications, parties are at the moment trying to include enough women on the voting papers to ensure that more are elected, but why should the voters not be involved in that process? Voters may disagree, but they should be involved in such decisions. The system that we propose would enable them to be so.

The limited voter choice system which would result if the Bill were amended as we suggest would still require voters to mark only one cross on the ballot paper, which is no more complicated than the system proposed in the Bill. People could vote for a party, a candidate on the list or an independent candidate. By using their vote to strengthen a candidate's chances, people would have a role in the choice of candidates, but the parties would still be able to put their preferred order of candidates before the voters.

Some people—I know that it is true in the Labour party—think that electors should not be left in total ignorance of who the party thinks are its strongest candidates. I understand that point of view, which is not entirely met by the STV system. One of the reasons we like it is the slightly anarchistic tinge to our thinking, but I understand the view of those who want the parties' preferences on the ballot paper. The system that we propose would allow that. It would make a difference only if there were significant swings of public opinion or a large element of the public was dissatisfied with a party's order of preference.

We are discussing the first national election in this country to be held under a proportional system. It is vital to use a system that can carry the confidence of the electorate. There is a genuine danger that a closed list system would not have their confidence and would not produce a better turnout than that at the 1994 European Parliament election, when about only a third of the electorate voted. Voting under the closed list system proposed in the Bill would be by party, but, as the mock ballot paper produced by the Home Secretary shows, all the candidates' names would have to be listed.

Our proposed change would not make the ballot paper more confusing, and our mock ballot paper in new schedule 1 provides a clear layout. The Home Secretary has suggested that our ballot paper would be improved if professional designers refined it by making it simpler. The Home Office's first proposal for the new police caution to be used during an arrest was extraordinarily complicated. I suggested employing two subeditors from The Sun to tighten up the wording. Experienced professionals could probably improve our suggested ballot paper.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

The right hon. Gentleman is making an interesting case which we have heard from both sides of the Chamber. The problems with the turnout at European Parliament elections are not to do with the electoral system. There are much higher turnouts for Westminster elections on exactly the same system. People do not vote in European Parliament elections because, sadly, they find the European Parliament and their representatives distant. Will not huge electoral regions make them seem more distant?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I think that there is a combination of factors; but, if the hon. Gentleman consults the figures relating to the existing Westminster system, he will find that the turnout tends to be lower in areas where the outcome is entirely predictable. For instance, Conservatives in County Durham, feeling that their votes will make no difference to the outcome, are less inclined to vote. The system is one of the factors influencing the position. It is clear that all the publicity surrounding national elections and the possibility of a change of Government induces a higher turnout, but we need to look for ways in which we can secure a better turnout in European elections, and I think that this is one of those ways.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea

The question of whether a list is closed or open does not appear to affect the turnout. In European elections, countries such as Germany and France, which have closed lists, achieve a far higher turnout than this country. The essential difference is that those countries have proportional systems in which every vote counts. To say that we have higher turnouts in Westminster elections is to miss the point. If we compare general elections with general elections, we see that this country has by far the lowest turnout, as it has in European elections. Both low turnouts are caused by the voting system.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes my point far more eloquently than I did. The key factor is whether the elector feels that his or her vote counts and makes a difference. Proportionality—which is what the Bill is essentially about—gives the elector the message that the vote will count, but to blur that message by saying, "You will be able to vote only for a party, not for an individual," would undermine the value of the change. Let me make it clear that it would not undermine it to the extent that I would prefer the present system to continue—a closed list of one with no proportionality.

A number of hon. Members have cited evidence from surveys showing support for open lists, and also showing that the system is easy to operate. This month, Professor Patrick Dunleavy of the London school of economics published a survey of more than 1,000 people on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree reform trust. It demonstrated that 80 per cent. of respondents required no additional explanation of ballot papers, but understood immediately how the system should operate—and that the majority preferred the open list system.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

The right hon. Gentleman might add that the social group most strongly opposed to that system were the AB s. That may suggest that the managerial and professional classes, who have a better chance of understanding the system, rejected it.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is wrong: it is the other way around. The AB classes most favoured the open list system, and were keenest to choose between individuals. That reflects a social reality. In much of the country, those categorised by other letters in the social class system—which is a rather uncomfortable part of our history and culture—have tended to vote for the parties that represent their interests rather than for individuals. I should like to change that; I would like more people to be concerned about individuals. As I said earlier, most people are concerned with their party preference—but the fact that people who are familiar with making choices of all kinds wanted to make choices about individuals when voting is quite significant.

There is no evidence that the complexity of our proposals, as opposed to the Bill as it stands, makes them indigestible. They are perfectly manageable. As the right hon. Member for Upper Bann made clear, people in Northern Ireland are well used to the STV system, which is slightly more complex from the voter's point of view. They seem to experience no difficulty in using that system—and, moreover, in using it to maximum effect, to ensure that their votes have the maximum value. At a time when the Inland Revenue is telling people that they can fill in self-assessment forms and that they will be fined £100 if they do not get it right, it comes ill for anyone to suggest for a moment that people are incapable of dealing with a ballot paper of this kind to make their votes as effective as possible.

We urge the Home Secretary to amend the Bill to provide for open lists. After we told the Home Office about its error in calculation, it pointed out a technical defect in amendment No. 5. It was almost tit for tat. We are happy for the Government to include the provision in whatever form they choose, as long as it meets our criteria. The normal procedure would be to do that on Report. Between now and Report, the Home Secretary must reach a decision—a decision on which he has received unanimous advice, from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. Opposition Front Benchers have made it clear that they do not like proportional representation or lists, but that, if there are to be lists, they should be open rather than closed. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann made it clear that he wanted the individual to be involved, which is achieved through STV and would be better achieved by open than by closed lists, and other Opposition Members have said the same.

The message to the Home Secretary is clear, and it is now for him to act on it.

Photo of Ken Livingstone Ken Livingstone Labour, Brent East

I have supported proportional representation since the mid-1970s. Unlike my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I have also supported the conspiracy theory of history. I know that my right hon. Friend tends to support the cock-up theory. However, I subscribe to the growing consensus in the House of Commons that, in his passion to retain the first-past-the-post system, my right hon. Friend came up with the most appalling system of PR in order to maximise public opposition to it.

I, too, favour an open list, and—as a Labour Member—I have an additional reason for doing so. We know that, if the proposed system comes to pass, the Conservatives and Liberals will arrange for some form of membership participation—perhaps "one member, one vote"—in the ranking of candidates. We know that, following a meeting of the national executive committee, Labour is consulting members throughout the party on a proposal for us not to allow our members to determine the ranking of candidates. That, I think, makes a much more powerful case for an open list.

I understand that we have a problem. Given that we won so many European seats last time, given the need to ensure balanced representation of women in the European Parliament in the regions and given the determination to get rid of any MEP who signed the clause IV statement a few years ago, there will be a lot of shuffling around, and we cannot trust party members to come up with exactly the list that we would like.

That is unlikely to happen, as the NEC favoured the proposal by 10 votes to two, with three abstentions. Every Minister was absent, whether because of the pressure of work or because of a general distaste for what was being asked of them. I think that it would be completely unacceptable for a party that is considering saying to its members, "You may make nominations, but you must trust the leadership to sort out the ranking order" then to deny the electorate any influence. I do not know about Belgian or Dutch systems, but this is beginning to sound very much like the old Albanian system, in which public influence was minimised.

I am glad that the Home Secretary has been open-minded. I genuinely believe that the issue has not yet been determined, and I am not so outraged at this point that I will vote against my party tonight; but, unless the proposals are changed to give the electorate the right to vary the order of election, I shall find it almost impossible to support my party on Third Reading.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

I am grateful to have been called. I also thank the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) for describing me as superwoman, and hope that I can live up to that badge in the fulness of time.

I have a number of problems with the proposals. I hope that the Home Secretary will comment on amendment No. 9. Perhaps, like many women, he can do two things at once. The amendment does not satisfy the provision in the treaty of Rome—which remains unamended by subsequent treaties—for us eventually to be bound by a uniform electoral system.

The problem with the system that has been chosen is that it is not in keeping with systems currently in operation in other member states. Therefore, we may have to change it again to meet our obligations under the treaty of Rome. Would it not be better to be more patient and to look at the broader picture? If the Government decide at some time in the future to introduce proportional representation in the House—if we are not to have PR for this House, so much the better—will they choose this system or will they choose a system more in keeping—

6 pm

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The trouble I have with the hon. Lady's argument that we should be patient in case the system does not meet the uniformity requirement is that it was advanced by the Conservative party when it opposed a proportional system when the direct elections were first introduced 20 years ago. I foresee the British electorate being permanently denied an opportunity to achieve a fair outcome to the election on that basis.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

The right hon. Gentleman is strengthening my argument. My argument for the Committee is that, if it was the wish of the House to have a system of proportional representation, the time to have adopted that would have been 1977. However, the House voted by an overwhelming majority to continue to operate elections to the European Parliament on a first-past-the-post system and I see no reason to change that.

Liberal Democrats and Labour Members have talked about how to increase the number of women on the eventual list. Female Conservative Members are confident that we are mainstream candidates and that we were elected on merit and not because of our gender or anything else. Perhaps that is a challenge that we can throw open to the Labour party and other parties.

Democracy is all about increasing voter choice. The present system for elections to the European Parliament is heavily constituency based, identifies a clear voter choice and allows candidates to be elected to represent a particular area. It would be a severe blow to democracy if voter choice and the democratic link were lost, as would happen under the system proposed by the Government.

Closed lists are deeply undemocratic because voters will be presented not with a choice of candidate but with a party label. There will be no named candidate except for independents. It seems curious that independent candidates will be named when mainstream candidates will not. It gives them an advantage over candidates from the three main parties, and perhaps the Green party, who knows? I wonder whether that was the Government's intention.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

I should like to make some progress.

On closed lists, we find ourselves in strange company. Closed lists are common to Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica and Uruguay—perhaps not first-rank European democracies. Perhaps the Government will say why we have aligned ourselves to such a closed list system.

Having been elected, on merit I believe, to the European Parliament, I am concerned that the voters' choice would be removed from the choice of candidate and that the party list would not provide a possibility for changing the preference or priority of candidates on the list. There are two problems with the closed list system, which I believe amendment No. 9 goes some way towards rectifying. The first problem is the election itself, which I have already explained. The second problem, which has been mentioned by a number of distinguished colleagues, particularly Conservative Members, is what happens after the election. Who takes up the casework under a closed list system? Who will answer the mail, who will take the surgeries and who will take up cases? Removing the constituency link creates a break that is regrettable.

Seven Members have been allocated under the list in the region of Yorkshire and the Humber. How will those seven Members on, for example, a Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat list campaign for voter recognition when their names will not be on the ballot paper that will be outside the election halls on the day?

I find some comfort in amendment No. 9 and I will certainly vote for it. It allows for an open regional list system. It allows for an open list and revives the constituency link. There are advantages in that from which I hope the Government will take comfort. It provides a recognisable link between a candidate and, subsequently, the elected Member. Amendment No. 9 would allow a candidate to be nominated for a particular constituency. That means that in that constituency an elector could vote for an individual candidate and, having identified a candidate with whom they wish to be associated, could change the priority of candidates on the list.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

I should like to conclude my argument because I have a short memory span.

The proposed system would remove the democratic link which would be revived by amendment No. 9. In mother and child terms, with which Labour Members can respond, it would revive the umbilical cord between the elected Member and the candidate and the constituency. I believe that all hon. Members accept that that goes to the heart of democracy.

The Government's proposal would destroy the electors' choice and remove the power to state a preference for a particular candidate. As I have said, it is not in keeping with the treaty of Rome provision that we should submit a uniform electoral procedure. Also, it is not in keeping with the proportional representation already operating in one part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland.

I have asked the Government—I hope that they will reply today—whether the proposed system of proportional representation would be that chosen in the event that it was decided in future to change the system for general elections.

The greatest difficulty I have with the Government's proposal is that it confuses the electors and will make them less likely to vote. Those of us who wish to promote democracy would like more people to vote at every election, including European elections. As I have said, it is not in step with the procedures of the majority of member states and, therefore, would require an amendment in the future.

At the risk of being provocative—I should like to think that I am not known for that, at least not yet—I must say that the greatest danger posed by the system presented is that it smacks of federalism. The one thing that distinguished the Conservative party from the other two main parties at the general election was that we wanted to elect candidates and elected Members to the lowest common denominator. It was said earlier that Conservative Members do not like the regions. I must remind the Committee that it was a Conservative Government who created Government regions for administering policy. We believe that there is a place for the regions. I would prefer that parish councils be given more powers but that we keep borough, district and county councils. The endless drift towards regionalism in the United Kingdom is removing the elector from the elected person. I was delighted that, in presenting to the House the White Paper on regional development agencies, the Deputy Prime Minister announced that the Government would postpone direct elections to those agencies, which they had promised.

Conservative Members are against federalism. I oppose the electoral system proposed by the Government. I hope that, by supporting and passing amendment No. 9, we can put the Government's proposals to bed.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

No; I should like to conclude.

A closed list system would not only promote federalism but allow the creation of a socialist super-state, and it would give the party hierarchies complete control over which candidates appear on a list.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hope that, in the light of that final comment by the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) will reconsider his comments on our system and realise, with the passion of a convert, that there is much in it to commend itself to him.

I should like to deal with one calumny uttered by my hon. Friend. He suggested that the system proposed in the Bill was introduced by me—whose views on the electoral system for Westminster are well known—as part of a scheme to discredit proportional representation. That is not the case. Moreover, I should like him to know that the Labour party approved that change in forums in which I had absolutely no involvement. The change was recommended by a Labour party committee chaired by my noble Friend, Lord Plant; it was approved by the 1993 Labour party conference; and, subsequently, it was approved by party conferences throughout the previous Parliament. Although I was at those conferences, I did not have a vote on the change, and neither did I participate in any of the debates on it.

The hon. Member for Vale of York made an interesting speech. I am very grateful to her for saying, right at the end, that the Conservative party created regions. That is a very important statement. We have been accused—quite falsely—by the Opposition of inventing regional boundaries and the regions listed in schedule 1 to the Bill. That is not so. Those regions follow the regional boundaries established by the previous Conservative Government.

