With this it will be convenient to discuss also the Government amendment in lieu of the Lords amendments, in page 3, line 46, at end insert—
I hope that I can be brief because we are covering some well-trodden ground. The other place has now voted twice to amend the Bill to change the nature of the list system for which it provides. On both occasions, I should add, had it not been for the votes of the hereditary Conservative peers, the Government would have won the day comfortably. The issue has now gone way beyond whether we have closed lists, open lists or Belgian lists: there is now a challenge to the authority of this democratically elected House by hereditary Conservative peers.
The Government have carefully studied reports of the debates in another place, as would be expected, and the arguments advanced in support of the amendments that were made, including the arguments advanced by the hereditary peers. However unsatisfactory its composition might be, of course we accept that the other place is a revising chamber. We therefore give proper consideration to any suggestion that it might make that a piece of legislation ought to be revised. Having done so, I am moving an amendment to make one important change to the Bill which we hope will meet some of the concerns that have been expressed.
The amendment would provide for a review of the new system to be carried out shortly after the first elections using it. It makes it clear that there will be a thorough examination, that one or more persons will be appointed by the Secretary of State
to review the operation of the system of election
and make a report to the Secretary of State
within six months from the day of appointment",
and that any such report shall be laid before each House of Parliament. I then anticipate that it will be subject to a very full debate.
The review will be very wide, as set out in the amendment—should the House and the other place approve it. The amendment states:
The Secretary of State shall appoint one or more persons—
(a) to review the operation of the system of election provided for by … the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978"—
as amended by the Bill—and
(b) to make a report to the Secretary of State within six months from the day of appointment.
I shall give way in a moment.
I must make it clear that a review of the operation of the system does not simply mean a review of the counting process. If this House and the other place approve the amendment, the review will consider whether the closed list system itself operated satisfactorily. We are dealing with fundamental issues.
For all the mocking laughter from the clones from the Opposition Whips Office, any welcome from my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) comes at a very high price.
The review relates only to the operation of European parliamentary elections. The Bill is concerned only with European parliamentary elections, so it could not possibly refer to any other elections. With respect to the hon. Lady, that has to be a matter for inclusion in the Scotland Bill and the Government of Wales Bill. I do not doubt that, once the elections are over, there will be many reviews of the way in which the system works; that is entirely right, as they are all new systems.
The review is a wonderful idea that has been much greeted by Labour Members, but would it not have been better, given the views expressed by their Lordships, by Opposition Members and most importantly by Labour Members when we debated the issue last week, to have an open list and review that?
If such a review were to conclude that the closed-list system had operated in an unsatisfactory way, would it be possible to revert to an open-list system or another system without primary legislation? If that were not possible, the entire structure of the proposal would be undermined.
I shall work that into my speech later, when I come to the problem that the British public will encounter in differentiating between one Conservative candidate and another. Although the correctly named hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire is in error over his views, he is otherwise okay, as he went to a good school—the same one as I did.
There is a very good reason why it should not be possible to change the voting system by statutory instrument. We are dealing with fundamentals of our democratic system, and it would be wrong to change them by statutory instrument. If the review concludes that the closed-list system is the wrong system as it has produced all sorts of perverse results—and if that is what Parliament finally accepts, and I hope it is—there will be huge pressure on the Government to change. In any event, there will have to be a debate on the result of the review.
As I have taken five interventions in eight minutes, I should like to make some progress. I shall then take interventions from my hon. Friends.
The other place decided to push for a fully open system in place of a closed-list system, which we believed was the most appropriate way for voters in Great Britain to elect their Members of the European Parliament. Let me explain—particularly to Opposition Members—how an open-list system would work, as the results of an open-list system are not quite as they might anticipate.
Under such a system, the elector casts his vote for a particular candidate on a party's list, or for an independent candidate. He cannot cast his vote for the party's list as a whole. The votes received by each candidate on a party list are then added together to give the party total. That figure is used to determine how many seats the party has won using the method devised by our old and sadly departed friend Victor d'Hondt, the famous Belgian. That is already set out in the Bill, and is relatively straightforward.
The party candidates must then be ranked in the order of the number of votes they have each received, and the seats are allocated in that order. So if the party wins three seats in a region, the seats are allocated to the three party candidates who won the most votes.
On the face of it, it seems a simple and fair system. However, as I explained previously—and with the approbation of the House—it has some perverse results and some major drawbacks. The first is that, under the open-list system, the candidate with the most votes is not necessarily elected. To the Conservative party, which believes so strongly in the first-past-the-post system for every election, that would be an overwhelming objection.
Let me explain how distortion and perverse results can occur. Under the open-list system, a party's total vote is the sum of the votes cast for its individual candidates. It may well happen that the total vote of one party—as I wish to be neutral, we shall call it party A—is high, but that that is due almost exclusively to the popularity of the first candidate on its list. Another party—party B—may have a smaller total vote, but that vote may be more evenly spread among all the candidates on its list. Each party B candidate could poll more votes than all but one of the candidates on party A's list, but party A would win more seats. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) is looking confused.
I know exactly why the hon. Lady is astonished. Therefore, the second most popular candidate on party A's list will win a seat, even though he or she polled fewer votes than all the candidates on party B's list who are then not elected.
Does my right hon. Friend anticipate that we are likely to gain anything new from the review that we do not know already? Under the closed system, we will centralise power, and a few party hacks will determine who becomes a Member of the European Parliament. For us in the Labour party, that makes a bad situation even worse, as we all know that the people at the top of the list for the European elections have been decided not by one person, one vote, but once again by a panel of about a dozen people.
I do not accept what my hon. Friend says about the system of selection that we have used for establishing the lists. Conceptually, there is no difference between the closed-list system for multi-vacancy constituencies in the European elections and the system under which my hon. Friend and all Labour Members were selected. We are on party lists of one in our constituencies.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) is shaking his head, but he is wrong. There is no reason at all why, if we chose to do so, we could not have single-member constituencies, but open lists in which each party put forward two or three candidates and left it to the elector to choose. That would be the logical position for the Conservative party, but it is not what happens. If people want to vote Labour in Blackburn, they have only one choice. They have to put a cross against my name. Like it or not, in Blackburn Labour is Straw. In Blaenau Gwent, Labour is Llew Smith. They are closed lists. We have all accepted it for Westminster, and there is no difference of principle in respect of the European Parliament.
The Home Secretary is inviting the House and the country simply to vote for a party. He is not giving people the opportunity to vote for a candidate. As recent experience has shown—with Labour candidates such as Gordon Walker—if the public do not like a particular candidate, even though he has the Labour label, they reject him. That is the point.
"What about Tatton?" he says, sotto voce, as well he might. That makes my point. There was a party list of one person. The right hon. Gentleman may not have noticed that the Conservative candidate for Tatton was rejected not just because he was Neil Hamilton, but because he was the Conservative candidate.
That clearly proves the point, because the other parties in Tatton withdrew to avoid the dilemma of people who wanted to vote for their party, but did not want to vote for their chosen candidate. Is not the defect in the Lords amendment, which the Conservatives are supporting, that it would not allow people to vote for a party if they chose to do so, as so many do? The Belgian system, which the Conservatives failed to support, would have allowed that option.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. I noticed that the language of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield suggested that voters should have an opportunity to vote either for a candidate or for a party. He said that they should have that choice. The open-list system does not give that choice, but requires voters to choose between anything up to 11 candidates on a list.
My right hon. Friend rightly points out that all systems have anomalies. Under first past the post, it is possible for a losing candidate to get more votes than another candidate who wins. I welcome my right hon. Friend's review, because reviews are splendid things, but I do not understand how it is possible to review a principle. It is possible to review a procedure to see whether it is working well, but it is not possible to review a principle. Either one believes in voter choice or one believes in—
With great respect to my hon. Friend, it is perfectly possible to review the operation of the closed-list system, as I hope Parliament will accept, and to review it in the widest possible terms, as I responded to the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). I do not follow my hon. Friend's other point. The one truth about first past the post is that, in any constituency, the candidate who wins the most votes wins the seat. He may not have won a majority of the votes, but he has to have won more votes than any other candidate. It is a very simple system.
If I am able to make progress, I hope to give way to the hon. Gentleman later.
I was explaining that the open-list system could have the perverse result that a candidate could be elected with fewer votes than one who is not elected. That apparent inconsistency between the wishes of the electorate and the result would be difficult to explain to voters. It could also cause problems to a candidate elected with considerably fewer votes than a rival from another party. Would any of us like to be in that situation, going to the European Parliament having received 10,000 or 20,000 fewer votes than someone who was not elected? That winning candidate may have difficulty establishing themselves as a credible representative of the electorate.
There are other important drawbacks to the so-called open system. Already, very few people know who their Member of the European Parliament is or have any contact with them.
Please allow me to make progress. I always do my best to give way to hon. Members from both sides, but if I give way all the time, it eats into the time available to other hon. Members to speak.
I am not criticising the current MEPs, many of whom, from all parties, work very hard. However, there are only 84 MEPs for the whole of Great Britain, and the European Parliament's functions are not such as to permit the traditional constituency representation role performed by Members of Parliament and some leading councillors.
With the new, large electoral regions, that will continue to be the case. Many—indeed, most—electors will have no knowledge of any of the candidates standing in their region. The names of the candidates on the Conservative party regional list may well mean nothing to a Conservative supporter. Under an open-list system, he would be obliged to make a choice from among those candidates. He could not simply cast his vote for the Conservative party, as he would probably prefer.
We know from nearly 20 years' experience of European Parliament elections that, given the nature of the institution, the size of even the existing constituencies and the nature of the functions, only a handful of MEPs have more than a small chance of gaining sufficient publicity to be as well known as each of us in our constituency and beyond.
I have the internal Conservative party leaflet about the London region Conservative European Parliament team. The party sets out clearly on the front that it disagrees with the proportional representation system and is just trying to operate it if it goes ahead. The only candidates on the list who are reasonably known are two former Members of Parliament—John Bowis and Ian Twinn—who were well known in their constituencies. However, the idea that they could become well known across Greater London is unrealistic—and they are not even at the top of the Conservative party list.
Not knowing any of the candidates, a voter is forced to make an arbitrary decision. It is highly likely that they will choose the simple option, and vote for the first candidate on the list. However, there is evidence that, if the first candidate is a woman—as is the case on the Conservative list in London—or the candidate's name identifies them as coming from one of the ethnic minorities, the elector will head for a male candidate or one with a traditional British-sounding name elsewhere on the list.
There is also a danger that an elector who knows that they will be forced to make a decision between candidates of the same party but feels unqualified to do so, may choose not to vote. Unfortunately, the turnout for European Parliament elections in this country is already low. We do not want it to fall any further.
That is why the Government consider the closed-list system to be the most appropriate for the elections. The elector casts a vote for a party list as a whole, or for an independent candidate. There is every scope for independents to stand. There is no option of voting for an individual candidate on a party list instead.
I have a rather non-British name, but I was also elected. One of the problems with the closed-list system as operated by the Labour party is that the order of the candidates is determined by the party machine. This is where most of the objections in the Lords came from. The candidate will feel responsible to the party machine rather than to the electorate. At least John Bowis, Ian Twinn and all other Conservative candidates were selected and put in order by party members at an open election.
The hon. Gentleman is objecting to the internal processes of another party. Our party is run democratically. The Conservative party is now moving towards that happy state. I understand some of the concerns, but it is a parody of the system that we have used to suggest that selection was carried out simply by the central party apparatus. [Interruption.] Let us be clear that, in transferring to the proposed system of parliamentary elections, we were generously—almost certainly—handing out seats to the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. [Interruption.] It is true.
We had to manage that change, which resulted in very many fewer Members of the European Parliament than would otherwise be so, simply as a result of the elections.
I should like to make progress.
Opponents of the closed-list argue that being unable to vote for an individual candidate is somehow undemocratic or, dare I say, un-British. I profoundly disagree. Political parties are a vital and necessary part of our modern democratic process. Voting on party lines is not an alien concept to the electorate of today. As I have already said, each of us in the House stands on closed party lists of one.
It does not lie in the mouths of Conservative Members to suggest that we have an open list—we do not. If they wanted an open list for the Westminster Parliament, they should propose changes in our voting system so that two or three candidates stand for each of the parties, and the voter selects one. That is an open list. In Westminster, we have a closed list, and what we are proposing for the European Parliament is also a closed list.
I want to make progress; this is a relatively short debate.
Under a closed-list system, there is no prospect of an anomalous result. Nothing is hidden from the voter. When voters cast their vote for the party of their choice, they can see the order in which that party's candidates will win seats, and vote with that knowledge. If voters dislike the first candidate on the party's favoured list, they are in exactly the same position as under the first-past-the-post system. Voters can choose not to vote for that party, or grit their teeth and put the party first despite its poor taste in candidates.
The closed-list system has the great benefit of simplicity. That is an important consideration, which we should not ignore. [Interruption.] On Thursday, Conservative Members complained about the Jenkins proposals on the basis that they were complicated. That was one of their many objections. Yet the system that they are proposing in this debate is gratuitously complicated, and will produce even more perverse results than some systems of proportional representation.
I remind hon. Members of what Professor Patrick Dunleavy and Dr. Simon Hix of the LSE, and Dr. Helen Margetts of Birkbeck college, said in their publication "Counting on Europe":
Open list ballot papers are more complicated. The ballot paper will be much longer because all the candidates will have to be listed with tick boxes. People may feel obliged to look over all the names. a lengthy business in the South East region where with 11 seats there could be 40 or more candidates … some people such as the elderly, those who have difficulty reading, first time voters, and people who are just attached to the existing way of doing things may dislike the ballot paper or find it confusing …
A major study of voting systems carried out just after the 1997 general election provided good survey evidence that British voters do not like complicated ballot papers with multiple names and tick boxes and strongly prefer simple short ballot papers.
Will the right hon. Gentleman take it as a compliment if I suggest that all that he has said in the past half an hour is an excellent argument for sticking to first-past-the-post elections?
No, I do not take that as a compliment, much as I admire the hon. Lady. I set out my position on Second Reading on 25 November—almost a year ago; it has been consistently consistent. I made it very clear that the system of voting should be appropriate to the institution that is being elected. Nobody can seriously argue that acting as if the very large European Parliament constituencies were Westminster constituencies is satisfactory.
Some of us are opposed to lists whether they are closed or open. Some of us are opposed to closed lists because of problems of bureaucracy and who controls them, and open lists because members of the same party fight each other for a seat. That is not an argument against proportional representation, because different PR systems can function. I know where I stand on the Lords amendments: I will abstain in the vote, as I did previously. The Government's amendment in lieu proposes a review. I need to know how I stand on that. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that Lord Jenkins will not be in charge of the review?
Lord Jenkins is far too busy to do it. I cannot absolutely guarantee that, but I think that the possibility is remote. I shall quote Lord Jenkins later.
I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to take into account another consideration before they vote. The Conservative party needs to think about this very carefully. We have been debating this issue for getting on for a year, during which all parties have undergone a selection process and have chosen the candidates for their lists. If Parliament were to reject the Bill, the consequences for the electoral system would be very severe.
Although I acknowledge that the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) did not agree with the principle of the Bill when he spoke on 27 October, he said the following sage words, which Conservative Members ought to heed:
parties have already chosen their candidates. We are coming to the end of the Session and to implement change at this stage would cause chaos and difficulty."—[Official Report, 27 October 1998; Vol. 318, c. 192.]
No; I wish to proceed. I know that the right hon. Gentleman wants me to consider very carefully some words in the Jenkins report.
One thing has changed since we discussed this issue at the end of October: the report of the Jenkins commission has been published. We discussed it at some length on Thursday, and I do not want to go over that ground again. I shall just deal with one point, which was raised in the other place, about what the Jenkins report said about open and closed lists. The Jenkins commission was concerned purely and exclusively with elections to this House. We are discussing elections to the European Parliament—a body very different in composition and scope from the other place. As I said a moment ago, the electoral system for the European Parliament—and many other institutions—ought to be appropriate to that institution.
The people of the United Kingdom have always enjoyed close links with their Members of Parliament, and that would remain if the system recommended by the Jenkins commission were adopted—whatever views people take about its merit. By contrast, only 84 MEPs are elected from 11 regions for the whole of Britain. In such circumstances, voters will not be in a position to have detailed knowledge of the candidates or to make informed choices between them.
Lord Jenkins dealt, in his customary elegant prose, with what would happen if we ended up pretending to give voters choice but did not give them information. He says:
Where that choice offered resembles a caricature of an overzealous American breakfast waiter going on posing an indefinite number of unwanted options",
becomes both an exasperation and an incitement to the giving of random answers".
It is fine prose, and accurate, too. The report continues:
In voting rather than breakfast terms, exasperation may discourage going to the polls at all and randomness lead to the casting of perverse or at least meaningless votes. Some people may want to be able to choose between candidates of the same party, but many are interested only in voting for parties, and would not appreciate being forced into choosing between candidates of the same party about each of whom they know little".
The Lords amendments would force electors to vote for candidates of a party about whom they know little, or, on occasions, next to nothing.