When those boundaries were first announced to the House, on 4 November 1993, by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), he did not say—in the prosaic terms suggested by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison)—that they were simply for "administrative convenience". The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal elevated the case for regional offices to a very much higher level. He said: He"— that is me— will see that we are devolving responsibility from Whitehall"— by implementing those changes and establishing those regions. He continued: We are cutting back red tape and bureaucracy. We are making it easier for local people, business men, local authorities and training and enterprise councils to talk to Government … I want the civic and business leaders to get together with their public and private-sector partners to define their vision and to set up what practical steps can be taken to build on the strengths of their areas and on the things that they believe most command their areas."— [Official Report, 4 November 1993; Vol. 231, c. 518.] The areas that he was talking about were those regions.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Like the Home Secretary, I enjoy the prose of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), and I have spent some time listening to it—[Interruption.] It is very good prose. Surely the important point—which the Home Secretary is missing completely—is the purpose for which the administrative regions were established. In the statement that the Home Secretary of State is quoting, did my right hon. Friend say that he wanted regions to be used for electoral purposes?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, he did not. However, in the passages that I have quoted, he was arguing—this is the point—that they were coherent regions in which people could come together and represent all the interests of those regions. That was the precise point that he was making, and that was the case in favour of those regions.

This group of amendments takes us to the heart of the Bill. If nothing else, the amendments demonstrate that there is no real unanimity on which system should be adopted. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) wants a system that is similar to that used in Belgium. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) would like us to adopt the single transferable vote; whereas the official Opposition, in amendment No. 9—which I shall, for the elucidation of the Committee, deal with in more detail later in my speech—have produced a system that does not have a name, but which is of such stunning complexity that I can only assume that their intention is entirely to baffle the electorate.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere and the official Opposition have also tabled amendment No. 51, which seems to be an endorsement of the Liberal Democrats' position on Belgium. It is therefore clear that they have succeeded in baffling themselves in addition to everyone else.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford 6:15 pm, 26th February 1998

Is there not a real difference between devolving power to regional agencies, as the previous Government did, and taking power from, for example, the rural development commissions, which have their roots in the countryside, and giving it to the Government's regional development agencies, which have their roots in the towns?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Mr. Cook, who is our Chairman at the moment, would very quickly rule me out of order if I were enticed down the path suggested by the hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless, I do not accept for a moment what the hon. Gentleman said. Conservative Members really should look in the minor before speaking about support for the countryside. I remember that, in 1977, my noble Friend Lord Shore—who was then Secretary of State for the Environment, while I was working as his special adviser—published, against Conservative opposition, a policy document to control the siting of hypermarkets outside town and city centres. In the early 1980s, that policy document was torn up by the Conservatives—by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). More than anything else, that is what has destroyed the countryside and led to the flight from the towns.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

The Secretary of State may have been distracted when I asked whether he would answer the point on treaty obligations. As hon. Members will know, the treaty of Rome obliges us to sign up to a uniform electoral system. The majority of member states have signed up to an open list. Would it not be better for the United Kingdom to adopt an open list, if that is the wish of the majority of the House?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I had planned on dealing with that point later in my speech. However, I believe that the hon. Lady is misinformed on two matters—first, on the degree to which the treaties to which she referred create an imperative on us to accept a single, uniform system. The treaties talk about common principles and allow considerable variation.

Secondly—as I was coming on to deal with the Belgian system—it is not the case that a majority of other European countries use so-called open systems. On page 33 of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill research paper, which is in the Library, the hon. Member for Vale of York will see that it is recited in the second paragraph that Germany, Greece, France, Spain and Portugal have party lists where the order cannot be changed by the voter. In other words: they have closed lists. If she reads the schedule to that appendix, she will see that the details of the systems within each of the member states vary considerably and, in some cases, by a wider margin than our proposed system will vary from the commonality of mainland European systems.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The Home Secretary may recall that, on Second Reading, he and I had an altercation over the wording of the Amsterdam treaty. I made the very point that he has just made in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). I said that the existing treaties provided for a uniform procedure, but that the Amsterdam treaty contained the additional words: or in accordance with principles common to all Member States. From that I argued, as I have no doubt that Lord Shore would have argued, that that would be a perfectly good reason for adopting the first-past-the-post principle, because the common principle to which we are referring, as distinct from the uniform electoral procedure, would be a proper system of democracy, and we regard the first-past-the-post system as a proper system of democracy and as a common principle.

I now come to the matter on which I should like the Home Secretary to comment. When I made that point, which is the point that he has just made in reply to my hon. Friend, he said: I do not accept that for a moment."—[Official Report, 25 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 807.] The Home Secretary has just contradicted himself. Will he explain that?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am always happy to confess errors that I have made, as I have done in respect of the proportionality of the d'Hondt and Sainte-Lague calculations. What I said on 25 November was exactly what I have said now. I said that I did not accept the hon. Gentleman's point and went on: The arrangements that we are putting in place … are extremely similar, and in some cases identical, to those that are in place in the majority of other European countries."—[Official Report, 25 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 807.] That is exactly the same point; I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to say. I deal now with the so-called Belgian system. I hope that I have explained to the satisfaction of the Committee, if not to the satisfaction of the hon. Member for Hertsmere, how it was that on 25 November I told the House that, although we had proposed the closed list system in the Bill, I was willing to consider representations in favour of the so-called Belgian system. I had not decided to recommend it; it arose because of representations made to us—separately, as it happened—by the Liberal Democrats and by Charter 88, the constitutional group.

I appreciate that Conservatives find it difficult to cope with our style of government, which is not to go into a huddle, make decisions about the detail of the Bill and then refuse to listen to any representations, however strong they are. That is not our approach. Yes, of course, we are bound to reach reasonably settled conclusions before we come to the House with propositions—that is the duty of the Government—but it is also our duty to listen to representations. I have not yet made up my mind; nor have my colleagues—there is a particular reason for that—and I will not do so until next week. I happen to believe that it is important that we take into account the views of the House and weigh up the balance of argument.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Labour, Enfield, Southgate

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has just said. Of course, the initial requests were made by the Liberal Democrats and Charter 88, but is he aware that there is substantial support among those on the Government Benches for the adoption of an open list? Many of us who favour electoral reform for the European parliamentary elections and believe that there are significant advantages in greater proportionality nevertheless feel that the reform will have greater legitimacy if it is done according to the Belgian model rather than a closed list system.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand what my hon. Friend says and will take note of it. As I said, we have not made up our minds, but will do so in due course.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere asked what were the advantages of the closed list system. I spelt them out in the debate on 25 November, but I shall summarise them now. First, the system is self-evidently the simplest one. Secondly, we need to take account of the fact that, within the European constituencies, even the existing ones, voters are much less likely to know the candidates by reputation—this is a self-evident truth—than within the smaller, more compact and more personal Westminster constituencies. Therefore, the argument that voters can size up the candidates as well as the party—an argument which favours first past the post and the single-member constituency system—is less strong. Another point that needs to be borne in mind is that an open list system could discriminate between women and members of the ethnic minorities.

The Conservatives should find two other aspects of the closed list system particularly appealing. The first is that the Conservatives chose the closed list system for the elections to the Northern Ireland peace forum in 1996, a point made eloquently by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. If this plan was without any merit whatsoever, one would assume that the previous Government would not have touched it, but there was a serious debate about it. It was not as though they suddenly came across it by chance—they went through all the alternatives and decided to use that system. The hon. Member for Hertsmere may shake his head, but he is as ill-informed about this aspect of the Conservatives' history as he is about so much else. The Conservatives decided in favour of the closed list system and, by the by, they also decided on the d'Hondt rather than the Sainte-Lague system.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere said that one of the major objections to a closed list was that it would encourage parties to pack the lists with party careerists. It was at that moment that I noticed that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) wince, as did a number of his colleagues. If we consider the albeit relatively short list of new Conservative Members elected in 1997, it is noticeable that their single most common occupation was party apparatchik. That list includes the hon. Members for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), for Ashford (Mr. Green), for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and, above all, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). The crowning achievement of his career before he entered the House was that he was special adviser to Jonathan Aitken. Whatever the merits of the first-past-the-post system might be, it does prevent parties from packing the Benches with party apparatchiks if they so choose.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I think the Home Secretary was struggling with that line of argument. I do not know what his background is, but, if I were he, I would tread carefully. For the record, the views that I was putting to the House and the quotation that I used were from the former ambassador to Belgium. They were not mine, but I am happy to endorse them.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman rather spoilt his comments by that final point. There is no question about my background—people know what it was. It was the hon. Gentleman's point, not mine. [Interruption.] My presence also proves the point. The hon. Gentleman was saying that only a closed regional list would attract apparatchiks, but that is utter nonsense.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I do not want to interfere in the contest that my right hon. Friend has just won game, set and match—said he, hoping to get on the party list. My right hon. Friend's mental processes are much faster than mine—said he, with the same motive—but I question whether an open system would discriminate against women and ethnic minorities. In an open system such as the Belgian one, the electorate could make substantial changes to the list's order of candidates and also use their power to vote against women candidates. He is surely wrong.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department 6:30 pm, 26th February 1998

I can best explain by reference to ethnic minority candidates. My experience of three-member wards in local elections in my constituency and elsewhere, shows that, if one party puts up two white candidates and one Asian with an obviously Asian name, even if the Asian is higher up the ballot paper in alphabetical order—in a position that would usually benefit the candidate— the two with English names are almost always elected and the one with an Asian name is not. I am not saying that that is conclusive, but it needs to be weighed in the ballot. The same may apply to women, although I refute my hon. Friend's point on that less strongly.

Under the Belgian system, electors would be free to vote for a party list, for an individual candidate from the party list or, of course, for a candidate standing as an independent. As drafted, the Bill provides for votes to be cast either for a party list or for an independent candidate, and does not provide for votes for individual candidates on party lists. The amendments would also provide for the allocation of seats to each party, the system of allocation of those seats between the party's candidates on the list, and the form of ballot paper to be used.

On Second Reading, I said that I believed in the simplicity and other attributes of the closed-list system. I also pointed out—I reinforce my reply to the hon. Member for Vale of York—that the countries that use the closed list system comprise two thirds of voters in Europe; the system is, in terms of voters, the most commonly used. However, I also said that I was prepared to consider the arguments for adopting a Belgian-type system. This debate, and much else, provides the opportunity for doing so.

One of the reasons why I do not want to make a decision until next week or the week after is that I have commissioned a small study to find out electors' views on the two systems, the results of which will be available at the end of this week. I shall make a decision in the light of that evidence and all the views that have been expressed.

The Committee will want to take into account the findings of research that was carried out by the democratic audit, which some hon. Members have been sent by Charter 88 and which my officials have discussed with its authors. Pages 14 to 17 of Library research paper 98/29 contains a useful summary of the results of that research, to which the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Will the right hon. Gentleman make that research publicly available?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, of course; I was just about to say that I would.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is a complete anomaly that, on a closed list, independent candidates can be named on the ballot paper whereas party candidates cannot?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It would be an anomaly if that were the case, but it is not. The draft ballot papers, which we deposited in the Library, make it clear that individual candidates and the order of ranking will be on the ballot paper as part of the closed list. If we choose the closed list system, it is essential that people should, in making their judgment, see not only the party's name but the candidate's name.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

The right hon. Gentleman did not, I think, say that he would refer to the McDougall Trust research published by the Electoral Reform Society. The trust ran a number of focus groups—I know that he is aware of their value—and concluded that although voters claim to vote on the basis of a party, they react strongly to the removal of the right to select a candidate for themselves.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am also aware of that research; all those matters will need to be taken into account.

It has been announced provisionally that the Bill's Report stage will take place not this Thursday, but Thursday week. If that remains the schedule of business, I intend on Tuesday morning to inform hon. Members, and the official spokesmen of all the main parties, of the Government's decision whether to choose the closed list or Belgian system, so that hon. Members have time, if they want, to table amendments.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State

May I ask the Home Secretary a favour? He has until Monday or Tuesday week in which to make a judgment. As he knows, if he does not let us know until Tuesday morning, we shall have to work hard to table amendments that would be unstarred by Thursday. As a courtesy, will he let the official spokesmen know his decision on Monday rather than Tuesday?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

In the light of what the right hon. Gentleman says, yes.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann spoke elegantly and thoughtfully about the single transferable vote. As he rightly pointed out, STV was introduced by the then Conservative Government and endorsed by the Labour Opposition—we cannot disclaim parentage. STV is appropriate for Northern Ireland; because it works well there, we shall not change it. However, we do not think that it is appropriate for Great Britain; we think that the most appropriate system for Great Britain is the one proposed in the Bill, regardless of whether it is modified.

We have always taken the view that electoral systems should be appropriate to the nature and functions of the body that is being elected, and to the circumstances of the election.

Northern Ireland is a single region, and its 1.2 million electors return three MEPs. By contrast, the south-east region of England contains some 6 million electors, who will return 11 MEPs. If, in one of England's larger regions—this is not too fanciful to imagine—four parties put up a complete list of candidates and several independents stand, there could be up to 50 candidates. Under the STV system, the electors would be faced with the prospect of having to rank those 50 candidates.

We must also imagine the counting of the votes. STV is a complex system to count, as candidates drop out, surpluses are transferred and votes are given fractional values. In the larger regions of England—the right hon. Gentleman may say that we should not impose such large regions, but we judge that we should—the process could take up to a week, with all the costs and disruption that would ensue. The regional list system is common in Europe, and we believe that we should choose it in Great Britain, where circumstances are different from those in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's reason for rejecting STV is valid or that the example that he chose is appropriate. We have experience, admittedly only in one election, of STV applying to constituencies as large as 10-seaters—under the Government's regional proposals, the largest constituency would be an 11-seater. It is not inevitable that there will be as many candidates as he thinks. An intervention does not give me enough time, but I could explain why the number of candidates would be much smaller than he suggests. In that 1982 election, there was no significant difficulty in running the count in a 10-seat constituency. Counts take a couple of days, but rarely longer. The right hon. Gentleman's argument does not stand up.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Gentleman and I will have to disagree on that. It is my judgment that, during the first election under the STV system in a 10 or 11-vacancy region in Britain, each of the parties would put up nine, 10 or 11 candidates. I understand his point, but I do not agree.

Amendment No. 9, which was tabled by the official Opposition, is quite remarkable. It purports to create an open list system for the election of MEPs, but does no such thing. The proposed system would destroy the flexibility of the regional list system proposed by the Government.

I invite right hon. and hon. Members to read the amendment, which is on page 2070 of the amendment paper. It proposes that elected MEPs are allocated a constituency within each region. It states: each candidate shall nominate on the ballot paper one constituency in the relevant region which he will represent, if elected;

  1. (c) in the event of the same constituency being nominated by more than one successful candidate, the candidate elected first shall represent his nominated constituency;
  2. (d) successful candidates unable to represent their nominated constituency for the reason given in sub-paragraph (c) shall, in the order of their election, choose another constituency to represent".
The Conservatives have proposed a quite remarkable arrangement.