I refer the Home Secretary to the point that he made in passing, alleging that there would be chaos if we, as a result of the parliamentary process, had to revert to the first-past-the-post system. I remind him that, exactly 20 years ago, all parties were faced in the first European elections with the task of selecting candidates for an election that was exactly the same length of time away. They were all able to do so—even to the extent that my party had the extraordinary good sense to select me for a European constituency. The electorate showed even greater good sense by electing me.
I rest my case. If ever there was an argument against that system, that is it.
In the other place, there was some suggestion that the Jenkins report recommended an open-list system, and therefore—oddly, given the position that they have taken on the report—the Opposition prayed Jenkins in aid. However, Jenkins did not recommend an open-list system for the top-up Members, nor did it recommend the Belgian semi-open list. Instead, it recommended its own variation of the Belgian system.
The report's solution was, it must be said, somewhat complicated. Voters would be able to vote either for the list as a whole or for individual candidates on the list, as in the Belgian system. Although the list votes would help to determine which party or parties got the additional seats, only the votes cast for individual candidates on the list would determine which candidates were actually elected.
No; I have already given way, and I want to get to the end of my speech.
No electoral system is perfect. All we can do is to attempt to match the most appropriate electoral system with the body that it is being used to elect. In the closed-list system, we believe that we have found the best match. It is no coincidence that it is the system that voters in Germany, France, Spain, Greece and Portugal use to elect their Members of the European Parliament. Of course, that is not a reason in itself for adopting the closed-list system, but it shows that we are not embarking on some astonishing constitutional innovation. Our proposal is not the great leap in the dark that has been portrayed.
The Home Secretary has made a distinction between the way in which the closed list operates as between the parties and the electorate, and the way in which any list, closed or open, is used in terms of the internal party processes to select Conservative or Labour candidates. Will he explain one thing to me, in my ignorance?
Is there not one way in which the internal processes of, let us say, the Labour party intersect with the measure before us, in that the one advantage of an open-list system is that it prevents a party from slipping a Mickey Finn into the cocktail? Does it not thus prevent a party from putting a person who for some reason would not be popular with the electorate, high up the list, so that the voters can do nothing about it?
I do not accept my hon. Friend's reasoning, but to pick up his metaphor, plenty of Mickey Finns have been elected from time to time on both sides of the House—people who are not especially acceptable to the electorate, but who have been put into safe seats, sometimes by their party machines. The electorate have closed their eyes, voted for those people as candidates on the closed list of a party, and they have been elected. I do not suggest that my hon. Friend was elected through that system, but I remind him again that he was selected, and appeared on a closed list of one. The principle at stake here is no different from that according to which he and I—and every other Member of the House—was elected.
I ask Opposition Members to bear my final point particularly in mind. They claim that the closed-list system is anathema to the British constitution, has never been used before and breaches some fine democratic principle—a principle so important that it makes it acceptable for hereditary peers to override the will of the elected House of Commons.
What the Opposition, in their high-blown phraseology, forget is that they were the first party to use the closed-list system in the United Kingdom. That may come as a matter of some astonishment to them, but they voted for it; they introduced it. Of course, that was in Ireland, so perhaps they think that it does not count. However, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.
Oh, it had a particular problem, did it? So the system was okay for Ireland, was it? I think that I shall take that as an admission. Now we have an admission that the closed-list system was all right for Ireland because there was a particular problem, and it needed an election using what the Conservatives said was a fair system.
Indeed, the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), did not say that Ireland needed the closed-list system because it had a particular problem. Speaking of the identical system, including d'Hondt, to that which is now before the House, the right hon. Gentleman said:
I believe that this is a fair and balanced system that will produce a representative outcome".—[Official Report, 21 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 498.]
The Home Secretary sat down very quickly then—and rightly so. What he said at the end of his speech was one of the cheaper points that he has made. The example that he used was drawn from an election for the deliberative forum on Northern Ireland, in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the former Prime Minister. I should point out that, on the same occasion, my right hon. Friend, replying to a point made by the then Leader of the Opposition, said:
I agree with his view that the electoral solution is not ideal".
He went on to say:
I have to say that there is no precedent that I know for the circumstances and complexities that exist in Northern Ireland. If I had been able to find an easier compromise more familiar to people
across Northern Ireland, I assure the House that I would have found and advanced such a compromise."—[Official Report, 21 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 500-02.]
The Home Secretary's example was a cheap debating point that does not match up to the seriousness of the issue before us. The right hon. Gentleman has had difficulty with the subject, and he has convinced neither the Opposition nor, in my judgment, his own side of the House. We certainly shall not accept the proposal for review, in spite of what was said by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), because it does nothing to answer the case against the closed list in principle.
The right hon. Gentleman's case seems to be that choice is far too difficult for the public, so he will make the decision for us. It is not so much a matter of "trust the people" as of "trust the party". That goes totally against what most Members on both sides of the House believe. The Home Secretary was more at home when he was having a bash at the House of Lords than when he was defending his own proposals.
The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) was correct: there is one simple clear issue in the debate—the difference between a closed list, whereby the public vote for a party and not a candidate, and the open list, whereby the public can choose a named candidate to represent them. If that is the only choice that we have in the debate—and it is—I have no hesitation in opting for the open list.
I make it clear that the Opposition do not support proportional representation or the regional list. We prefer and would support the first-past-the-post system. That is what we have argued for and, judging by my own experience of the time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who was then my local Member of the European Parliament, represented that area of the west midlands exceptionally well, it works in the European context.
The Government, with their overwhelming majority, have forced through their proposition none the less. The House of Lords has not challenged that basis for the election. As we are to have proportional representation and a regional list, the only issue at stake is how the public will elect their Members of the European Parliament.
The Government say that the party should choose Members of the European Parliament who will represent the public, and that the public's right to choose will be confined to voting for a party. They can vote Labour or Conservative or Liberal Democrat, and the party will provide the list of candidates in the order of ranking—
Yes; the public can vote for other parties too. I do not wish to offend anybody. The point is that the Government want the party to decide the list of candidates and the order of ranking.
The Home Secretary criticises the House of Lords and the role of the second Chamber, but he avoids the real criticism: the fundamental argument against his proposed system is that it is anti-democratic. It leaves the final decision in the hands of a party.
Even if a party does what the Conservative party has done and holds a one member, one vote selection conference, or does what the Liberal Democrats have done and holds postal votes, the decision remains with the party. There is no escape from that—the party decides who will be elected. Thus we will have the kind of position to which I referred when we last debated the issue.
To return to the subject of the west midlands, I wish to refer to the case of Christine Oddy. Miss Oddy is a sitting Labour Member of the European Parliament, representing Coventry and Warwickshire North. In the selection process, she was defeated by a former "EastEnders" actor, whose main claim—according to Labour's press office—was that he had been in a show at the Birmingham rep earlier that year. Not surprisingly, Miss Oddy was irritated—I put it no higher than that—at the selection. Her case was set out in the Birmingham Post on 24 September under the headline "My Anger at Labour Betrayal."
Miss Oddy modestly claimed on radio this week that she was better known than Edwina Currie. I am tempted to respond, "Particularly in her own family." However, let us accept her claim, which goes to the heart of what we are debating tonight. Under the system proposed by the Government, her knowledge of the west midlands and her reputation do not matter a jot. She could be better known than Margaret Thatcher and Barbara Castle put together and it still would not matter, because the party has put her seventh in a list of eight candidates. No one—least of all the Labour party in the west midlands—expects to win seven seats in the European elections.
I am not likely to vote for Miss Oddy and, frankly, the Home Secretary—had he a vote—would not be likely to vote for her either. The point is, however, that she has been deprived of standing as a named candidate on her record, and the public have been deprived of judging that record and expressing their choice.
Is there not something slightly "Oddy" about the right hon. Gentleman's argument? Last week, we listened to his colleagues, to a man and woman, arguing for a closed list of one and against voter choice. Now we are hearing exactly the contrary arguments. Are we witnessing a conversion, or simply a contradiction?
The hon. Gentleman may have heard that we would prefer the first-past-the-post system, but, lest he did not, I will underline that again for him. I thought that I had made that clear, as had a number of my hon. Friends. In this case, however, first past the post is not a choice that we have: the choice that the Government propose is not first past the post but a system of PR. The issue—and the hon. Gentleman may have been the first to say this—is whether we have a closed or an open list.
Let us be frank. There are very few people outside of the Government Front Bench who support the proposed system. The last time we debated it there were about two dozen Labour Members here, and there were about two dozen arguments against the proposal. No serious figure on the Labour Back Benches has come forward so far in favour of the Home Secretary's proposals. The reason is simple: the system transfers power to the party bosses—we all know that—and to the centre. The system takes power away from the people.