It is fundamental to our democracy that voters choose their constituency and their representative. Under the system proposed in the amendments, the representative would choose the voters, even if the voters would not have chosen that representative. A successful MEP might have to choose a constituency that he or she did not want to represent or might be forced to represent a constituency that he or she might not want. It would be the most extraordinary situation.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Will the Minister explain to the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) that the amendment does not do the one thing that she thought it would do—provide open lists and give the elector an opportunity to alter the order of the parties' ranking?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It certainly would not do that. Nor would it give the electors choice over the constituency MEP. That choice would not made until after the election on the basis of the choices made by successful MEPs, not by the voters.

I am conscious of the time, so let me deal with the issue of divisors, which took up a great deal of time in the debate on 25 November. As I have already explained, I inadvertently misled the House about the d'Hondt divisor rather than the Sainte-Lague divisor. I should also explain that, even on the basis of accurate calculations, the difference is very limited. It is worth the right hon. Gentleman bearing in mind the fact that d'Hondt is used most widely across Europe. Sainte-Lague, which has been proposed by the Liberal Democrats, is not used in any European state for the election of MEPs. The only state that uses Sainte-Lague is Sweden where, instead of the initial divisor being three, it has been modified to the square root of two, which is 1.4.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says and I shall not go on about Sainte-Lague any more except in one respect.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Office)

Does the Home Secretary accept that, when making comparisons with other European countries, the critical factor in respect of the divisor is the size of the constituency? As most European countries use whole country constituencies, d'Hondt may be more proportional elsewhere, although it would not be here, given the regional lists and the sizes of the constituencies.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not accept that. The Library appendix makes it clear that a number of European countries use regional list systems, and the difference is very small.

Let me pick up the point made by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. The Liberal Democrats ought to be straightforward about why they want Sainte-Lague, although it is not used anywhere in Europe. They want it because they think that it favours smaller parties. It is not fairer and the fact that we would be the only country to use it in the whole of Europe, given its great diversity, proves our point. If we are to have a divisor, the best system is simply to follow the serial—one, two, three, four, five. That is what the d'Hondt system does, and it was used by the Conservatives in 1996.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, in supporting the Sainte-Lague system, the Liberal Democrats are not supporting a system that favours small parties, as they claim? Indeed, the modified Sainte-Lague system that they favour was modified deliberately to exclude small parties. The system that they support favours middle-sized parties, particularly parties that receive 15 to 20 per cent. of the vote. A particular aspect of the Sainte-Lague system is that it rounds up to the nearest number parties that do not have a complete entitlement. That would benefit no party more than the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department 6:45 pm, 26th February 1998

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The two words that he was looking for are self-interest. No one could accuse the Labour party of self-interest in introducing the system. I do not deny that self-interest sometimes plays a part in our decisions and I am glad that the shadow Home Secretary accepts that. However, the system of proportional representation that we are introducing is bound to lead to the loss of a number of seats that the Labour party would otherwise have held.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere asked whether we used divisors to allocate seats between regions. Those whom the gods wish to make mad they first introduce to divisors. I was not the only one to make errors in calculation under d'Hondt and Sainte-Lague. So did Professor Ian Maclean, who wrote a learned letter claiming that the system that we had used to allocate MEPs between the different regions was based on the system of Sainte-Lague divisors. That is wrong. If Professor Maclean or the hon. Member for Hertsmere had consulted page 5 of the Bill, they would have seen that we set out exactly the system to be used for the allocation of those seats. It is a very simple system which does not need divisors.

We divided the electorate in England by 71, which is the number of English MEPs. That produced an average figure of just over 521,000 electors per MEP. MEPs were then allocated to regions in such a way as to ensure that the sum of the divergences in each of the nine regions—ignoring plus or minus signs—was as low as possible. The minimum divergence is 146,012. Any future changes in the number of MEPs allocated to the different regions will be made automatically according to the arithmetic on page 5 of the Bill and not according to either Mr. d'Hondt or Mr. Sainte-Lague.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

The Home Secretary said a moment ago that the system divided up the 71 seats in England and allocated the other seats—in other words, the division was not on a United Kingdom basis.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is because Scotland and Wales have been treated as separate regions. There was a debate on that the other day, when the matter was dealt with pretty well.

Let me deal with three further points that have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members. The first is registration. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 in the name of the right hon. Member for North—West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) deal with the registration of political parties. The amendments would remove a definition of a registered party and of a party's list of candidates. The Bill would continue to provide that only registered parties could put forward lists of candidates, but there would be no explanation or definition of the terms in the legislation. I cannot honestly see what purpose the amendments would serve.

We believe that registration is important to ensure that, for example, only votes cast for legitimate party candidates are used in the calculation of the allocation of additional member seats. Registration is also a practical solution to the problem of misleading descriptions on the ballot paper, such as candidates describing themselves, as they did in the 1994 European elections—with quite inappropriate results—as Literal Democrats. In a separate Bill, we are bringing forward proposals for the registration of political parties. Obviously, we shall explain those proposals in greater detail when the Bill comes before the House.

I want to pick up on the point made in the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) on new clause 4. We shall of course review the operation of the 1999 European election, which we hope will be the first to be conducted using a regional list system. Under the new clause, I, as Secretary of State, should, in conducting such a review, speculate on whether there would be any advantage in conducting further European parliamentary elections using what the new clause calls "an open list system". Unless two elections are taking place, one using the system proposed in the Bill and the other the system suggested in the new clause, I am afraid that I cannot see how any Secretary of State could be expected to make any useful comparison. There would have been a trial run with only one system. A report such as the new clause would require would therefore be of doubtful value. As I said, there will be a review; I promise that we shall put it before the House. I hope that, in the light of that, my hon. Friend will see fit not to press his new clause.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed mentioned amendment No. 79. I understand the point that the Liberal Democrats are making, but, frankly, the amendment is unnecessary. Candidates for election in each parliamentary constituency are required to be supported by the signature of 30 electors in that constituency. The Secretary of State can retain, abandon or amend the provision for future parliamentary elections. It does not need to be included in the Bill. To require registered parties to provide 30 signatures from the new larger regions would therefore seem a rather pointless exercise. However, a requirement to provide a larger number would impose a significant burden on those required to check the signatures.

Although we have not yet decided to retain in part or abandon altogether the signature requirement for future parliamentary elections—we shall of course consult the parties about this—there is no need for the provision to be inserted in the Bill. I hope that, in the light of that explanation, the right hon. Member for Berwick—upon—Tweed will consider not pressing his amendment.

This group of amendments addresses important issues that go to the heart of the Bill. Although I apologise to the Committee for doing so at great length, it is important to put the Government's position clearly on the record. As I have made clear, we believe that the system of election provided for in the Bill is the most suitable for electing Britain's Members of the European Parliament. However, we are prepared to listen—as the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Ms Quin) and I have today—to the arguments for moving to a Belgium-type system. All the arguments that have been made today will be given the most careful consideration. I look forward to the rest of the debate with great interest.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I should like to explain my objection to the whole concept of list systems. I am not terribly concerned about whether the system is closed or open. My objection to it is tied up with the fact that there is a proper link between the constituency and the Member, which we have established over many centuries. Conservative political giants, such as Edmund Burke and others, have set out principles over an extended period on such a link. It has worked and has a great deal of support on both sides of the House and throughout the country. I unambiguously state my objection to the concept of proportional representation in whatever shape or form it appears.

Having said that, I should point out that, when the Labour party was last in government in 1977, it stated in paragraph 17 of its White Paper on electoral systems: To abandon our traditional method in this way"— by going to a list system— would be a major constitutional innovation, the consequences of which are difficult to foresee. It would mean the absence of the sort of constituency link with which we are familiar and could lead tochanges in Party organisations, including giving the central or regional Party organisations a bigger role in nominating candidates. The electorate might take time to become accustomed to the new system and might be confused by the existence of separate procedures for national and European elections". On the principal questions that I am addressing, nothing has changed since those days. The Labour party gave a perfectly convincing reason why a list system was unacceptable. It remains unacceptable—regardless of whether it is closed or open. It is objectionable and would be an abomination of the democratic electoral system which we have become used to and which could serve us well in future.

I fear that the gradual spreading of the fungus of the Bill's proposals on to the amendment paper in the name of my much respected right hon. Friend the Member for North—West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), the shadow Home Secretary, is a kind of Euro-osmosis, which is entering the House in so many different ways. For the reasons that I shall give, I am concerned that we have adopted a proposal which, in many respects, is similar in principle to the Government's. I fear that the process is growing and that it will cause us more and more difficulties.

Just because the Government have such a massive majority and times have changed is no reason to go down their route. I can almost hear the Home Secretary, when talking about the open list system, subsequently saying, "Well, after all, the Opposition were rather in favour of it. This is the kind of amendment that they tabled." Therefore, if the Home Secretary changes his mind, which is likely, he can say that there was agreement across the Committee.

The region is given enhanced stature under the proposals. It is impossible to maintain the constituency link with the tyranny of the party list system, which gives so much power to the centre and the party leadership, as in Germany and France, rather than to local associations. That point needs to be reaffirmed, over and again. The ever-increasing expansion of powers in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers through majority voting and co-decision procedures is eroding the principle of our ability in this House to make decisions. More power is being given to the centre.

I turn to the brilliant speech that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the Leader of the Opposition, made only two days ago in which he dealt with the question of proportional representation. He said: The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty gives the party the political power it needs to govern. Before anyone thinks that that is a reference only to the Westminster Parliament, I should remind them that Euro-osmosis, which is spreading into our constitutional arrangements, could so easily end up effecting a transfer of thinking from the European dimension to our own Westminster system.

The reference that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made to the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty is directly related to the political power which is inherent in this House at the moment, but which is being eroded by the provisions of Maastricht and Amsterdam and the increase of co-decision, which has given the European Parliament power over our institutions. When we add the proposals in the Bill for proportional representation and the list system, we can see how our system is being eroded.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said that the Conservative party would fight the Prime Minister every step of the way. PR is a system of unfair votes. It takes political power away from the electorate and gives it to small parties, who can use their seats in Parliament to make or break Governments. We should remember that, in the 1930s, the Weimar republic's system of proportional representation gave enhanced credibility to Adolf Hitler. It is not to be underestimated. Erich Fromm made this point in a book called "Fear of Freedom" and said that the real reason why Hitler came to power was primarily because the politicians refused to take responsibility for their own actions.

7 pm

It is absurd to imagine that this system will produce better government. In present-day Germany, the Free Democrats, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, have acted as kingmakers in almost every election since the basic law was introduced, despite the fact that the party has barely 5 per cent. of the vote. The same applies in New Zealand, where the first party has faced similar difficulties following that country's adoption of PR. My right hon. Friend predicts, rightly, that that would happen in the United Kingdom as well.

This is a matter of fundamental importance, not only to the Conservative party but to the Labour party, and we must reflect on the implications of the Bill. It accompanies a vast increase, under the Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties, in the power of Europe over this House and this country. It is creating regions and an undemocratic system. We should vote against the clause, but, in addition, I would find it impossible to support proposals which included an open list system.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I intended to speak in support of the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Berwickupon—Tweed (Mr. Beith). It may be boring, like the Liberals, but I was going to opt for Belgium.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on a careful and sustained analysis, which I enjoyed. He was convincing on some of the points that I wanted to raise. He may be coming late—and somewhat reluctantly—to proportional representation, but it is clear that he has a thorough understanding of it.

My right hon. Friend said that he would listen to the opinion of the House, and that he had an open mind. I rise to express my personal preference for a system which is proportional, but which has an open list—rather than the closed list system originally proposed by the Government. That may be the least of several evils, but then the whole Bill is the least of several evils. My perfect Bill on the European Parliament and European elections would be the "European Parliament (Obliteration and Total Destruction) Miscellaneous Provisions Bill". Since we are not dealing with such an enlightened and far-seeing Bill, but with this one, I have to choose on the basis of what is offered. What is offered is not the most attractive form of proportional representation. A list system, whether regional or national, gives too much power to the party.

I view this matter in the light of the eternal question we politicians ask: under the first-past-the-post system, it is, "Will I get elected in this constituency?" Under PR, the question is, "Will I get selected in this system?" I fear that, under a party list system, I probably would not be selected. As soon as my application disappeared into the Millbank mixmaster for sanitising, the answer would be sent to the Mitchell family, clustered in our humble dwelling in Grimsby—"Sorry. Application lost in processing. Reapply in 2005."

The party list system is all that is on offer, and I therefore I welcome it as a major step forward. We can improve it by making it an open list on the Belgian pattern. The most open list is STV in itself, but there is a range of openness in Europe. Perhaps Denmark's system—in which seats are allocated to candidates on the basis of individual preferences—is more desirable and open. It results in more changes in the placings in the list submitted by the party. At the last election, seven of the 16 MEPs elected were changed by the electorate. In Belgium, where there are much tighter restrictions, only one was changed. I would prefer Denmark, but the least of several evils again—Belgium—is all that is on offer from the amendment and the Government. Therefore, we should accept Belgium.

Why? First, the people would prefer an open list to a closed list. The ICM survey carried out for the Rowntree trust—a survey of 1,130 electors—showed that there was a narrow majority in favour of an open list. When they were asked to choose candidates on the basis of an open list, two fifths opted for the individual candidate. Three fifths plumped—in 18th century poll books, they used to say, "Get a plumper"—for the party. A substantial proportion of electors want to choose on the basis of the candidates.

The Electoral Reform Society's own survey was based on eight focus groups, and was conducted by NOP. I keep applying to get on one of those focus groups, as I want to be a person of influence in this country and on the Government. My application is constantly rejected. I cannot understand it—it is a form of discrimination that the Home Secretary should investigate. The people in the focus groups preferred an open system, because they resented the restriction on their freedom to choose a candidate if they wanted to, which is implicit in the closed system. It is not that most would choose on that basis, but they want to be free to choose. They feel that anything else is a restriction.

Moving to an open list, following the Belgian precedent, will not produce drastic changes. People will not totally reverse the order that the party puts down, but the fact that the voters have the ability to make changes is a pressure on the party to present the most acceptable and attractive list of candidates—selecting candidates for voter appeal, rather than for machine appeal. That is an important difference. It would force the parties to offer more women candidates. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary raised a serious doubt in my mind about ethnic candidates, and he was probably right about that. However, the list system would advance the cause of women. Indeed, I do not know why we could not adopt the European zipper system, under which voters must zip from male to female candidates. We seem to prefer our women unzipped in the Labour party. I am digging myself into a hole, so I shall move on quickly. However, the Labour party should think seriously about how the open system would require it to adopt a more attractive list, instead of dominating the closed list as currently proposed.

I have been a longstanding advocate of proportional representation. The first-past-the-post system kept Mrs. Thatcher in power in a minority Government—the dictatorship of the minority. We should change the system as quickly as possible—in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and in the European elections. I would prefer a better and more popular system for the European elections, but the one proposed is the best that we will get. It is an important advance for the cause of proportional representation, fairness and democracy.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Office)

I wish to return to the subject of divisors—the mathematical sort that are infinitely less interesting than the small Wiltshire market town represented by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). When my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) asked me to talk about d'Hondt and Sainte-Lague, I thought that their most interesting aspect was their pronunciation. As it is not yet time for bed, I do not intend to go into the mathematical calculations, especially as I would probably get them wrong—something of which the Home Secretary has no little experience.

We do not need to consider the workings of the divisors so much as their outcomes. In particular, we need to examine how proportional the results are. In other words, how accurately do the divisors reflect the votes that were cast? The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) cited the academic support for Sainte-Lague as the more proportional of the two. Indeed, the study by Professor Maclean begins: Mr. Straw's remarks were entertaining and generally well informed. That is a good start, but Professor Maclean makes the point that all systems need a rounding procedure and produce lucky and unlucky parties. He states: on average, and by any proportionality index, the Ste-Lague algorithm will always be the one that distributes luck most evenly among the large and the small. Contrary to the allegation made by a Labour Member earlier, the professor also states that the Sainte-Lague formula does not 'favour small parties' … it is neutral among parties of all sizes. In other words, the Sainte-Lague formula will distribute the luck according to the votes cast. If a party happens to receive a number of votes that falls midway between representatives, it will be lucky in some instances. If it improves vote share or loses votes, the luck will fall elsewhere.

Our research, based on the 1997 general election results, showed that the d'Hondt formula applied to Wales would have given the Labour party 80 per cent. of the representatives for 55 per cent. of the vote. The Sainte-Lague formula would have given the Labour party 60 per cent. of the representatives for 55 per cent. of the vote. It should be clear to the Committee that the latter is preferable to the former and I ask the Home Secretary to accept the evidence and adopt the fairer divisor. We should not adopt the easy option, but the more proportional option. If we are to adopt a proportional system—I am pleased that the Government have accepted that—we should adopt the most proportional system, instead of a divisor that will lead to disproportionate results.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

As the hon. Gentleman point out, proportionality is a relative term, not an absolute term. Will he consider the St. Aubyn system, which says that the first-past-the-post system is a form of proportional representation and gets rid of the need to use divisors?

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Office)

It is clear, from the comments by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)—or the Great Grimsby Member as he is often described in my local media—that the first-past-the-post system gave hugely disproportionate results in the 1980s. The proportionality index between the number of representatives and the number of first-past-the-post votes cast is wider than any of the other systems proposed today.

The Home Secretary should consider Professor Maclean' s evidence. He should overlook the small technical errors made by both sides and reflect on the fact that Sainte-Lague is significantly more proportional, and therefore fairer, to all parties irrespective of size. It simply distributes the luck evenly, instead of in favour of larger parties.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead 7:15 pm, 26th February 1998

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I wish to point out to the Home Secretary that I am a new Conservative Member who has never been a party apparatchik. Moreover, I am a female Member who was not selected from a closed, all-woman shortlist, like so many of his hon. Friends. I was selected on merit from an open list of both men and women. The female Members on the Conservative Benches do not need the patronising attitudes of the Home Secretary and his hon. Friends.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

I am sorry, but I am limited in the time I have to speak.

I do not want a system of proportional representation, because it would lead to fragmented and unstable Governments. It would also give increased power to fringe parties. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is the only Member to have mentioned the danger that a proportional representation system would give power to extreme parties, but I am sure that many hon. Members would not wish to see some of those parties with such power.

Proportional representation would sever the link between the elected representatives and their constituencies. That is especially true of the system proposed by the Government. PR also gives increased power to the centres of parties. Labour Members have claimed that Members of the European Parliament do not have that link with their constituencies. I refute that and the contrary point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), who has experience as a representative of a European parliamentary constituency. I can tell the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who claimed that Members of the European Parliament did not have a link with their constituencies, that the Member of the European Parliament for Thames Valley—my European constituency—is well known and active in his constituency. He takes up issues of interest for individual constituents and of general interest for the whole constituency.

The vital link between elected representatives and their constituencies is the fundamental basis of our parliamentary democracy and our electoral system at all levels. That link means that elected representatives can take up the interests of their constituents and of the constituencies as a whole. That link will be severed under the Government's proposals and our democracy will be the poorer.

I hope that the Home Secretary will listen to the debate, as he claimed he would. I trust that he will listen to the debate in this Committee and not only to the focus group that he has commissioned to produce proposals by the end of next week. The view has been expressed across the Committee that any list system adopted should be an open system, not a closed system. One of my concerns about the Government's proposals is that they will take power away from the electorate. They will sever the link between the elected representatives and their constituencies. Constituencies will no longer be able to judge how effective their representatives have been and vote on that basis. We know why the Labour party came forward with proposals for the closed regional list—it did that because it wanted to have the power in the centre. We in the Conservative party are ensuring that it is the members who have the democratic right to choose.

I close my remarks by quoting from the paper by Professor Dunleavy, Dr. Margetts and Stuart Weir, which has been quoted by several hon. Members. What their research showed was not that two thirds of people wanted a regional list system, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) suggested, but that, although people were reasonably happy with the ballot papers, open and closed list, with which they were presented, when they looked closer, a majority of voters would prefer an open list. The paper states: If a closed list system is adopted, then the parties will have to look carefully at the processes by which their candidate lists are created, to ensure that they are seen as legitimate. At present, Labour looks to be most at risk".

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

I should start with the usual health warning given by Conservative Members, which is that I am very much in favour of first past the post. Having said that, I do not believe that we can completely disaggregate this debate from the one we had on Tuesday, because every excuse for not changing the system is based on the fact that the regions do not suit any change.

We heard the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) telling us that, if one has to have a proportional system, STV works reasonably well in constituencies of three to five members. However, that would be difficult in the south-east of England, given its size. Several hon. Members have argued in favour of having open lists, yet the Home Secretary himself has said that an open list would be difficult in the south-east of England. Of course it would: in an area containing 5 million or 6 million people, it would be extremely difficult to differentiate between potential candidates.

The real problem and the crux of the Bill is the size of the regions. We need to marry up the constituency size with the electoral system and take both together if we are to strike the right balance when deciding which electoral system to use. The Bill fails to do that, which is a great pity. I am opposed to the closed list system that has been proposed and I believe that an open list system would be better. However, in terms of the Bill, that would be like trying to turn a pig into a racehorse. The Bill is not well balanced in terms of either the regions or the electoral system proposed.

Among the points raised in the debate was the allocation of seats between countries. As the Home Secretary said, England was divided into 71 seats and the rest of the seats were allocated. That means that it was not done on a United Kingdom basis and so there is a degree of over representation in Scotland and Wales. That is an important matter.

On Tuesday, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann asked the relevant question of how parties purge lists when those on a list or elected on a list system leave that political party. In an earlier intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), I raised the issue of how, when a party has nominated five candidates on a list and four are elected, the fifth has to stay on that list—the list has to remain relevant until the next set of nominations are drawn up. That is four years and a lot can happen in four years. What happens if a vacancy occurs and No. 5 on the list has gone to the Bahamas, or joined another party, or is out of favour within the party? Those matters need to be addressed, or there will be difficulties.

The passage of time tends to change people's political priorities, but, with a closed list system, we do away with by-elections. One of the advantages of STV is that it allows for by-elections, albeit under an alternative vote system, or sometimes a first-past-the-post vote as they have in southern Ireland. A closed list system means that the next person on the list moves up and the electors do not get the benefit of a by-election, in which they can express their opinion on the political parties of the day.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Committee will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to engage in analysis of divisors and so forth. The Home Secretary was fairly brave to go once more down that route, but I prefer to deal with broad propositions which I can make with a reasonable degree of assurance.

The first of those propositions is that the Government have been proceeding on a mistake—that, seeking proportionality, they have mistakenly chosen a system that is less proportional than another. The Government have got it wrong. I make that proposition with a reasonable degree of assurance. My second proposition is made with complete assurance. It is that the Liberal Democrats will seek a system that benefits the Liberal Democrats' self-interest. I can say that with complete assurance.

With an equal degree of assurance, I can state that the constituency link is a far better system from the point of view of the interest of electors than the system proposed by the Government. The Government's system was not designed for the benefit of individual electors or of individual MEPs; it was designed for the benefit of the party machine, and we put that on the record. The Bill would be much better if it were amended to reintroduce a constituency link. We are in favour of such a link in principle and we are not persuaded by the Home Secretary's arguments, especially as even he did not go so far as to say that he was against a constituency link in principle.

We are also deeply worried by the Government's approach to registration and by the way in which they have introduced the subject of registration at this late stage and with three major constitutional Bills on the go. We are concerned about that, especially given that the question of registration comes against the background of a Bill that is becoming increasingly tatty. The Bill shows all the signs of fraying at the edges and of mistakes being made. To be fair to the Home Secretary, I know that he is not the greatest enthusiast for the legislation and, to a certain extent, I acquit him of responsibility for it. Nevertheless, we think that this is a bad Bill and we shall support our amendments.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

It has been an interesting debate. Looking back, what stands out in my mind is the cowardice of the Liberal Democrats in not supporting what they said is their first preference.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to my speech, he would know that I praised his and said that we strongly supported his passionate commitment to STV.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

This was intended to be a short summing up, but if the right hon. Gentleman comes with that again, I might be tempted to push my amendment to a Division to see whether he will support it. That support should have been shown by signing the amendment and being prepared to vote for it and the Liberal Democrats' failure in that sense is what I was referring to.

I was astonished by the Conservatives' audacity in attacking a closed regional list system, without explaining why they had changed their minds since introducing such a system in the House less than two years ago. I must commend the Home Secretary on the open-minded approach he has adopted and I hope that he will move toward an open list system before the Bill completes all its stages. I should have liked to have a uniform system throughout the United Kingdom, but it is clear that there is no support for that in the Committee and there is business to be done. Consequently, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 9, in page 1, line 25, leave out from 'be' to end of line 26 and insert 'an open regional list system.

  1. 3A. An open regional list system is a system which complies with the following requirements, namely—
    1. (a) each electoral region shall be divided into a number of constituencies equal to the number of MEPs to be elected for that region in accordance with subsection 2(4) above and Schedule 1;
    2. (b) each candidate shall nominate on the ballot paper one constituency in the relevant region which he will represent, if elected;
    3. (c) in the event of the same constituency being nominated by more than one successful candidate, the candidate elected first shall represent his nominated constituency;
    4. (d) successful candidates unable to represent their nominated constituency for the reason given in sub—paragraph (c) shall, in the order of their election, choose another constituency to represent, and;
    5. (e) if an elected candidate has nominated a constituency which no candidate elected before him has nominated, he shall represent that constituency even if a candidate elected before him, whose own nominated constituency has been taken, seeks to choose it.'.—[Mr. Clappison.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 100, Noes 274.

Division No. 180]7.27 pm
AYES
Amess, DavidLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Arbuthnot, JamesLait, Mrs Jacqui
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Lansley, Andrew
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Leigh, Edward
Bercow, JohnLetwin, Oliver
Beresford, Sir PaulLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Body, Sir RichardLidington, David
Boswell, TimLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Loughton, Tim
Brady, GrahamMcIntosh, Miss Anne
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterMaclean, Rt Hon David
Browning, Mrs AngelaMcLoughlin, Patrick
Butterfill, JohnMajor, Rt Hon John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Malins, Humfrey
Mates, Michael
Chope, ChristopherMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Clappison, JamesMay, Mrs Theresa
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Moss, Malcolm
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Norman, Archie
Collins, TimOttaway, Richard
Cormack, Sir PatrickPage, Richard
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Prior, David
Day, StephenRedwood, Rt Hon John
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Duncan Smith, IainRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterSt Aubyn, Nick
Faber, DavidSayeed, Jonathan
Fabricant, MichaelShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Fallon, MichaelShepherd, Richard
Flight, HowardSpring, Richard
Forth, Rt Hon EricStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanStreeter, Gary
Fraser, ChristopherSwayne, Desmond
Gale, RogerSyms, Robert
Gibb, NickTapsell, Sir Peter
Gillan, Mrs CherylTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Gorman, Mrs TeresaTredinnick, David
Green, DamianTrend, Michael
Greenway, JohnTyrie, Andrew
Grieve, DominicViggers, Peter
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieWalter, Robert
Hammond, PhilipWardle, Charles
Hawkins, NickWhitney, Sir Raymond
Heald, OliverWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon DavidWilletts, David
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasWoodward, Shaun
Horam, JohnYeo, Tim
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelTellers for the Ayes:
Jenkin, BernardMr. Nigel Waterson and
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Mr. James Cran.
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Battle, John
Ainger, NickBayley, Hugh
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Beard, Nigel
Alexander, DouglasBeckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Allan, RichardBeith, Rt Hon A J
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Bennett, Andrew F
Ashton, JoeBenton, Joe
Atherton, Ms CandyBermingham, Gerald
Atkins, CharlotteBest, Harold
Austin, JohnBetts, Clive
Ballard, Mrs JackieBlizzard, Bob
Banks, TonyBlunkett, Rt Hon David
Barnes, HarryBoateng, Paul
Borrow, DavidHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Hanson, David
Bradshaw, BenHarvey, Nick
Brake, TomHealey, John
Brinton, Mrs HelenHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Browne, DesmondHepburn, Stephen
Buck, Ms KarenHeppell, John
Burden, RichardHewitt, Ms Patricia
Burgon, ColinHill, Keith
Burstow, PaulHinchliffe, David
Butler, Mrs ChristineHodge, Ms Margaret
Byers, StephenHoey, Kate
Cable, Dr VincentHome Robertson, John
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Hope, Phil
Caplin, IvorHopkins, Kelvin
Caton, MartinHowarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cawsey, IanHowells, Dr Kim
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Chaytor, DavidHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Chidgey, DavidHumble, Mrs Joan
Chisholm, MalcolmHurst, Alan
Clapham, MichaelIddon, Dr Brian
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Ingram, Adam
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Jamieson, David
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Jenkins, Brian
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Coaker, VernonJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Coleman, IainJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Colman, TonyJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, YvetteJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Corston, Ms JeanJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Cotter, BrianKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cranston, RossKeeble, Ms Sally
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairKelly, Ms Ruth
Darvill, KeithKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Kidney, David
Davidson, IanKilfoyle, Peter
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Dawson, HiltonLaxton, Bob
Dean, Mrs JanetLepper, David
Doran, FrankLeslie, Christopher
Dowd, JimLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Drew, DavidLinton, Martin
Drown, Ms JuliaLivingstone, Ken
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Edwards, HuwLove, Andrew
Efford, CliveMcAllion, John
Ennis, JeffMcAvoy, Thomas
Ewing, Mrs MargaretMcCabe, Steve
Fatchett, DerekMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Feam, RonnieMcCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Field, Rt Hon FrankMcDonnell, John
Flint, CarolineMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Follett, BarbaraMclsaac, Shona
Foster, Don (Bath)McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Mackinlay, Andrew
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)McNamara, Kevin
Fyfe, MariaMcNulty, Tony
Gapes, MikeMacShane, Denis
Gardiner, BarryMactaggart, Fiona
Gerrard, NeilMcWalter, Tony
Gibson, Dr IanMallaber, Judy
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMandelson, Peter
Godsiff, RogerMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Golding, Mrs LlinMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Gordon, Mrs EileenMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Grogan, JohnMaxton, John
Hain, PeterMerron, Gillian
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Miller, AndrewSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mitchell, AustinSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Moran, Ms MargaretSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Southworth, Ms Helen
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Spellar, John
Mowlam, Rt Hon MarjorieSquire, Ms Rachel
Mudie, GeorgeStevenson, George
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Stewart, David (Inverness E)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Stinchcombe, Paul
O'Hara, EddieStoate, Dr Howard
Olner, BillStraw, Rt Hon Jack
O'Neill, MartinStringer, Graham
…pik, LembitStuart, Ms Gisela
Osborne, Ms SandraSutcliffe, Gerry
Palmer, Dr NickTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pearson, Ian
Pickthall, ColinTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Plaskitt, JamesThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pollard, KerryTimms, Stephen
Pond, ChrisTipping, Paddy
Pound, StephenTouhig, Don
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Trickett, Jon
Prosser, GwynTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Purchase, KenTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Quin, Ms JoyceTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Raynsford, NickTyler, Paul
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Vaz, Keith
Rendel, DavidVis, Dr Rudi
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Rooker, JeffWatts, David
Rooney, TerryWhite, Brian
Roy, FrankWhitehead, Dr Alan
Ruane, ChrisWicks, Malcolm
Ruddock, Ms JoanWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Ryan, Ms JoanWills, Michael
Sanders, AdrianWilson, Brian
Savidge, MalcolmWinnick, David
Sawford, PhilWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sedgemore, BrianWood, Mike
Sheerman, BarryWoolas, Phil
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWorthington, Tony
Shipley, Ms DebraWray, James
Short, Rt Hon ClareWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Wyatt, Derek
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, DennisTellers for the Noes:
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Mr. Greg Pope and
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Ms Bridget Prentice.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 4, in page 2, line 8, leave out from 'number' to end and insert 'shown below.