Frankly, it is an extraordinary system for the Labour party, and a Labour Government, to propose. That is why the leader in today's edition of The Times, under the headline "An open and shut case", said that closed lists are bad for democracy. It went on:
Mr Straw's patronising approach puts backroom machinations of party politics above the will of the electorate.
It called on the Home Secretary to think again—not that he showed much inclination to do that.
We all know that the Home Secretary does not believe in the system either. That is why he so is thankful to move from defending the closed list to attacking the House of Lords whenever he has the opportunity. Even that will not work, however. Among those who have voted against the Government in the upper House are well-known "Tories" such as Lord Shore of Stepney, Lord Stoddart of Swindon and Baroness Jeger.
Perhaps the most significant contribution to the debate in the House of Lords on 4 November came from another former Labour Member of Parliament who abstained from voting but demolished the case for the Government's proposals. Actually, I think that Lord Callaghan also deliberately abstained. The Labour peer to whom I am referring was Lord Evans of Parkside, a Member of this House for almost 24 years. He said that he had known the Home Secretary for many years and had worked with him closely. He had served for three years on the national executive of the Labour party. He even said that he had the greatest respect for the Home Secretary and for the pamphlets that he had written.
Lord Evans added, however, that he was sure that the Home Secretary would not be too upset if he said that the Home Secretary's speech on 27 October in the House of Commons was
not one of his most profound."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 November 1998; Vol. 594, c. 281.]
Lord Evans always did understate his case. He added—most significantly—that every Labour Member of Parliament who had spoken to him on the subject had made it clear that they were opposed not only to the closed list, but to the Labour party's method of selecting the candidates.
The only people consistently to have supported the Home Secretary's plans are, of all people, the Liberal Democrats. The irony of that is that they say they believe in the open-list system. They have argued for it, but when it has come to a vote they have consistently voted against it—the kind of politics that the Liberal Democrats have made distinctively their own in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman has forgotten that, in Committee, we proposed an open-list system—the Belgian system—but that he and his colleagues did not support it. Can he explain why that happened, and why he is now supporting a system that does not even allow the ballot paper to show the order in which the parties choose to rank their candidates?
The Government rebuffed the right hon. Gentleman, as he well knows. In debates since then on the open list, the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have consistently voted with the Government—although, in fact, they are still arguing in favour of the open list. That is what I find so odd about the Liberal Democrats' position.
Oh. It is "realistic politics." My advice to the Liberal Democrats is to get off their knees and vote for what they think is right. They might get further and they would certainly win more respect.
I am not impressed by the Home Secretary's views, or by his attack on the House of Lords—which I gather he also carried out on lunchtime radio. In my view, the House of Lords has done a substantial public service. The Government's proposed closed-list system has few friends and, frankly, the House of Lords is right to challenge it.
Personally, I would advise the Home Secretary to be cautious in his argument about hereditary peers as compared with life peers. I notice that one of the life peers faithfully voting for the measure was his friend Lord Warner, who was a special adviser to the Home Secretary. It is not instantly evident why putting placemen in the Lords is a better way of arranging this country's affairs, nor do I think that simply turning the House of Lords into a giant quango is a change that many people will respect. I promise the Home Secretary that we will come back to that subject.
It is not just the House of Lords which backs the open list against a closed list. The Electoral Reform Society has said that a closed-list system is
bad for voters, bad for candidates and bad for democracy.
Charter 88 says that
we believe that voters should be able to choose between candidates of the same party.
Lord Jenkins—a marvellous man, whom both sides can quote to their advantage in the same debate—said that it would be an argument against any new system if
any candidate, by gaining party machine endorsement for being at the head of a list, were to achieve a position of effective immunity from the preference of the electorate.
That seems to be a powerful case, and obviously the view of Lord Jenkins—the Prime Minister's adviser—will count heavily with Labour Members, given the affection in which Lord Jenkins is obviously held by them.
I do not believe that any sensible, objective observer believes that the Home Secretary has made his case. The more the public understand what is being proposed, the more the opposition to the Home Secretary's proposal is likely to grow. We do not support the Government amendment, which is not intended as a serious response to the vote in the other place and answers none of the points raised there, or indeed, here.
The amendment makes no sense even in its own terms. The Government promise a review of the workings of the closed list, but only after the election has taken place. That cannot be a sensible answer to the arguments, and it does not remotely satisfy the concern that the measure is anti-democratic and would deprive the public of a choice that should be theirs.
We do not want a review of a voting system that is obviously flawed. We want the Government to drop their opposition and to concede that an open-list system is a better way to conduct the European elections. That is what the public want and what the House should vote for.
I am not in favour of the closed-list system, I have never voted for it and I do not intend to do so tonight. However, in a contest between the two Houses it would be inconsistent for me to argue that the views of the House of Lords should prevail over those of the Commons. Although I will not be in the Lobby tonight, I believe that where there is such a contest it is right and proper for the elected Chamber to have its way. It would be inconsistent with all that I have said about the other place for me to argue differently.
Nevertheless, I am not persuaded that the closed-list system is desirable or democratic. In fact, it is heavy in democratic deficit. I listened carefully to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which was persuasive. If a good case could be made for the system, he undoubtedly made it, but I do not accept the premise of his argument in the first place. Lord Evans has been quoted in this debate and, like him, I have great admiration for the Home Secretary. I do not say that so as to stand a reasonable chance of getting to a higher place should there ever be a ranking system for election to Westminster. I have a genuine admiration for my right hon. Friend and I hope that I will not make him blush when I say that he is one of the best Home Secretaries that we have had in the post-war period. However, that does not mean that he is always right and I believe that he happens to be wrong today.
The ranking system is undesirable, despite all that my right hon. Friend has said. There is a difference between the way in which we are selected as parliamentary candidates for the Labour party and the way in which the system would operate for the coming European elections. We have been selected by the local party membership, with no intervention—as far as I know—by party headquarters or the regional office, and in my case that is just as well. The closed-list system, which would rank people first, second, third or fourth, is different. The choice may be made democratically and fairly and those deciding the ranking may well consider gender and ethnic minorities, which is desirable, but it is important not only that the system should be fair but that it should be seen to be fair.
Undoubtedly, there is a feeling in various regions that people have been placed at a disadvantage—they have been placed well down the ranking system not because they have done a bad job as Labour Members of the European Parliament but because their views have been unorthodox. One case has been cited. It has been said that that person has been ranked low because, about two years ago, she committed the cardinal sin of signing a newspaper advertisement that stated that the old clause 4 of the Labour party constitution should be retained. Some people may criticise her for that, but my own view is that it is not an offence for which she should go before the international war crimes tribunal.
If that MEP has been criticised for placing such an advertisement and has therefore been ranked low—that may not be the reason—so that her chances of being re-elected are that much smaller, I wonder about my own position. I not only may have signed an advertisement about that clause: I argued for it—and I think I won the day—at the 1994 party conference. [Interruption.] I do not know what the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) is muttering, but it may not be complimentary.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that an open-list system has all sorts of disadvantages. It will come as no surprise to those who know my views that I am not in favour of proportional representation. If the closed-list system is an example of PR, let us hope that we never have it for elections to Westminster. For one reason or another, a commitment to proportional representation was in our manifesto. If we are to have PR, with all its disadvantages, we should nevertheless have an open system. If the Government are saying that that is not possible and that there is no point in pursuing that line of thought, what is the purpose of the review? Admittedly, it is to be held after the European elections next year, but surely it is intended to reconsider the matter and, if there is no purpose in that, there is no point in having a review.
During our last debate on the Bill, I said that this is an on-going controversy. It will not go away. The system will come into operation—unless the Lords decide that they will not accept the Government's proposal. If they do not accept it, we will be in a totally different situation. We are all aware of the Parliament Act, the 12 months' delay and all the rest, but as I said the views of the elected Chamber should prevail.
I hesitate to speak for my hon. Friends, but it is doubtful—I shall put it no higher than that—that a majority of the parliamentary Labour party is in favour of the closed-list system. The Liberal Democrats are in favour and in the other place Lord Evans said that they were happy to go along with the proposal because they will have PR.
Hon. Members will be interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that a majority of the Labour party are not in favour of the closed list. It follows that there is not a majority in the House in favour of the proposal. If that is the case, why is the hon. Gentleman unhappy about the other place insisting on its view?
If the Government get a majority tonight, which they undoubtedly will, whatever the private views of the majority of my colleagues, that is how the House operates. That was true for the poll tax. The majority of Tory Members may well not have been in favour of that tax, but the Government had their way. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) voted for the tax when he was a member of that Government.
In conclusion, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will bear these words in mind, the Labour party has a long tradition of favouring every form of democracy, not least internal democracy. I do not want to antagonise Conservative Members since they have probably agreed with me, but the Conservative party did not even get around to electing its leader until 1965, following an election defeat. We have elected people to national and local party posts from the very beginning. Whatever blemishes the Labour party has and whatever criticisms could be made against it, it is a democratic party and it saddens me that we do not have tonight the most powerful case on this issue. Although the European elections will almost certainly go ahead under the closed-list system, I must tell my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that I hope that his review will be no charade. It must not be a means of saying that as there is a row, we must satisfy the other House.
Many of us are deeply uneasy about a system that gives too much authority to people in a party who have not necessarily been elected. It gives too much authority to people who will be able to decide whether or not a particular candidate's views are orthodox. That is not democratic, and it is therefore impossible for me to support the Government in the Division Lobby tonight.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) has made us a seductive offer in asking us to join the Conservatives in sustaining the amendments proposed by their hereditary peers. We confess openly that we are caught between a rock and a hard place. We have stated our support for the single transferable vote system used in Northern Ireland, which is the best possible form of proportional representation. During the early stages of the Bill, we also argued for an open-list system along the lines of the Belgian model, and that led to a vote in June, to which I am sure Conservative Members will refer, and which was lost in the other place by 15 votes as it did not have the support of the same Conservative peers who turned out to support the amendment that we are discussing now.
There are three paths before us. First, we could proceed with the closed-list system and the review, as the Government suggest. Secondly, we could reach agreement on the open-list system proposed by the Conservatives, with all the problems that that would entail. Thirdly, we could fail to resolve the dispute so that the Bill runs into the buffers at the end of the Session. I am pleased that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has come out as an overt and unashamed first-past-the-poster, because the debate should be seen in the light of that fact. We believe that every Conservative Member, and most Conservative peers, would prefer the third option—the buffers—rather than the other two more desirable options. We could then return to a closed-list system of one, as the Home Secretary elegantly described the first-past-the-post system. As the debate has proceeded, more and more light has come from the Home Secretary, and more understanding of our criticisms over many years of the current system.
The open-list system proposed by the Conservatives suffers several problems. It has a certain arbitrariness, particularly if it means that people are simply listed alphabetically, which would give highly random results. As my name begins with A, I should be all right, but I might find that aspiring young politicians were changing their name to Mr. or Ms Aardvark. The alphabetical soup of selection that might result is a substantial problem.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has pointed out the further problem that it would theoretically be possible under the Conservative system for someone to be elected without any votes at all. If a single popular candidate received all the votes for his party, but that party received a substantial chunk of the total vote, some of the candidate's votes would be distributed to other candidates who had received no votes. The Belgian system seems preferable to that Finnish system with all its vagaries.
It is increasingly common to hear phrases such as "d'Hondt divisor" or "Sainte-Lague divisor" tripping from the tongues of Conservative Members. However, their background in proposing constitutional reform is not strong. The proposed closed-list system meets one—but only one—of our two objectives, which is that it would secure fairer representation so that every voter in the United Kingdom would have a vote that counted. Our second objective, however, is an increase in voter choice, and the closed-list system fails to take us closer to achieving that. All that can be said is that the proposals do not take us back to the closed-list system of one that exists under the first-past-the-post system, which is, in principle, equivalent to the system that would operate under the proposed closed-list system.
Hon. Members have asked what happens to people at the bottom of party lists. Under current procedures for choosing candidates for Westminster constituencies, those who come second or third in selection battles are denied any ability to put themselves forward to the voters. The arguments of the Conservatives have not seduced us into voting with the Tories tonight. Two parties stood for election on 1 May 1997 on the clear platform of pressing for fairer votes in the European elections. Those two parties secured about 60 per cent. of the vote, and that is a significant mandate. We feel anger and resentment at seeing the single party that tried to resist change at the general election continue to propagate its resistance through hereditary peers who have never stood for election.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for preventing me from entering a debate into which I did not want to go and which would not be germane to the subject in hand.
Sixty per cent. of the electorate voted in favour of fair votes for the European election. A much smaller proportion voted against. Several of the smaller parties, such as the nationalist parties, shared our platform. We have a clear mandate, and the other place goes against that mandate at its peril in seeking to advance retention of the first-past-the-post system.
I have listened with interest to Labour Members. I do not seek to intrude on private grief, except to say that much of the criticism of the closed-list system is not criticism of the system in principle but of the practice used by Labour in implementing it. The debate within the Labour party has saddened us. It does a disservice to PR in general when the public see Labour Members pulling each other apart over a system that the Liberal Democrats would not adopt. Our members would not have the closed-list system, and they would turf us out if we tried to introduce such a candidate selection process. Our party rightly demands one member, one-vote, and that is what happens in our selection process.
Labour's selection battles have done a disservice to the closed-list system. The system itself takes us no further back, but to accept it would be to miss an opportunity to extend voter choice. The Conservatives offer no such opportunity by introducing tonight's debate at such a late stage in the Bill's proceedings. The European elections will not give us all that we want. We would have liked to extend voter choice, and we shall press that point when we come to the review. However, we shall support the Government tonight to bring in the closed-list system now before we move on to argue our case at the review. Warm and welcoming though the offer was that we should join Conservative Members, we believe that they are clinging to an outmoded system that would deny UK electors the real worth of their votes next June. We do not support that system, and that is why we shall support the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) argued, with good grounds, that there is no majority in favour of the closed-list system in the parliamentary Labour party. Yet, he also argued that the Government would have a large majority tonight. I ask the House to think about that contradiction. If there is no majority in the Labour party, but the system is such that the Whips and the Patronage Secretary can dragoon Members through the Lobby—and I admit that I will be dragooned when the time comes—what legitimacy does the elected Chamber have in comparison with the unelected Chamber whose Members may, by and large, vote according to their own judgment on the right course of action for the country?
I understand what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying, although I would not entirely go along with it because I am often working in my room with the new television system on, so I listen to many of the debates without being seen in the Chamber that often. Under the present system and the way in which we organise the House of Commons, it is not necessarily always right to say that the elected Chamber is superior to the unelected Chamber and must prevail.
I, too, have the highest regard and great admiration for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He is often right, but on this occasion he is not. He has got it wrong. This policy was decided not by any vote within the parliamentary Labour party; it came down from on high, from the leadership, that there would be a closed list. Something may have been said about receiving opinion. It certainly received my opinion, but to no avail; we still have a closed list. There is no democratic system within the Labour party for deciding by discussion and a vote whether an issue such as this should go one way or the other.
I shall not be sidetracked. Clearly there are issues central to Government policy where the Government will have to say that if we want them to govern, we have to support them. But my contention is that this is not an issue where the Government have to pronounce what they want and how they intend to achieve it and then use the Whips to dragoon their side through the Lobbies. This would have been an excellent example of where we could have had options A, B and C and a free vote of the House. I do not see what difference that would have made to the Government. We could have had the Belgian system, the House of Lords' system and the Home Secretary's closed-list system, and we would have had a much fuller House. The House would have been packed if we had had three options. That was done in the previous Parliament and it could have been done in this Parliament. It would make the House a better place if we empowered Members on both sides to use their judgment rather than be dragooned through the Lobbies.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary put forward a few arguments. He said that the authority of the House must prevail over the other place, then 10 minutes later he said that the Government consider that the closed-list system is right. He cannot have it both ways. It is perfectly right to argue the case as a member of the Government. I would have been happier if he had done so, having at least obtained the vote within the parliamentary Labour party. That is what happens in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. In most Commonwealth countries such matters go to a particular caucus. I do not know what happens in the Conservative party, but they do not go to any caucus in this party. However, my right hon. Friend cannot claim in aid the authority of the House and his authority as a member of the Government.
My right hon. Friend talked about the closed-list system of one. I thought that I was elected by an open-list system of one. It could have been ordered in any particular way. It was a list of one and it was completely open. Is my right hon. Friend trying to pull the wool over our eyes? Have I been labouring under a delusion? I have always thought that it was an open list; if people did not want to vote for me, they did not have to. If I am wrong in that logic, perhaps my right hon. Friend or the Under-Secretary will intervene and put me right. At the moment, I do not think that they intend to do that.
The last bit of obfuscation that we had from my right hon. Friend was that open-list systems are complicated and the British people are too stupid to understand them and do not like them. We hear that from all those who have an unsound case and want to pull the wool over people's eyes. It is not true. There are systems whereby one can vote for a particular party on the top row, and then have the opportunity to order candidates if one so wishes.