Number of seats already allocatedDivisor
23
35
47
59
611
713
815
917
1019.'

[Mr. Beith.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 19, Noes 251.

Division No. 181][7.39 pm
AYES
Allan, RichardFoster, Don (Bath)
Baker, NormanHarvey, Nick
Ballard, Mrs JackieHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Beith, Rt Hon A JJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Öpik, Lembit
Rendel, David
Brake, TomRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Burstow, PaulTyler, Paul
Cable, Dr Vincent
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Tellers for the Ayes:
Chidgey, DavidMr. Brian Cotter and
Ewing, Mrs MargaretMr. Adrian Sanders.
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Darvill, Keith
Ainger, NickDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Davidson, Ian
Alexander, DouglasDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Dawson, Hilton
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Dean, Mrs Janet
Ashton, JoeDoran, Frank
Atherton, Ms CandyDowd, Jim
Atkins, CharlotteDrew, David
Austin, JohnDrown, Ms Julia
Banks, TonyEagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Barnes, HarryEfford, Clive
Battle, JohnEnnis, Jeff
Bayley, HughFatchett, Derek
Beard, NigelField, Rt Hon Frank
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretFlint, Caroline
Bennett, Andrew FFollett, Barbara
Benton, JoeFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Bermingham, GeraldFoster, Michael J (Worcester)
Best, HaroldFyfe, Maria
Betts, CliveGapes, Mike
Blizzard, BobGardiner, Barry
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidGerrard, Neil
Boateng, PaulGibson, Dr Ian
Borrow, DavidGilroy, Mrs Linda
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Godsiff, Roger
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Golding, Mrs Llin
Bradshaw, BenGordon, Mrs Eileen
Brinton, Mrs HelenGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Grogan, John
Browne, DesmondHain, Peter
Buck, Ms KarenHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Burden, RichardHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Burgon, ColinHanson, David
Butler, Mrs ChristineHealey, John
Byers, StephenHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Caplin, IvorHepburn, Stephen
Caton, MartinHeppell, John
Cawsey, IanHewitt, Ms Patricia
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hill, Keith
Chaytor, DavidHinchliffe, David
Chisholm, MalcolmHodge, Ms Margaret
Clapham, MichaelHoey, Kate
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Home Robertson, John
Hope, Phil
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hopkins, Kelvin
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Howells, Dr Kim
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Hughes, Ms Beveriey (Stretford)
Coaker, VernonHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Coleman, IainHurst, Alan
Colman, TonyIddon, Dr Brian
Connarty, MichaelJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cooper, YvetteJamieson, David
Corston, Ms JeanJenkins, Brian
Cranston, RossJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Darting, Rt Hon AlistairJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)Robertson, Rt Hon George
(Hamilton S)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Rooker, Jeff
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRooney, Terry
Keeble, Ms SallyRoy, Frank
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Ruane, Chris
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Ruddock, Ms Joan
Kelly, Ms RuthRussell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Ryan, Ms Joan
Kidney, DavidSavidge, Malcolm
Kilfoyle, PeterSawford, Phil
Ladyman, Dr StephenSedgemore, Brian
Laxton, BobShaw, Jonathan
Lepper, DavidSheerman, Barry
Leslie, ChristopherSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Shipley, Ms Debra
Linton, MartinSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Livingstone, KenSingh, Marsha
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Skinner, Dennis
Love, AndrewSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McAllion, JohnSmith, Angela (Basildon)
McAvoy, ThomasSmith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
McCabe, SteveSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McCafferty, Ms ChrisSmith, John (Glamorgan)
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McDonnell, JohnSouthworth, Ms Helen
McGuire, Mrs AnneSpellar, John
Mclsaac, ShonaSquire, Ms Rachel
McKenna, Mrs RosemaryStevenson, George
Mackinlay, AndrewStewart, David (Inverness E)
McNamara, KevinStinchcombe, Paul
McNulty, TonyStoate, Dr Howard
MacShane, DenisStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Mactaggart, FionaStringer, Graham
McWalter, TonyStuart, Ms Gisela
Mallaber, JudySutcliffe, Gerry
Mandelson, PeterTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Timms, Stephen
Marshall—Andrews, RobertTipping, Paddy
Maxton, JohnTouhig, Don
Merron, GillianTrickett, Jon
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Miller AndrewTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Mitchell, AustinTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Moran, Ms MargaretVaz, Keith
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Vis, Dr Rudi
Ward, Ms Claire
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Wareing, Robert N
Mowlam, Rt Hon MarjorieWatts, David
Mudie, GeorgeWhite, Brian
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Whitehead, Dr Alan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Wicks, Malcolm
O'Hara, EddieWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, MartinWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Osborne, Ms SandraWills, Michael
Palmer, Dr NickWilson, Brian
Pearson, IanWinnick, David
Pickthall, ColinWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Plaskitt, JamesWood, Mike
Pollard, KerryWoolas, Phil
Pond, ChrisWorthington, Tony
Pound, StephenWray, James
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Prosser, GwynWyatt, Derek
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Ms JoyceTellers for the Noes:
Raynsford, NickMr. Greg Pope and
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Ms Bridget Prentice.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 10, in page 2, leave out lines 22 to 24.—[Sir Brian Mawhinney.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 98, Noes 267.

Division No. 182][7.49 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Jenkin, Bernard
Amess, DavidKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Arbuthnot, JamesLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Lansley, Andrew
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Leigh, Edward
Bercow, JohnLetwin, Oliver
Beresford, Sir PaulLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Body, Sir RichardLoughton, Tim
Boswell, TimMcIntosh, Miss Anne
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Maclean, Rt Hon David
Brady, GrahamMcLoughlin, Patrick
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterMajor, Rt Hon John
Browning, Mrs AngelaMalins, Humfrey
Butterfill, JohnMates, Michael
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Clappison, JamesMoss, Malcolm
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Norman, Archie
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Page, Richard
Collins, TimPrior, David
Cormack, Sir PatrickRedwood, Rt Hon John
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Day, StephenRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume)
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenSt Aubyn, Nick
Duncan Smith, IainSayeed, Jonathan
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Faber, DavidShepherd, Richard
Fabricant, MichaelSpring, Richard
Fallon, MichaelStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Streeter, Gary
Flight, HowardSwayne, Desmond
Forth, Rt Hon EricSyms, Robert
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanTapsell, Sir Peter
Fraser, ChristopherTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Gale, RogerTaylor, Sir Teddy
Gibb, NickTredinnick, David
Gillan, Mrs CherylTrend, Michael
Gorman, Mrs TeresaTyrie, Andrew
Green, DamianViggers, Peter
Greenway, JohnWalter, Robert
Grieve, DominicWardle, Charles
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieWhitney, Sir Raymond
Hammond, PhilipWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Hawkins, NickWilletts, David
Heald, OliverWoodward, Shaun
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon DavidYeo, Tim
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Horam, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Tellers for the Ayes:
Hunter, AndrewMr. James Cran and
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelMr. Nigel Waterson.
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Battle, John
Ainger, NickBayley, Hugh
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Beard, Nigel
Alexander, DouglasBeckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Allan, RichardBerth, Rt Hon A J
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Bennett, Andrew F
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Benton, Joe
Ashton, JoeBermingham, Gerald
Atherton, Ms CandyBest, Harold
Atkins, CharlotteBetts, Clive
Austin, JohnBlizzard, Bob
Baker, NormanBoateng, Paul
Ballard, Mrs JackieBorrow, David
Banks, TonyBradley, Keith (Withington)
Barnes, HarryBradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, BenHealey, John
Brake, TomHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Brinton, Mrs HelenHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Hepburn, Stephen
Browne, DesmondHeppell, John
Buck, Ms KarenHewitt, Ms Patricia
Burden, RichardHill, Keith
Burgon, ColinHinchliffe, David
Burnett, JohnHodge, Ms Margaret
Burstow, PaulHoey, Kate
Butler, Mrs ChristineHome Robertson, John
Byers, StephenHope, Phil
Cable, Dr VincentHopkins, Kelvin
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Caplin, IvorHowells, Dr Kim
Caton, MartinHughes, Ms Beveriey (Stretford)
Cawsey, IanHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hurst, Alan
Chaytor, DavidIddon, Dr Brian
Chidgey, DavidJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Chisholm, MalcolmJamieson, David
Clapham, MichaelJenkins, Brian
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Coaker, VernonJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Coleman, IainJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Colman, TonyKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Connarty, MichaelKeeble, Ms Sally
Cooper, YvetteKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Corston, Ms JeanKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Cotter, BrianKelly, Ms Ruth
Cranston, RossKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Kidney, David
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Kilfoyle, Peter
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairLadyman, Dr Stephen
Darvill, KeithLaxton, Bob
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Lepper, David
Davidson, IanLeslie, Christopher
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Dawson, HiltonLinton, Martin
Dean, Mrs JanetLivingstone, Ken
Doran, FrankLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Dowd, JimLove, Andrew
Drew, DavidMcAllion, John
Drown, Ms JuliaMcAvoy, Thomas
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)McCabe, Steve
Efford, CliveMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Ennis, JeffMcDonnell, John
Ewing, Mrs MargaretMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Fatchett, DerekMclsaac, Shona
Field, Rt Hon FrankMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Flint, CarolineMackinlay, Andrew
Follett, BarbaraMcNamara, Kevin
Foster, Don (Bath)McNulty, Tony
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)MacShane, Denis
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Mactaggart, Fiona
Fyfe, MariaMcWalter, Tony
Gapes, MikeMallaber, Judy
Gardiner, BarryMandelson, Peter
Gerrard, NeilMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Gibson, Dr IanMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Godsiff, RogerMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Golding, Mrs LlinMarshall—Andrews, Robert
Gordon, Mrs EileenMaxton, John
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Merron, Gillian
Grogan, JohnMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hain, PeterMiller, Andrew
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Mitchell, Austin
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Moran, Ms Margaret
Hanson, DavidMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Harvey, NickMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Mowlam, Rt Hon MarjorieSpellar, John
Mudie, GeorgeSquire, Ms Rachel
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Stevenson, George
O'Hara, EddieStewart, David (Inverness E)
Oner, BillStinchcombe, Paul
O'Neill, MartinStoate, Dr Howard
Öpik, LembitStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Osborne, Ms SandraStringer, Graham
Palmer, Dr NickStuart, Ms Gisela
Pearson, IanSutcliffe, Gerry
Pickthall, ColinTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, KerryTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Pond, ChrisThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pound, StephenTimms, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Tipping, Paddy
Prosser, GwynTouhig, Don
Purchase, KenTrickett, Jon
Quin, Ms JoyceTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Raynsford, NickTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Rendel, DavidTyler, Paul
Rooker, JeffVaz, Keith
Rooney, TerryVis, Dr Rudi
Roy, FrankWard, Ms Claire
Ruane, ChrisWareing, Robert N
Ruddock, Ms JoanWatts, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)White, Brian
Ryan, Ms JoanWhitehead, Dr Alan
Sanders, AdrianWicks, Malcolm
Savidge, MalcolmWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, BrianWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Shaw, JonathanWills, Michael
Sheerman, BarryWilson, Brian
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWinnick, David
Shipley, Ms DebraWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Wood, Mike
Singh, MarshaWoolas, Phil
Skinner, DennisWorthington, Tony
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wray, James
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Tellers for the Noes:
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Ms Bridget Prentice and
Southworth, Ms HelenMr. Greg Pope.

Question accordingly negatived.

8 pm

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

I beg to move amendment No. 36, in page 3, line 5, leave out 'at' and insert 'in respect of'.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 37.

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

These are simple drafting amendments that make no substantive alteration to the Bill, but ensure that the status quo is not altered as regards an aspect of the franchise.

As members of the Committee may know, it is quite common for members of the armed services to be registered to vote in the constituency that contained their last civilian address, even though neither they nor any members of their family live there any longer. Such people are, technically, registered not at a specific address but in respect of their previous address, which is why the Bill is being amended.

I stress that these minor amendments do not change the status quo. Indeed, they confirm it with regard to existing rules on the franchise.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 37, in page 3, line 17, leave out 'at' and insert 'in respect of'.—[Ms Quin.]

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in page 3, line 40, leave out 'representatives to the European Parliament' and insert 'MEPs'.

The First Deputy Chairman:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 35.

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

These are also simple drafting amendments, which, again, make no substantive alteration to the Bill.

Everywhere else in the Bill, MEPs are referred to as just that. However, one rogue reference to the former description of representatives to the European Parliament has crept in. Amendment No. 29 corrects that. I was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 and can remember that various documents referred to us by a variety of names, for example, Member of the European Parliament. I remember getting a letter addressed to Joyce Quin, MEA—Member of the European Assembly. Another was addressed to Joyce Quin, REA—Representative of the European Assembly. That experience was shared by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), who was one of my MEP colleagues. Amendment No. 29 will stop such confusion and ensure that the proper title, MEP, is used.

Amendment No. 35 removes an unnecessary reference. Schedule 1 to the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978, which schedule 2 to the Bill amends, permits regulations to be made on aspects of the conduct of elections. Among the things that it will be possible to do by means of regulation is to prevent individuals from standing more than once. As drafted, the Bill talks about standing more than once at a "general election of MEPs".

On reflection, and having considered the view of Parliamentary Counsel, we concluded that the last two words are unnecessary, as they are implicit in a measure that deals specifically with the election of MEPs.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 3, line 41, after 'State' insert ', provided that the poll shall always be held on Thursday.'.

The First Deputy Chairman:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 73, in page 3, line 41, at end insert 'except a Sunday'.

No. 13, in page 3, line 42, at beginning insert 'Subject to subsection (3) below,'. No. 15, in page 3, line 43, at end add— '(3) An order under subsection (1) shall not be made unless a draft thereof has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.'.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State

The effect of the amendment is that elections to the European Parliament under the new system will be held on a Thursday, and that the designated date should be subject to affirmative approval by Parliament.

The amendment is necessary because of the attitude that the Government have taken on the issue. It is clear that new Labour, new Europe, new harmonisation is the agenda. As the Minister knows, most of the countries in the European Union hold their elections on a Sunday. It is clear to Opposition Members that part of the Government's hidden agenda is to harmonise our elections with those of the majority of countries in Europe and to move from our traditional Thursday to a Sunday.

There is no statutory requirement for general elections or, indeed, European elections, to be held on a Thursday, but in this country they have been held on Thursdays since 1935.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

As my right hon. Friend knows, like the Minister, I was successful in the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979. In that year, the elections in the United Kingdom were held on the Thursday and the votes were counted on the Sunday. Is there a way to square that circle?

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. These amendments deal with the electoral process. My understanding of European law is that, although there are four days on which elections can be held, the counting must take place simultaneously. That is why my hon. Friend was elected on the Thursday but did not know it until the Sunday.

I stress the importance that we attach to continuing the tradition, and our concern that the Government have a hidden agenda to undermine it. Indeed, in our legislation, Sunday has always been excluded from the electoral timetable. Since 1981, Saturday has also been excluded. I am led to believe that to have elections on a Sunday would require primary legislation. No doubt the Minister will be able to tell us whether that is true.

There is no question but that, were elections to be shifted from Thursday to Sunday, they would become a much more expensive process than at present. Given the money that the Government plan to spend on holding the regional list elections, we see no justification for that expense, as we have made clear, or for the additional expense incurred by requiring people to work from early morning on the Sunday to the later hours of Monday. It would be a huge imposition on all those who had to help to conduct the election.

We all know from our parliamentary experience the number of people involved in, and the complexity of, organising a parliamentary constituency election with some 60,000 to 70,000 voters. The House has still not come to terms with the complexity that will be involved in running an election for 5 million or 6 million voters in a particular region. The manpower demands will be enormous. The cost consequences of holding an election on a Thursday will be huge, but they will be even worse on a Sunday.

Many of us have always judged Sundays to be special. We have had many a debate about the importance of separating Sunday from the rest of the week, for religious, workplace and family reasons. If the Minister replies that the Government will not push for elections on Sundays and undertake never to do so, that will satisfy us and would be welcomed by the Committee. However, unless she rules out such an option, it would be a grave misjudgment on her part to believe that there might not be a reaction across the country. Even if she says that it will not happen in 1999, that will simply increase the concern of those who will then wonder whether it will happen in subsequent elections. The issue should not be partisan; a commitment to rule out Sunday elections would satisfy the Committee.

I guess that the Minister will say that she wants to keep open the option of voting on a Sunday, because it might help to increase turnout. In anticipation of that argument, I looked at some statistics. I compared and contrasted the percentage turnout at the most recent general election with that at the most recent European election in 1994. The Minister will probably say that the number of Britons voting in that European election was considerably less than the number of those voting in the general election, and she will be right. The figure for last May was 71.5 per cent., which was a low turnout by our normal general election standards, and it was only 36.4 per cent. in the European election in 1994.

In Ireland, which also votes on a Thursday, the last general election turnout was 65.9 per cent., but it was only 44 per cent. in 1994. There is a case to be made that voting on Thursdays results in a percentage reduction in the European election turnout, but the same happens when voting is held on Sundays.

I offer the hon. Lady two countries' statistics. In the 1995 general election in Portugal, 66.5 per cent. of the electorate voted, but in the European election only 35.6 per cent. of the electorate voted. In Germany, which is frequently held up to us as the dynamo or the motor of the European Union—[Interruption.] I select my words carefully—the general election turnout in 1994 was 79 per cent., but in the European election it dropped to 60.1 per cent.

The point that I seek to make is that in virtually every country there is a drop-off, sometimes a significant drop-off, between general election turnout and European election turnout, irrespective of the day of the week on which the election is held.

Photo of Ms Jenny Jones Ms Jenny Jones Labour, Wolverhampton South West 8:15 pm, 26th February 1998

Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with what happens in this country? Because of the rules governing postal votes, people may be unable to vote if they are called away from their constituency at extremely short notice to work on election day, which is a growing trend. Most people still do not work on Sundays, but if we enabled people to vote on Sundays, more of them could vote.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State

The hon. Lady seems to have forgotten that postal vote applications close some two weeks before election day, so the argument that moving to a Sunday would somehow enhance electoral turnout has no validity.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the busiest times at polling stations—I have sat outside polling stations during many elections—are when people are on their way to work in the morning and when they return from work in the evening. Most people do not go to work on a Sunday, and the incentive for them to go out on a Sunday specifically to vote is less. It is more convenient for them to vote on the way to or from work.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am grateful to him for the clarity with which he made it—[Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman:

Order. There is far too much background noise in the Chamber.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State

At the heart of the amendment is our concern that the Government plan, either next year or subsequently, to harmonise policy with the majority of European countries and shift elections from Thursdays to Sundays. I remind the Minister that Sunday legislation has traditionally been given a free vote in this House. If she does not like the way in which our amendment is framed, we should be perfectly content for her to take it away and bring it back on Report appropriately framed, if that would help. Unless we get from her a commitment that European elections will continue to be scheduled to take place on Thursdays, we shall press the amendment to a vote at the appropriate time.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party, Moray

I wish to speak gently and constructively on amendment No. 73. I raised this matter on Second Reading, when it was given a sympathetic response by the Secretary of State, who said that he would look at the issue.

In two of the European seats in Scotland we do not count, let alone consider voting, on a Sunday. That is in respect for those who hold strong Sabbatarian views. If we move to vote on Sundays, we shall disfranchise a substantial number of people, especially in the highlands and islands and the north-east of Scotland, but also in other areas of the United Kingdom. If we want an inclusive society, we must respect the views of those who would feel that such a move was contrary to their beliefs.

Having always been involved in the European elections, I know that waiting from 10 o'clock on a Thursday night to a Monday morning when we start the count is not the easiest of weekends to live through. A great deal of nail biting and filling in of time goes on.

The Committee should treat this as a matter of respect. We should not disfranchise people with strong religious beliefs, which we should respect, irrespective of our own views. I am a member of my Church and a practising Christian. I would have difficulty with voting on a Sunday, as would many of my constituents.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Office)

Liberal Democrat Members believe that there should be no automatic presumption that elections should be held on Thursdays. However, some of my hon. Friends, like the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), represent people who hold strong Sabbatarian views, and others have strong views of their own. They expect a free vote on Sunday elections, and my party is committed to such a vote on the Scottish National party amendment. We are less supportive of the proposition that the Bill should specify Thursday as the day on which elections are held. We have no problem with the other four days, and there is a strong case for using Saturday for weekend voting. Schoolchildren would benefit from not having their education disrupted by schools becoming polling stations on weekdays.

Photo of Rudi Vis Rudi Vis Labour, Finchley and Golders Green

I take the point that was made about Scotland, but we should take into account the fact that voting on a Saturday would be wholly unacceptable to Jewish people.

Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of the sensitivities of various groups. Whatever day we choose, there will be problems. We shall hold a free vote on the amendment because people hold strong religious beliefs. I have misgivings about using Thursdays, because people who work or who have family responsibilities have problems voting then.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I oppose the Government's proposal and support amendment No. 12, for two reasons. First, many people have a conscientious objection to voting on a Sunday. I do not, but I would be sad if the Committee, directly or indirectly, put in place a proposal that would have the practical consequence of disfranchising a substantial number of people.

Secondly, I am against giving Governments the power to make laws without having proper recourse to the House. The Minister will say that an order will have to be laid, I suspect under the negative procedure. There would be no proper debate; only, at best, an hour and a half of discussion of an unamendable order. A debate in the Chamber is unlikely. I am against giving to Governments powers that do not have to be conferred on Governments.

For those reasons—conscientious objection and the impropriety of the proposal—I support the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney).

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

I shall speak against amendment No. 73 and be specific about why European Parliament elections can be held on a limited number of days.

There is a Council of Ministers agreement that an election must be held within an envelope of days, between Thursday and Sunday. The treaty and regulations govern the handling of elections.

I support amendment No. 12. My right hon. Friend the Member for North—West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) put powerful arguments in favour of holding elections on Thursdays, not Sundays, because of the additional expense. I fear the consequences of changing the day on which elections are held and caution against that. It would be difficult for the very young and the very old to adapt to such a change. if an election were not held on a Thursday, some people might think that it was of no consequence. If elections in this country are always to be held on a Thursday, that day should also be used for the European Parliament election.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

I support amendment No. 12, and the comments of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) about religious objections that would prevent people from voting. Her amendment refers to Sundays, and the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) reminded us of the problems with Saturdays. I understand that both days are ruled out because some people are unwilling to vote then.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) seemed to be against voting on Saturdays and Sundays, but appeared not to favour weekdays because people were working. It is inevitable that a weekday will be used because Saturdays and Sundays are unacceptable to some people as polling days. As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) said, if we are to use a weekday, we should stick with the one that we have always used, because people know that important elections are held on that day.

The Bill does not state the hours during which polling stations will be open, perhaps because they are specified in the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978. I assume that the polling hours will be as they are at present.

We must encourage people to vote and make it easier for them to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) said that many people vote on the way to or from work. The hours during which polling stations are open are crucial to enabling people to vote. What hours will polling stations be open on European election day?

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I want to reinforce the case against voting on Sundays instead of a working day. Just as people may not be available to vote on a Thursday, they may be unavailable on a Sunday for a host of reasons. If the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Ms Jones) is concerned about getting a 100 per cent. turnout, she should suggest that polling stations get in line with supermarkets and open 24 hours a day, or open not just on Thursday between 7 o'clock and 10 o'clock, but all day on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. People could choose the day on which to vote according to their religious convictions or business and family commitments.

The Bill does not make such changes, but it changes enough. We are discussing fundamental constitutional changes, the like of which have not been seen since we began electing Members to the European Parliament in 1979. We are not even making these changes to fall in line with the rest of Europe. Much has been said about not only how candidates will be selected differently by different parties, but how countries across the European Union use different electoral systems and vote on different days according to different types of regional government, different party structure and different party list. If Labour Members cannot even agree with that, can we not at least specify Thursdays? In the past, people have known where they are and have been able to make arrangements to vote. That has been the case for many years.

If people are serious about voting—if they are really interested in a democratic process—and, in this instance, if they are interested in electing MEPs, they will find a way of voting on a Thursday. Can we at least keep that link with the past?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire 8:30 pm, 26th February 1998

I did not intend to speak, but, having read the amendments and listened to the debate on them, I feel that they point compellingly to the argument presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney). I also think that the argument has developed during the debate.

We should be grateful to the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) for reminding us that it is incumbent on us to respect the views of minorities, and minority faiths in particular, whatever may be our personal view. I share the feeling of my right hon. Friend: although I am a practising member of the Church of England, I would not have any difficulty in voting on a Sunday, but I know and respect others who would. I also think that people with different faiths—Jewish or Muslim—might not want to vote on a Saturday. We should strain not to impinge on the views and interests of minorities. After all, as the debate has made clear, it is far from obvious that there is any benefit to be derived from holding elections at weekends.

Moreover, leaving aside the objections to which I have referred, weekend elections would be a significant constitutional innovation. Such an innovation should not be entered into lightly or ill-advisedly, and—as my right hon. Friend said—it should certainly not be entered into on the basis of an order laid by the Secretary of State without debate in the House and an affirmative resolution. I stand to be corrected by the Minister if I am wrong, but I think that my right hon. Friend was right in saying that, under the Bill, the order would be made under the negative resolution procedure.

If the election is not to be held on a Saturday or a Sunday, I see no reason to give Ministers discretion to choose a day other than Thursday. I do not think that anyone has argued today that one weekday is better than, or different from, another. I think that we are all accustomed to voting on Thursdays. Returning officers, party organisations and, indeed, voters probably consider it normal to vote on Thursdays, and would think it abnormal and unconventional to do so on any other day. We are all creatures of habit, and I suspect that, as voters, we are all very much the same. I think that we might see a lower turnout on a weekday other than Thursday. If Saturdays and Sundays are excluded, therefore, there is everything to be said for accepting the proposal to specify Thursdays.

I dare say that any order presented by the Secretary of State will refer to a day within the normal confines of the election of MEPs on a Europewide basis. That has already been mentioned. Nevertheless, I feel that any discretion used by Ministers should involve an affirmative resolution of the House. It should be customary in the House for electoral matters to proceed as far as possible by way of consensus between parties, and as little as possible by dictate of the majority party. I hope that no Government would want to feel that they were contriving an electoral process—including election day—that was advantageous to that Government rather than to democracy.

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

This short debate has raised a number of issues.

The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), the shadow Home Secretary, seemed to want to be North-West Cambridgeshire's Mystic Meg. He tried to predict what I would say, and I am not sure whether he will be disappointed.

All the amendments deal with the day on which European general elections are held. Let me provide some background information about how the day is selected. As I suspect the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) knew, the key document is the one entitled "Act concerning the election of representatives of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage annexed to the decision of the Council of the European Communities dated the 20 September 1976". It provides that a European parliamentary general election must be held five years after the last election; but, should it prove impossible to hold an election on that exact day, the Council is empowered—if there is unanimous agreement—to vary the date by one month in either direction.