I think that I could have lived with the closed-list system if my own party's procedures in selecting candidates had been open, above board and honest, but clearly they have failed to be so. For example, I took part in a vote, with many of my fellow members of the north Wales Labour party, for those whom we thought should be on the list for the Welsh constituency of five members. We voted for our sitting candidate, Mr. Wilson, by, I think, about 98 per cent., yet, at the last stage, after the matter went to Millbank tower, where heaven knows what happens, a candidate from across the border in England appears on our list in Wales in third position—[Interruption.] That is not a criticism; he could have been from Ethiopia. However, he came from outside the area; we in Wales had no knowledge that he was interested in being on the list in Wales; and he was not considered as one of those in contention for a place on the list by the Labour party members in north Wales. Yet there he is in third position and the candidate for whom 98 per cent. of Labour members in north Wales voted is in fourth position—an unlikely winning position for the Labour party in the elections.
That cannot be right. It is not open. There is no doubt about that. It is not democratic because 98 per cent. of Labour party members voted for somebody else. They did not vote for the candidate who was put in.
I fear that my party has sabotaged its argument for the closed-list system by the way in which it is selecting its candidates for the European elections. At the end of the day, if I have the choice, I am an open-list person.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with great interest. Would he demur from what the Home Secretary was saying earlier and agree that by far the most democratic selection of candidates in his area of Wales will have come from the Conservative party in Wales or any other region of the United Kingdom, where every member had an equal vote in the selection of those candidates? Does he agree that that is by far the most appropriate system?
I am reminded that my Conservative opponent joined the Labour party yesterday for other reasons to do with the Conservative party's inability to form an Opposition. I am sorry about that because it ought to form an Opposition on this. I do not wish to be rude, but simply putting one's head in the sand and saying that one is for first past the post or nothing is not the best way of opposing what I think is a sleight of hand on the part of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his Front-Bench team.
I agree that the system should be one member, one vote. If new Labour means anything, it means one member, one vote. But my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) will tell the House that it is difficult to get one member, one vote in the election for Labour candidate for the National Assembly for Wales. Somehow or other, the Labour party, or at least Millbank tower, seems to think that new Labour and one member, one vote is all very well for certain things, such as getting rid of clause 4, but when it comes to electing the Labour candidate for the National Assembly for Wales, it is not the best system and we must consider all sorts of other possibilities. The election that took place between my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West in the summer had, as one section of that electoral system—
Bear with me for 10 seconds, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I am talking about open and closed lists. That election had something called party units where members have two or three votes, which was not right.
At one end of the spectrum, open lists give electors as much access as possible so that they can distribute their votes between the candidates according to their individual judgment. At the other end, one member, one vote puts everybody on an equal basis, with no weighting between one set of electors and another. Unfortunately, the closed-list system allows fixers to get their way, which is the real reason why I oppose it. As there is no possibility of the Government not having their way this evening, I hope that they have listened to what I and other hon. Members have said and that, in the 24 hours or so that remain, they will do something to get this measure right.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), for this debate is not about proportional representation, despite what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) said, or about the House of peers, as the Home Secretary implied. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is doubtless embarrassed to propose a system that most of his party thoroughly dislike. This debate is about the Government's decision to enact a system of closed lists, which shows a contempt for democracy and elevates the self-centred interests of the party machine above the wishes of the people.
In so doing, the Government misunderstand their duty. The duty of any Government is to look after the interests of the United Kingdom—which means everyone in the United Kingdom—not to look after the interests of the Labour party. We have seen examples of that in Scotland and Wales; in the fact that the Neill committee report appears to be cherry picked; in the debate on the House of Lords; and in the elections for a London mayor and a European Parliament. As the hon. Member for Wrexham made absolutely clear, there are different rules and interpretations of the rules by the Labour Government. The choices that they make are in the interests not of the country but solely of the Labour party. That is wrong.
If Ministers think that I am unfair, I ask them to consider this proposition. If a person in receipt of the Labour Whip, who was elected on a Labour manifesto, decided to stand for London or Wales and was the preferred choice of the Labour supporters in London or Wales, would the Labour party allow him, whether he was the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) or the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), to stand in the Labour interest? [Interruption.]
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), appears to be leaving the Chamber. I doubt that a Minister will answer that question, but the answer is probably that the executive of the Labour party, not Labour supporters, will decide who the candidate is.
Nothing more clearly shows the Government's determination to govern in the interests of party advantage than the shuttlecock passage of the Bill. Labour Members should not blame hereditary Conservative peers. It is worth repeating the words of the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). Lord Shore of Stepney, a Privy Councillor and for many years a Member of this House—highly respected, extraordinarily able and very honest—said:
But the dangers of cronyism, patronage and corruption are obvious in a system which concentrates power in such an important area on so few people who are basically self-selected. These seem to me to be very powerful reasons why we should not have a list system at all and why we certainly should not have a closed list.
Lord Evans of Parkside said:
There is little doubt so far as the Labour party is concerned that Labour candidates who are successfully elected to the European Parliament under this system will regard their responsibilities, so far as their future careers are concerned, to lie in obeying the demands and requirements of the National Executive Committee and the leadership of the party."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 October 1998; Vol. 593, c. 742-44.]
I do not wish to detract from the hon. Gentleman's arguments, which are a fair criticism of the way in which the Labour party has operated over selection, but does he agree that the same criticisms could be levelled against the Westminster selection system if the national executive committee of the Labour party or any other party chose to impose candidates in the same way? The problem is not the principle of closed lists but the way in which the Labour party has operated that system. That is not a PR issue.
The way in which the Labour party will operate the closed-list system is utterly objectionable and extraordinarily undemocratic. Most Labour Members believe that as well; I only wish that they would show it in their votes. There are profound objections to the closed list per se, but the way in which the Labour party is operating it is the worst of all worlds.
Lord Stoddart, referring to the Lords amendments, said:
What the amendments seek to achieve is to give the electorate a voice in who is elected to the European Parliament".
It is clear and simple—it is called democracy. A Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Russell, said:
The basic point is that democracy involves the right to choose both what party and what person will represent us".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 October 1998; Vol. 593, c. 1323–28.]
Not one of those speakers in the other place was a Conservative, and only one—the Liberal Democrat—was a hereditary peer, yet their views are clear: they are against the closed list, particularly the way in which the Labour party intends to operate it.
It may be disappointing, but it is not surprising.
Organisations outside this place are interested in democracy as well, although they may not be keen on my party. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield has already quoted the Electoral Reform Society, which said of the closed-list system:
It is bad for voters, bad for candidates and bad for democracy.
Charter 88 said:
We believe that voters should be able to choose between candidates of the same party. We are especially concerned that voters are not given the impression that the new voting system is being introduced for party political benefit".
It went on to say:
We are concerned that if the government insist on the use of closed lists voters may be left with the impression that the voting system has been manipulated for party political aims".
If we continue with a closed-list system, voters would be right to believe that.
We must not leave out Lord Jenkins. I was interested to see how partial the Home Secretary's quotes were. I should like to give him one back, which supports the arguments that I have been making and that some of my hon. Friends will make.
Paragraph 138 of the Jenkins report states:
Under a reform system it is crucial that the voters' right to express their view of individual candidates should be at least maintained and preferably enhanced.
Jenkins goes on:
It would be a count against a new system if any candidate, by gaining party machine endorsement for being at the head of a list, were to achieve a position of effective immunity from the preference of the electorate. This is the essence of the case for open as opposed to closed lists".
I disagree with most of Lord Jenkins's report, but a phrase or two is rather good. That is one of them.
Lord Jenkins makes most elegantly the case against closed lists, which is simply that the person who is selected is selected by the party. Under the Labour operation of the closed list, the person who is selected is selected by the party machine. Therefore, that party clone will not be responsible to the electorate and will not have to take the will of the electorate into account; he will have only to keep the party bosses sweet.
We Conservative Members who believe that it should be our country first, our constituency second and our party last believe that a Government who operate so undemocratically and in a way that is so contemptuous of democracy should have any such proposal defeated. The Lords amendment should stand.
It is difficult to speak after the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). His honest description of what goes on in the Labour party was a most amazing insight into the true workings of the Government party and the way in which it seeks to control every aspect of the administration of its party affairs. A spillover of that into the way in which people are able to show their support for individual candidates is a serious matter for us all.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) of course touched his forelock to the Home Secretary, as is often the way of those on the Back Benches, and told us what a wonderful fellow he is, but his presentation bordered almost on megalomania at times. It was, "Ve vill haf vays of making you vote." The system seems to be, "You vill get no choice of candidate." That is far from being a reputable performance from the Home Secretary.
Even when there were many more Labour Members in the Chamber than at present, the Home Secretary was unable to get a single supporter from his own side. He had possibly one watery supporter, but most Labour Members are obviously strongly opposed. I applaud them for that, because we all know that that will not do their career prospects a great deal of good.