As the hon. Member for Vale of York said, the election period runs from the Thursday morning to the following Sunday. Under the legislation, each member state is free to pick the day within that period on which it wishes to hold its election. It is possible, therefore, to vary the day now, although we have no plans to do so.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) and some of my hon. Friends, pointed out that it was theoretically possible to vary the day. The pros and cons of holding elections on Saturdays were discussed. Elections to the European Parliament are generally held on Sundays in many of our partner countries, but the Government have no plans to switch from our traditional Thursday polling day, and we certainly intend the 1999 elections to be held on a Thursday.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me to rule out other days for all time, but, as we all know, Parliament cannot bind its successors, and it would be very foolish of me, as a junior Minister, to try to bind my successors for all time. I can only offer the right hon. Gentleman the reasonable proposition that we have no present plans to change.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

If that is the case, why not include it in the Bill?

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

What is being suggested is no different from the arrangements that obtained during the 18 years for which the right hon. and learned Gentleman's party was in power. The Conservatives saw no need to change the arrangements in this way. I have said what the legal position is, in terms of all parties being able to vary the day, but I have also made it clear that we do not intend to do so.

The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire said he did not feel that the voting day was a partisan matter, and there is considerable merit in that view, in regard to our own general elections as well. We are, however, dealing in this debate with the European elections and their legal base. I accept that, if we were tempted to go down such a route, there would be difficulties. Hon. Members have commented on that. Certainly, people in Britain are used to voting on Thursdays. As for the European elections, I think that the combination of a new voting system and a new voting day would be unfortunate. We hope and believe that the new voting system will encourage more people to vote in European elections, for many of the reasons that have been advanced during our debates. If we changed the voting day at the same time as we changed the electoral system, it would be extremely difficult to know what contribution each of the two innovations had made to the change in turnout.

As the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) has pointed out, there would be problems in certain parts of Scotland and, no doubt, in other parts of Britain where there would be strong religious objections to trying to introduce Sunday voting. I am tempted to say that Scotland pioneered Sunday trading, which I voted against, but the hon. Lady's points were well made in terms of the area to which she referred. As I have said, the Government have no plans to introduce Sunday voting for elections to the European Parliament and, because of that, I hope that the hon. Member for Moray will recognise that her amendment is unnecessary.

I hope that the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire will see that the first of his amendments is unnecessary and that it could cause problems in the future. As I have already outlined, member states do not have a free hand in setting election dates. The election has to be held in a Thursday-to-Sunday period. It is possible—I accept that it is highly unlikely—that, at some time in the future, that could be changed to a Sunday-to-Wednesday period. In that case, the right hon. Gentleman's amendment would cause real problems and I urge him to withdraw it.

The right hon. Member referred to turnout. I listened to everything he had to say, but he seemed basically to be saying that turnout in the European elections tends to be lower than in national elections—we all know that. We hope and believe that the system we are introducing will encourage people to vote. Whatever the merits or demerits of our present first-past-the-post system, many votes do not count towards the final total. That will not be the case in the system that we are introducing for the European elections. We hope that the turnout for the next European election will be higher than in the past.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

If the turnout is lower, will the Government reconsider their future position?

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that after the elections we will look at what has happened and evaluate it. That was in response to a suggested amendment from a Labour Member. Obviously, we will look at the result of the elections and I hope that we will look at all the factors that obtained in the European parliamentary election period.

The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire began with a few snide comments about new Labour, new harmonisation. In case there is any doubt, let me make it clear that the Government have no interest in harmonisation for harmonisation's sake. I am more than happy to celebrate the diversity of the regions and the member states of the European Union.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State

I will not detain the Committee because I think that we should draw this issue to a conclusion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said that we could vote either at the weekend or during the week. For reasons that many hon. Members have adduced, voting at the weekend creates real difficulties. The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) made a valid point which helped to strengthen the argument about religious diversity in our country. This issue is important not only to Christians but to a whole variety of religious groups who hold their beliefs strongly and whose lives and life behaviour are influenced by those religious beliefs. That point was also made by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing).

8.45 pm

All were offering me encouragement for my point when I stressed that the House advances any issues involving Sunday activity on the basis of a free vote because it recognises that there are employment, family and religious consequences at weekends. It would be a sad day if the House, which is the ultimate defender of our freedoms, should seek to impinge on religious freedom.

The speech made by the Minister of State, was disappointing. I say that not in a partisan spirit but because she was not able to sense the mood of the points being made to her. The Minister said that no Government or House can bind its successors. She is right, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, that is not an argument for not putting this in the Bill. All it means is that some future Government or Parliament would have to change the legislation. That is a more major step.

The Minister said that the previous Government did not do this and implied that, because of that, we have no right to make an issue of it now. We did not introduce this sort of legislation. We did not introduce legislation that was designed to produce a degree of harmonisation with the other countries in Europe in this electoral process.

What most concerned me about the Minister's speech was that she talked about two sets of innovations—the new system and the possibility of moving to Sunday voting. She said that the two changes would not take place in 1999 because we would not know which innovation had affected the turnout. That is slightly chilling. It seems to indicate that there was, in Government, a consideration of moving to Sunday right now and that there is certainly active consideration to look at that for a subsequent election.

The Minister has made her position clear, and she is not going to change. She has made it clear that she does not think that she has the freedom to change. The mood of the House and the mood of the debate has been quite clear. We think that there should be a clear commitment in the Bill that elections will continue to be held on a Thursday and a clear commitment that they will not be on a Sunday. The Minister will not give us that commitment on behalf of the Government so we will have to press the amendment to a Division.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party, Moray

In light of what has been said, the speech of the right hon. Member for North—West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) was rather depressing because it was ungracious. I respect the points made on behalf of the Jewish faith. There are other minority faiths in the United Kingdom that we should consider, because we are an inclusive society. Given the good-natured and sensible response from the Minister, I wonder whether it would be possible to ensure that, on Report, it could be written into the Bill that the next elections will be held on a Thursday.

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

I am grateful for the tone in which the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) put her question. I am happy to take advice, but I believe that that would not keep us in line with the original legal base on which the European parliamentary elections are founded. I have said that there is to be no change for these elections and that we have no plans to change the day and I would have hoped that that would be sufficient reassurance for the hon. Lady.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 95, Noes 223.

Division No. 183][8.48 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Amess, DavidLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Arbuthnot, JamesLansley, Andrew
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Leigh, Edward
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Letwin, Oliver
Bercow, JohnLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Beresford, Sir PaulLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Body, Sir RichardLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Boswell, TimLoughton, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)McIntosh, Miss Anne
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterMaclean, Rt Hon David
Browning, Mrs AngelaMajor, Rt Hon John
Butterfill, JohnMalins, Humfrey
Cash, WilliamMaples, John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Mates, Michael
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Clappison, JamesMay, Mrs Theresa
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Moss, Malcolm
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Norman, Archie
Collins, TimPage, Richard
Cormack, Sir PatrickPrior, David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Redwood, Rt Hon John
Day, StephenRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterSt Aubyn, Nick
Faber, DavidSayeed, Jonathan
Fabricant, MichaelShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Fallon, MichaelShepherd, Richard
Flight, HowardSpring, Richard
Forth, Rt Hon EricStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanStreeter, Gary
Fraser, ChristopherSwayne, Desmond
Gale, RogerSyms, Robert
Gibb, NickTapsell, Sir Peter
Gillan, Mrs CherylTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaTaylor, Sir Teddy
Green, DamianTrend, Michael
Greenway, JohnTyrie, Andrew
Grieve, DominicWalter, Robert
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieWardle, Charles
Hammond, PhilipWhitney, Sir Raymond
Hawkins, NickWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Hayes, JohnWilkinson, John
Heald, OliverWoodward, Shaun
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasYeo, Tim
Horam, JohnYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, AndrewTellers for the Ayes:
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelMr. James Cran and
Jenkin, BernardMr. Nigel Waterson.
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Banks, Tony
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Barnes, Harry
Alexander, DouglasBayley, Hugh
Allan, RichardBeard, Nigel
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Beith, Rt Hon A J
Atkins, CharlotteBell, Martin (Tatton)
Austin, JohnBennett, Andrew F
Baker, NormanBe[...]ningham, Gerald
Ballard, Mrs JackieBetts, Clive
Blizzard, BobHinchliffe, David
Boateng, PaulHodge, Ms Margaret
Borrow, DavidHome Robertson, John
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Hope, Phil
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Hopkins, Kelvin
Bradshaw, BenHowarth, Alan (Newport E)
Brinton, Mrs HelenHughes, Ms Beveriey (Stretford)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Browne, DesmondHurst, Alan
Buck, Ms KarenJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Burden, RichardJenkins, Brian
Burnett, JohnJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Burstow, Paul
Butler, Mrs ChristineJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Byers, StephenJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Caplin, IvorJones, Dr Lynne (Selfy Oak)
Cawsey, IanJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Chaytor, DavidKeeble, Ms Sally
Chidgey, DavidKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Chisholm, MalcolmKelly, Ms Ruth
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Kidney, David
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Laxton, Bob
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Lepper, David
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Coaker, VernonLinton, Martin
Coleman, IainLivingstone, Ken
Colman, TonyLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Connarty, MichaelLove, Andrew
Cooper, YvetteMcAllion, John
Corston, Ms JeanMcAvoy, Thomas
Cotter, BrianMcCabe, Steve
Cranston, RossMcDonnell, John
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)McGuire, Mrs Anne
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Darvill, KeithMackinlay, Andrew
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)McNamara, Kevin
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)McNulty, Tony
Dawson, HiltonMacShane, Denis
Dean, Mrs JanetMactaggart, Fiona
Doran, FrankMcWalter, Tony
Dowd, JimMallaber, Judy
Drew, DavidMandelson, Peter
Drown, Ms JuliaMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Efford, CliveMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Fatchett, DerekMarshall—Andrews, Robert
Field, Rt Hon FrankMaxton, John
Flint, CarolineMerron, Gillian
Follett, BarbaraMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Foster, Don (Bath)Miller, Andrew
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Mitchell, Austin
Fyfe, MariaMoran, Ms Margaret
Gapes, MikeMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Gardiner, BarryMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Gerrard, NeilMowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Gibson, Dr IanMudie, George
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Godsiff, RogerO'Hara, Eddie
Golding, Mrs LlinOlner, Bill
Gordon, Mrs EileenO'Neill, Martin
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Öpik, Lembit
Grogan, JohnOsborne, Ms Sandra
Hain, PeterPalmer, Dr Nick
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Pearson, Ian
Hanson, DavidPickthall, Colin
Harvey, NickPlaskitt, James
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Pollard, Kerry
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Pond, Chris
Hepburn, StephenPope, Greg
Heppell, JohnPound, Stephen
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Hill, KeithPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, GwynStuart, Ms Gisela
Purchase, KenTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Quin, Ms Joyce
Raynsford, NickTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Rooker, JeffTouhig, Don
Roy, FrankTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Ruddock, Ms JoanTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Tyler, Paul
Ryan, Ms JoanVaz, Keith
Sanders, AdrianVis, Dr Rudi
Savidge, MalcolmWard, Ms Claire
Sawford, PhilWareing, Robert N
Sedgemore, BrianWhite, Brian
Shaw, JonathanWhitehead, Dr Alan
Shipley, Ms DebraWicks, Malcolm
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Skinner, DennisWills, Michael
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wilson, Brian
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Winnick, David
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Wood, Mike
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Woolas, Phil
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Wray, James
Southworth, Ms HelenWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Squire, Ms RachelWyatt, Derek
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)Tellers for the Noes:
Stinchcombe, PaulJanet Anderson and
Stoate, Dr HowardMr. David Jamieson.

Question accordingly negatived.

9 pm

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 3, line 43, at end add— '3E.—(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations prescribe the form of the ballot paper to be used at the poll for the election of representatives to the European Parliament.(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the ballot paper shall include, separately from the list of candidates, a brief explanatory statement describing the method of election and the procedure to be followed by each elector in casting his vote or votes.'. I do not think that I should be courting too much controversy if I said that the simplicity which has been alleged on behalf of the new electoral system for the European elections is not invincibly self-evident to everyone. If the Committee has at times struggled with divisors, proportionality and so on, the electors will have even more of a struggle when confronted with the system.

We owe it to the electors to explain to them what is happening. We should not just present to them the choices that they are offered, but explain how the system works and what will happen after they have cast their votes. That is a fairly simple proposition which ought to be adhered to in a democracy.

We hope that the Government will welcome the amendment. It requires the ballot paper to include, separately from the list of candidates, a brief explanatory statement describing the method of election and the procedure to he followed by each elector in casting his vote or votes. That would be helpful to electors.

There are grounds for suspecting that the Government themselves feel that the system needs more explanation. There has been talk of expensive advertising campaigns. Apparently, there is an internal debate in the Government about how best to explain the system to the public. The amendment provides one way of doing just that. Perhaps the Government should think carefully about providing reading rooms or something similar where electors could go to study the new system and see how to go about casting their vote.

The amendment is intended to be constructive. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments on how the Government intend to explain the new system to the electorate and whether the names of the candidates will appear separately on the ballot as the amendment suggests.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I agree with the spirit of the amendment, but not with the precise form. The real issue is the complexity that flows from the changes that the Committee is considering. I do not think that the problem can be addressed by an explanatory statement attached to the ballot paper—if only because people going to a polling station do not expect to have to sit around for a long time reading an explanatory statement—but that we need an explanatory statement to be sent to the electorate is self-evident.

My suggestion is that the Minister agree to the principle set out in the amendment and agree further that an explanatory statement should be sent to all electors in good time for the relevant election. That would be most desirable and helpful.

Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The amendment provides the opportunity to raise the question of access to voting stations for blind and partially sighted people, a matter which I am sure concerns many hon. Members. I have raised this issue in debates on other Bills that will change our voting system. I should be interested to hear what plans the Government have to ensure that, when the new system of voting is introduced for the European elections, the maximum opportunity is provided to blind and partially sighted people to enable them to exercise their right to vote unaided and in person at the polling station.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

I had not intended to speak to this amendment, but I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman says and would like to extend the discussion to include access for people with a range of disabilities, not just those that he mentioned. It is a matter I have raised in the all-party disablement group. The European elections provide us with an opportunity to consider the question of access. I could not miss the chance to say that, because it is such an important matter.

Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He and I have attended meetings of the all-party disablement group at which "Polls Apart 2", the report published by Scope, has been discussed. That report highlights concern about access to polling stations during the most recent general election. Several of Scope's recommendations should be considered so that we increase the turnout at the next European parliamentary elections.