If we want to know what is really happening, we can pray in aid the situation in Wales, which has already been well described, and let us not forget London, where another candidate, who is apparently not looked on particularly favourably by the Labour Administration, is struggling to become a Labour candidate. Those difficulties are not present in the Conservative party. For that reason—although we deplore the proposed system—we are in favour of open lists.
Labour Members suggested that we were inconsistent because we favour a closed, one member voting arrangement for the parliamentary elections, but they destroyed their own argument. As they pointed out, the member who emerges as a candidate for the parliamentary election goes through a democratic primary—certainly in the Conservative party, where all members of an association choose from a variety of candidates. Any member of the public is welcome to join the Conservative party and take part in that process. For the Home Secretary to pray in aid that argument in an attempt to denigrate the principled position taken by Conservative Members is simply nonsense. It does not hold water, even with his own Back Benchers.
The Home Secretary went on—this was very disturbing—to complain bitterly that the public do not turn out to vote in European elections. In my view of democracy, people have the right to vote for "none of the above". If they regard an election as irrelevant to their life style, or as something that they deplore, absence from the voting booth is itself a public demonstration of their attitude to the institution that they are being asked to support.
I do not, as the Home Secretary seems to do, denigrate people's unwillingness to come out and vote. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman he had shown a little more courtesy, and shown less arrogance and a less patronising attitude, towards the voters of this country, but I do not need to touch my forelock to him, because he is not likely to affect my promotion chances. [HON. MEMBERS: "What chances?"] Indeed, I am a demonstration of the fact that this democratic party tolerates the dissident voice on certain matters. Here I am in the Chamber, strongly supporting the case that was made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler).
There is not much to add after the demonstration and the remarks from Labour Members, except to mention the Liberal Democrats and their love affair with Brussels. Brussels makes decent truffles, but I do not know what else it does, except deal in the most ludicrous political trifles. For the Liberal Democrats to pray them in aid tells us how much notice we need to take of that party.
I hope that the Home Secretary will think again, because he is showing contempt for the democratic process—not only to the electorate, but to those within his party and in the other place. For him to suggest that the life peers—large numbers of whom have recently been placed in the Lords under the patronage of the Prime Minister in a manner that would have made Lloyd George blush—are an alternative to the present system is a travesty.
The Government have created a chimera in the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, which they will come to regret. We are not considering a choice between the status quo and an alternative, but a choice between the closed and open-list systems. The problem is that both systems will alienate the electorate, and will have the effect of lowering the already low turnout for European elections. Both systems are less democratic than the present system.
The Home Secretary proudly came to the House tonight with the announcement that this time it would be all right to overrule the Lords amendments, because he intended to have a review. When I asked him on what criteria the review would be based, he would not answer me. Will it be a 30, 25 or 20 per cent. turnout? Will it be on the basis that the closed system will result in the election of more Labour MEPs than the open system? We do not know, because he has not told us. The closed system concentrates power in the hands of the Executive even more than the present system.
What will happen if a Labour MEP elected under the closed system dies or resigns? The electorate will not decide the alternative: someone else on the Labour list will be substituted. What is to prevent pressure from being put on a wayward Labour MEP who does not conform to Labour party policy to resign, so that someone else can be put in his place? What is to prevent the Labour party executive from downgrading people such as Christine Oddy, whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) mentioned, so that they are so far down the list that they will never be elected?
The closed-list system concentrates huge power in the hands of the Labour party executive. That cannot be democratic. The closed-list system is secretive: we do not know what is going on in the minds of the electorate.
The Home Secretary said that the public in large Euro-constituencies would be confused by ballot papers with a huge number of names. That is extremely patronising. The electorate will certainly be able to make a choice under an open system and to decide for themselves whom they want to elect.
The Home Secretary has obviously never seen a ballot paper in India. Ballot papers in India, where most of the populace cannot read and write, sometimes have 14 or 15 names. There are symbols for the candidates. The Indian people manage to vote, and they do so in large numbers. In the United States, the ballot papers have a long list of names. My hon. Friend is right to say that it shows great contempt for the electorate in this country to suggest that they cannot deal with large ballot papers.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the Labour party is contemptuous of the electorate, as it has been on the other constitutional changes that it has proposed. One day, the electorate will wake up and chuck out the Government for that very reason.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) has whistle-blown in no uncertain terms. He has clearly shown us how the Labour party will operate in its selection of candidates under a closed list. It is secretive and undemocratic. It is trying to prevent the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) from becoming the prime candidate in Wales, and it is trying to prevent candidates from being selected for the post of Lord Mayor and for the European Parliament. It is a control freak to the highest degree.
As for the Liberal Democrats, they have no principles whatever. In their desire to gain Cabinet seats, they are facing both ways, as they do time and again. Men of principle in the other House are prepared to say what they think and to vote the way they think. In this House, Liberal Democrats say one thing and vote differently.
We have expressed our firm view that we want fair votes for the European elections. We are working on the basis of that principle, but we take a pragmatic view of the fact that we have 46 Members of Parliament and we do not yet form the Government.
If the way in which Liberal Democrats vote is based on the fact that they have only 46 Members of Parliament, I invite them permanently to vote with the Opposition and they may see some worthwhile change. We do not know which way they will vote on any particular issue. I have no doubt that some of them will vote one way this evening, and some will vote a different way—we shall see.
The Government have not given us a real choice. Unfortunately, they do not intend to have a proper review of the election next June, so that they can decide whether the open or the closed-list system has worked or is likely to work, and if not, whether it would be desirable to go back to the first-past-the-post system. If they want to keep a genuinely open mind—
I shall give way to my neighbour in a minute. He should not get so excited.
The Labour party should keep a genuinely open mind on this matter. The Home Secretary has made it clear that any change to the system would require legislation, so it would require legislation to change from a closed to an open-list system or to change back to the first-past-the-post system. The matter would have to come back to the House and the other place for a change in the primary legislation. Why can the Minister and his hon. Friends not tell us this evening why there cannot be an open review of the operation of the system next June?
That is a question for the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the Under-Secretary, to answer later. I understood from what the Home Secretary said in opening the debate that the option of the first-past-the-post system was not to be considered under the review. If I have misunderstood the system, no doubt the Minister will either intervene now or, when he winds up, make the position entirely clear. The electorate deserve to know.
Is the Minister going to intervene? If not, we must assume that we do not have a full and open review, and that the first-past-the-post system will not be an option.
In short, what we are asked to decide on this evening is a pig in a poke. The electorate will have their say. I believe that next June's elections will be a thorough muddle, and I hope that one day my own party, when re-elected, will consider changing the system back.
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who eloquently presented some of the difficulties posed by the Government's proposals.
In a sense, the debate differs from our earlier debate on this House's disagreement with a Lords amendment. The Government are now proposing an amendment in lieu. Nevertheless, the motion strikes me as a transparent effort to cause their Lordships to change their minds about an important amendment that they have tabled, and I think that it has much more shadow than substance. Effectively, by virtue of the review, the Government are merely setting out to say to the Lords, "Give us an excuse to move from your resistance to the closed-list system."
As was made clear in the opening exchanges with the Home Secretary, the review itself could not give rise to a change in a subsequent electoral system, except by virtue of future primary legislation. The Home Secretary said, in response to an intervention, that, if there were a need for a review, it would arise from great public anxiety about the result.
The issue is this. Must we go through the process of an election through a closed-list system, with all the difficulties that will ensue when voters go into the polling booth and are presented with a ballot paper that gives them no opportunity to choose between candidates standing for a party? I confidently predict that there will be a great deal of public anxiety after that; but we have to have a review, and the prospect of taking on the burden of primary legislation, in order to make a change.
I know, and the Government know perfectly well in their heart of hearts, that the process of securing primary legislation is long and difficult, as the Bill amply demonstrates. They will not readily concede that, and—as I am sure Ministers, in their hearts, understand—they are not contemplating changing the electoral system after the European parliamentary elections next June; they are merely offering a device through which they can continue to send the proposals back to the Lords. This is not a realistic review. In truth, we are thrown back on arguments that have been rehearsed here previously, and have been amply argued in another place: the arguments for a closed list and for an open list.
When I read the debate that took place in the Lords last Wednesday, I see that their lordships did us the service of reading carefully the arguments presented in the House of Commons. Lord Shore explicitly said that he had looked carefully at what the Home Secretary had had to say before, to see whether there was a new argument that would justify his changing his mind. He did not find one then, and I submit that he will not find one when he comes to read this debate.
We should examine very carefully the Home Secretary's arguments in favour of the closed-list system. Even in our earlier debates, the right hon. Gentleman has got away with a few arguments that he should not have got away with. Let me take the first one, which I think is the most important. On that occasion, and on previous occasions, the Home Secretary has argued that a perverse result can arise from the open-list system—that it is possible for someone to be elected with fewer preferences than someone who is not elected. It is undeniably true that, statistically that can occur. However, two arguments wholly countermand the Home Secretary's argument. The first is this. In the open-list system, we can at least see what the preferences of voters are as between the individual candidates of a party.