I want to find out how the Government will ensure that blind and partially sighted people can vote unaided and in person at the polling station. They are often expected to use a postal vote instead, but I want to disabuse people of the idea that that is acceptable. Blind and partially sighted people have a fundamental right to exercise their vote on the same day as everyone else. Will the Government experiment with braille templates and larger print formats, so that more people can exercise their vote in person in future European elections?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

The arguments for the amendment are self-evident and have been sufficiently rehearsed. My concern is that the local elections will be held on one system, but, within a month, the electors will be asked to vote under a novel and rather complicated system. If the Government are not minded to accept the amendment, what efforts will they make to explain the new procedures before electors enter the polling booth?

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

I have listened carefully to hon. Members' comments in this brief debate. I shall respond in the spirit of the concerns that have been expressed, although I do not believe that the amendment is necessary or entirely helpful. On the aim and spirit of what has been said, there is little between the Opposition and the Government—I particularly endorse the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg).

I assure the Committee that the form of the ballot paper will be set out in regulations which will be made by the Secretary of State and subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The Government firmly intend that the names of all the people included on party lists should appear on the ballot paper. The Committee will know that we arranged for four sample ballot papers to be placed in the Library. Those hon. Members—including, I presume, Opposition Front Benchers—who have examined the sample will have seen clearly that candidates' names appear. I hope that there are no doubts about the Government's intentions on that.

Obviously, as happens currently, a ballot paper will contain straightforward instructions to the elector about how to fill it in. The new system will continue to be simple—the instruction will be "Place one cross on the ballot paper". No doubt we can consider whether that wording could be improved or amplified, but there will certainly be something of that nature on the ballot paper.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) suggested that the ballot paper should contain a description of how the electoral system works. Such a move would be unprecedented; it is a surprising proposal from a party that has argued against electoral reform. We do not believe, for the reasons given by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is particularly helpful.

We do not have a description of the method of election on the ballot paper. 1 do not accept that there is less need to do so for elections conducted by the first-past-the-post system, as everyone, including first-time voters, is assumed to understand how it works.

Plenty of first-time voters may be unclear about the mechanics of the existing system. Equally, EU citizens can vote in local elections here, although they may not be familiar with the system. However, we do not provide them with explanations on the ballot paper, and with good reason. As the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said, the design of a ballot paper should be as simple and clear as possible, with no information that might confuse voters or cause unnecessary delay in the voting process. It is significant that in Northern Ireland, where the more complicated STV system is used for all elections other than parliamentary ones, the ballot paper merely gives directions on how to vote, without further explanation of the system.

The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) raised an important point. Other hon. Members also referred to the importance of explaining to the electorate in the immediate run-up to the election how the system works. I am sure that there will be great interest in and discussion about the new voting system. The media, too, will play a part in explaining how the new system works. The Government will explore ways of explaining the new system to the electorate and everything will be done to ensure that there is no shortage of information detailing the mechanics of the new electoral system.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) made some interesting points with which I have great sympathy although they were not directly relevant to the amendment. As he knows, because he has raised the issue in Adjournment debates, a working party under the chairmanship of the Under—Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), is examining the issues, which are important, as I know from my own constituency. I am sure that all hon. Members are aware of the difficulties faced by blind, partially sighted and disabled people in gaining access to polling booths and participating properly in elections.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the hon. Member for Hertsmere will ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have listened to the Minister's response and I can assure her and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) that my suggestion that reading rooms be set aside was slightly tongue in cheek. However, I am still concerned about the complexity of the new system which will be presented to the electorate. I share my right hon. and learned Friend's concern that it should be properly explained to the electorate. He made an important suggestion in that regard.

I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which she framed her reply. I listened carefully, but I did not hear a great deal about how the Government proposed to explain the system to the electorate. It is all very well for the electorate to be invited to vote, but people will want to know what happens next. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) is concerned about that, I can assure him that the same issue perplexed the Home Secretary, who suggested that we embark on an expensive publicity campaign. The amendment would be one way to avoid that.

We still have not heard exactly how the Government propose to explain the new system to the electorate, but, in view of the lateness of the hour, although I am disappointed in some respects, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State 9:15 pm, 26th February 1998

We have spent a long time debating this clause because it is at the very heart of this rather unacceptable Bill.

Thus far, under the Government's leadership, we have deprived the people of Gibraltar of a vote and created regions that are neither recognisable nor manageable. We are to have a voting system, but the Government do not know what it will be. We are to have registered parties, but the Government have no idea what sort of registration there will be. The Government are setting aside the boundary commission and will not consult.

That is a brief but accurate summary of clause 1. It is for that reason that we shall vote against its standing part of the Bill.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I have been in the House for 19 years, or thereabouts, and this is the most objectionable constitutional Bill that I can recall. There are four reasons for that.

The first is this: there is no convincing reason why we should make any change whatever. The only reason which has been given is that some other European states want us to make a change. I do not regard that as either a good or a sufficient reason. I have heard no other sustainable reason why we should make a change.

The second and different point is this: I regard a constituency-based form of election as essential to our democratic system. It has huge advantages. It provides for real accountability. Members of Parliament know precisely to whom they are accountable—first and foremost, their constituents. That will not be so under the proposed system. Under our system, electors know precisely to whom they can go for advice and representation, but under the proposed system for the European Parliament, they will have not a clue. There will be a very large list, and electors will not know to whom to look.

There is another point, too. Under the regional system, we are talking about large, complicated areas. The probability is that large urban areas will dominate the regional selection, with the result that particular issues, such as rural interests, will not be properly represented. Members of any elected representative body get to have a speciality because they are closely identified with the interests of a particular locality. That will not happen under the regional list system. We will be diminishing the accountability, knowledge and authority of the representatives. That is thoroughly bad news.

The last point is the one about which I feel most strongly. We should not give to the central institutions of any political party the right to govern so precisely the character and identity of the people who are to be elected. Be sure about this: nobody will be able to stand for any length of time, far less survive, in the European Parliament unless his or her views are accepted and compatible with those of his or her central political institutions. That cannot be right.

Where will be the free thinkers? Where will be the people who vote according to their conscience? Where, indeed, will be the eccentrics? They make a contribution. We can be certain that nobody will be adopted who does not share the dull conformity that for one moment happens to be the accepted wisdom in their party. If they happen to be adopted, they will not be readopted. That will create a Parliament of clones.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I reassure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I am absolutely confident that, in the Liberal Democrat party, some people whose views do not correspond to those of the central party organisation will be elected, because it will be for ordinary party members to vote for whom they choose. I understood that his party was seeking, through the hustings, to make a similar arrangement. Although I welcome his support for open lists, I hope that he will pay some respect to the internal democracy that his party is cultivating.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

It is perfectly true that the Conservative party—and, to be fair, the Liberal Democrats—will choose from the membership, but that can change; the system will be what the Front Benchers of the time wish it to be. The Labour party is explicitly giving the power to its central institution, which will choose the representatives. I believe that that is a derogation from democracy. Once we start with the European Parliament, we may find that, by precedent, we move to other institutions, and ultimately to this House. I regard this as one of the worst Bills I have seen in 19 years in the House, and the clause encapsulates why it is so bad. I very much hope that the Committee votes against it.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

We have had debates in which we have won the arguments, but the Government have won the votes. One thing has arisen from our debate on Tuesday. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) was wont to criticise my recommendation of the local Member of the European Parliament for Cambridgeshire. She fell into a trap, because I found that, on Monday evening, the MEP was in the hon. Lady's constituency, meeting his constituents. When she said, "We do not see him," she meant that she did not see him—his constituents do.

Photo of Ian Cawsey Ian Cawsey Labour, Brigg and Goole

The MEP may have shot his own fox, because that proves that no one recognises him.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

The hon. Gentleman is clearly ignorant of the facts.

There has been no reflection on the impact of the Bill on incumbent MEPs. In respect of the incumbent MEP for my area, there would be a differential vote in his favour under a first-past-the-post system or an open list system because he is an excellent MEP. The Government are pursuing a closed list system, designed to make it an irrelevance to the electorate whether one is an incumbent MEP or not.

The first-past-the-post system—and particularly the open list system—should benefit incumbents, yet the Government do not go down that path. There are two reasons why that is so. First, they do not believe that incumbent MEPs from the Labour party would attract any preferential vote in their favour. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly—I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)—Labour wants to control who are presented to the electorate and in what order they are presented.

Labour wants to censor and censure its MEPs for ideological or other reasons. That highlights the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham about the damage that will be done by the Government's proposal to put party control before democratic control.

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

As the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) pointed out, we have had an extensive debate on what is the heart of the Bill. Because we have had that extensive debate, I can be brief.

Some strange claims have been made in this brief debate. The Conservatives claimed that the Government were introducing the system only because some other countries wanted us to make the change. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out on Second Reading and earlier this evening, there are clear reasons why the Government are making the change, including the work of the Plant commission and decisions at Labour party conferences from 1993 onwards. It was also a manifesto commitment.

There is a real basis for making the change in the Bill and carrying it out for the next European parliamentary elections. Some of the comments suggest that the electorate are somehow clueless and could not cope with change. I have a higher opinion of the electorate—they will cope successfully with the change. They will be able to understand and grapple with the Bill. They will do so not just because of the Government's explanations, but because our media—which are organised regionally—will help to provide a clear exposition to voters in the run-up to the election.

It is odd that, during the debate, Opposition Members have run down the very regional structure that they created. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said that it would be impossible for eccentrics to be elected under the proposed system. As I am sure the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) will agree, even though most European countries use a list system we are not short of eccentric Members in the European Parliament.

I reiterate the point made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that he would consider arguments advanced by hon. Members about the system that operates in Belgium—the open list, as opposed to the closed list—and then make an announcement. The Home Secretary, both on Second Reading and today, has listened carefully to the arguments, as have my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), and I. We will consider them carefully and, in the meantime, I hope that the Committee will agree that clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.

Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 210, Noes 94.

Division No. 184][9.25 pm
AYES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Ballard, Mrs Jackie
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Banks, Tony
Alexander, DouglasBarnes, Harry
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Bayley, Hugh
Atkins, CharlotteBeard, Nigel
Austin, JohnBeckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A JHewitt, Ms Patricia
Bennett, Andrew FHill, Keith
Bermingham, GeraldHinchliffe, David
Betts, CliveHodge, Ms Margaret
Blizzard, BobHome Robertson, John
Boateng, PaulHope, Phil
Borrow, DavidHopkins, Kelvin
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Bradshaw, BenHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Brinton, Mrs HelenHurst, Alan
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Jenkins, Brian
Browne, DesmondJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, RichardJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Burstow, PaulJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Butler, Mrs Christine
Byers, StephenJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Caplin IvorKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cawsey, IanKeeble, Ms Sally
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Keen, Alan (Feltnam & Heston)
Chaytor, David
Chisholm, MalcolmKelly, Ms Ruth
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Laxton, Bob
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Lepper, David
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Linton, Martin
Coaker, VernonLivingstone, Ken
Coleman, IainLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Colman, TonyLove, Andrew
Connarty, MichaelMcAllion, John
Cooper, YvetteMcAvoy, Thomas
Corston, Ms JeanMcCabe, Steve
Cranston, RossMcDonnell, John
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)McGuire, Mrs Anne
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Darvill, KeithMackinlay, Andrew
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)McNamara, Kevin
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)McNulty, Tony
Dawson, HiltonMacShane, Denis
Dean, Mrs JanetMactaggart, Fiona
Doran, FrankMcWalter, Tony
Dowd, JimMallaber, Judy
Drew, DavidMandelson, Peter
Drown, Ms JuliaMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Efford, CliveMarshall—Andrews, Robert
Ewing, Mrs MargaretMaxton, John
Fatchett, DerekMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Field, Rt Hon FrankMiller, Andrew
Flint, CarolineMitchell, Austin
Follett, BarbaraMoran, Ms Margaret
Foster, Don (Bath)Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Fyfe, MariaMowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Gapes, MikeMudie, George
Gardiner, BarryMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr IanO'Hara, Eddie
Gilroy, Mrs LindaOlner, Bill
Godsiff, RogerO'Neill, Martin
Golding, Mrs LlinÖpik, Lembit
Gordon, Mrs EileenOsborne, Ms Sandra
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Pearson, Ian
Grogan, JohnPickthall, Colin
Hain, PeterPlaskitt, James
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Pollard, Kerry
Hanson, DavidPond, Chris
Harvey, NickPope, Greg
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Pound, Stephen
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Hepburn, StephenPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Heppell, JohnProsser, Gwyn
Quin, Ms JoyceTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Rooker, JeffTipping, Paddy
Roy, FrankTouhig, Don
Ruddock, Ms JoanTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ryan, Ms JoanTyler, Paul
Sanders, AdrianVaz, Keith
Savidge, MalcolmVis, Dr Rudi
Sawford, PhilWard, Ms Claire
Sedgemore, BrianWareing, Robert N
Shaw, JonathanWhite, Brian
Shipley, Ms DebraWhitehead, Dr Alan
Skinner, DennisWicks, Malcolm
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wills, Michael
Wilson, Brian
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Winnick, David
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Wood, Mike
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Woolas, Phil
Southworth, Ms HelenWray, James
Squire, Ms RachelWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Stevenson, GeorgeWyatt, Derek
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stinchcombe, PaulTellers for the Ayes:
Stoate, Dr HowardJanet Anderson and
Stuart, Ms GiselaMr. David Jamieson.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Hunter, Andrew
Amess, DavidJack, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, JamesJenkin, Bernard
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Bercow, JohnLansley, Andrew
Beresford, Sir PaulLeigh, Edward
Boswell, TimLetwin, Oliver
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs AngelaLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Butterfill, JohnLoughton, Tim
Cash, WilliamMcIntosh, Miss Anne
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Maclean, Rt Hon David
Major, Rt Hon John
Clappison, JamesMalins, Humfrey
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Maples, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Mates, Michael
Collins, TimMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)May, Mrs Theresa
Day, StephenMoss, Malcolm
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenNorman, Archie
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterPage, Richard
Faber, DavidPrior, David
Fabricant, MichaelRedwood, Rt Hon John
Fallon, MichaelRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Flight, HowardRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Forth, Rt Hon EricSt Aubyn, Nick
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanSayeed, Jonathan
Fraser, ChristopherShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gale, RogerShepherd, Richard
Gibb, NickSpring, Richard
Gillan, Mrs CherylStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Gorman, Mrs TeresaStreeter, Gary
Green, DamianSwayne, Desmond
Greenway, JohnSyms, Robert
Grieve, DominicTapsell, Sir Peter
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Hammond, PhilipTaylor, Sir Teddy
Hawkins, NickTrend, Michael
Hayes, JohnTyrie, Andrew
Heald, OliverWalter, Robert
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasWardle, Charles
Horam, JohnWhitney, Sir Raymond
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss AnnYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Wilkinson, JohnTellers for the Noes:
Woodward, ShaunMr. James Cran and
Yeo, TimMr. Nigel Waterson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.