Within a party. My hon. Friend rightly corrects me. In a closed-list system, we cannot see what the voters' preferences are between candidates within a party. Therefore, some highly perverse results may occur under a closed-list system: candidates may be elected who are deeply unpopular with the voters who support a given party. Indeed, the arguments that we have been hearing from hon. Members in previous debates suggest that that may be the case—what the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) referred to as the Mickey Finn slipped into the system is precisely that sort of person. However, it is important that we understand that the closed-list system, far from being without perverse results, simply hides the perverse result.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that he is right. He may want to elaborate exactly that point.
The second point is that the fact that, under an open-list system, a candidate with relatively few preferences might get elected, arises from the fact that another candidate on that same party's list attracts a large number of preferences. We are dealing with a proportional system. I am not here arguing the merits or otherwise of a proportional system, but it is a proportional system. The Home Secretary argues that most voters are guided by party rather than personality, as it were—that they vote for party first. Indeed, it will be true that, by some mechanism, under an open-list system, the parties will contrive to present perhaps well-known candidates, or candidates to whom they give the greater part of their publicity, and that there will be a candidate on that party's list who secures the greater number of preferences. It may be a much greater number than some other candidates on the rest of that party's list.
Out of the fact of proportionality, arises the fact that that party has to attract a certain number of seats. It may be that individual preferences within that party for that candidate are relatively few, but the fact that that party attracts a large number of votes gives the reason why it attracts that seat, so the result is not wholly perverse. The individual preferences for a less preferred candidate on a party's list would not necessarily lead voters to conclude that another candidate on another party's list is in fact preferred to someone who has relatively few preferences within the list of the party to which they subscribe.
I am sorry that that is a slightly elaborate argument, but I see that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) at least understands my point. Therefore, it seems that the first and, in fact, most often repeated argument that the Home Secretary has presented against an open list is not a good argument.
The second argument that the Home Secretary now presents is that to change would be disruptive. He will know that party machines often try to persuade one that to change things, especially to change things when they have started down a particular track, is highly undesirable. The more determined a party machine is to have its way, the more likely it is to argue that to change now would be disruptive.
The fact is that party machines can be surprisingly flexible when the occasion demands. The last thing that we should do is to change the view of what is the most acceptable electoral system by the standards of the voters just to meet the demands of party machines that find it inconvenient at a late stage to move from this proposed system to another one. It is perfectly clear what voters would prefer. Way back in February, the Electoral Reform Society undertook some research with the McDougall Trust. The findings showed 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.
The Home Secretary said that voting for a party is not an alien system—in a sense he is right because most voters choose a party—but not to have an opportunity to vote for a candidate of choice is an alien system in this country. Let me repeat a point that I made during a previous debate on the subject: for voters to be presented with a choice of party but not the ability to vote for the candidate whom they recognise as a personality seeking their vote, is an alien system. The divorcing of candidate from party would be new and would be regarded as wholly undesirable by the electorate. So the argument about disruption is not true.
Other hon. Members have rightly said, that to argue that voters would be confused, and the way in which they cast their vote arbitrary, is dismissive of voters' behaviour. In fact it is wrong because, if an open list demands it, party systems will be extremely good at presenting the electorate with information about candidates. As it happens, that is an argument for an open list. Under a closed list, one has to tell the voters not about the candidates, but only about the party. Under an open list, one has to tell voters about candidates and give them information. There may be a relatively small turnout at a European election, but it is likely to be an informed turnout. Voters are more likely to be informed of the respective merits of candidates under an open-list system.
If those arguments do not have credibility as the reasons for the Home Secretary's opposition to an open-list system, what is it all about? Hon. Members have made it clear—I agree with them—that it is all about reasserting the control of the party machine over the outcome of the election. The voters who support the Labour party are not to be given an opportunity to substitute their choice for the choice of the party machine in Millbank tower. That is what it is all about. The other arguments do not sustain the Home Secretary's opposition to an open-list system. That is the only rationale for persisting in the self-evidently misjudged proposal for a closed-list system. The Labour party's machinations, its outrageous system for the selection of candidates and its manipulation of the closed-list system bring into disrepute the Home Secretary's proposal, and the House would be wise to reject it.
I always find the Home Secretary persuasive and I found him so again this evening. Particularly persuasive was his argument that this is all a question of horses for courses. There is something to be said for the horse that he has selected for this course.
I come to the argument from a slightly different point of view. I remember the time in 1975 when Roy Jenkins, as he then was, said that it was inconceivable that we would have direct elections to the European Parliament. I found some comfort in that. I have difficulty with the concept of a European Parliament as I have never felt that there was a European people for that Parliament to represent. It struck me that there was something eminently sensible about the system of nominating representatives to the European Assembly. There is something attractive, therefore, about the closed-list system proposed by the Home Secretary because it is almost a return to a system of nominating delegates.
We come to the Bill late in the day and we have to accept most of it as we find it. Although we are given a certain latitude with the amendment before us, the rest of the Bill remains the same. Part of that is the absurdly large constituencies which, in my case, involves a constituency stretching from the Isle of Wight to Milton Keynes. I appreciate the amount of chaos—if, indeed, it is possible to measure chaos—mentioned by the Home Secretary. However, what of the chaos of having 11 Conservative candidates in the election in my region, campaigning against one another to secure a higher preference?
The Home Secretary's arguments were persuasive, but not quite persuasive enough. We have to weigh against the Home Secretary's arguments the corrosive and corrupting effect of centralising power under political parties—something that has been drawn to our attention, in a most staggering way, in both this debate and last week's debate, by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). Selection of candidates for the election has been a quite extraordinary process. The House owes Labour party members another opportunity to be liberated from the tyranny that they have imposed upon themselves in Wales, in London and in arrangements for the European elections.
Indeed, and in Scotland. However, I shall confine myself to the matter that we are debating.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) said, in his most recent report, Lord Jenkins drew attention to the matter of open and
closed lists. It is all very well for the Home Secretary to go on, as he has today, rubbishing an open-list system. However, in his report, Lord Jenkins was quite clear on the distinction between open and closed lists. On page 41, he said:
It would be a count against a new system if any candidate, by gaining party machine endorsement for being at the head of a list, were to achieve a position of effective immunity from the preference of the electorate. This is the essence of the case for open as opposed to closed lists".
Lord Jenkins may have written his report with Westminster elections in mind, but there is no reason why the report's principles should not apply as much to Westminster elections as to European parliamentary elections. I reject the report in total. I am not in favour of the Jenkins report. Nevertheless, I am absolutely certain that Lord Jenkins was right in his preference for open over closed lists.
A hugely important principle is at stake. Although the Home Secretary's arguments were persuasive, they failed to persuade us that a dreadful precedent will not be set in using closed lists in democratic elections. Closed lists abolish completely any concept of representative democracy. How can one possibly have a representative whom one has not specifically voted for or against? Representative democracy is posited on the existence of candidates on a list, and to do away with candidates in closed lists is to do away with representative democracy.
There is some merit in the argument that there will be chaos in huge constituencies in which candidates from the same party compete against one another. An equally powerful case could be made that political parties—in the views that they are expressing on the issue that will be addressed next June—are not entirely consistent and homogenous within themselves. The Conservative party has a number of views on the future of the European Union. I am glad to say also that democracy is not dead among Labour Members, who still offer a variety of views on the matter. It is therefore entirely appropriate that people should be able to select candidates on the basis of how close a candidate's view is to their own. There will undoubtedly be candidates who are particularly enthusiastic about the current development of the European Union. just as there are candidates who are unenthusiastic about it. It is entirely appropriate that those candidates should make their opinions known and should seek votes accordingly. I suspect that that will do much more for voter turnout than denying voters a choice would.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he is now a convert from the first-past-the-post system, whereby the voter has no choice but simply has to accept a Euro-sceptic, a Europhile or whichever single candidate is presented by each party?
Order. The hon. Gentleman has strayed outside the terms of the amendment. I hope that the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) will not follow him.
I admitted that the Home Secretary was persuasive in many respects, but, in spite of that, the case for open democracy—within the parties and, beyond, to the electorate—has been made very clearly. The House should agree with the Lords in their amendment.
The Home Secretary said that we were going over well-trodden ground. That may be so, but the debate has reflected the widespread concern about the course that the Government are following, and their choice as between open and closed lists.
Once again, there has been no support, from any corner of the House, for the principle of the closed list. There was no support for it in the interventions or the substantive speeches of Labour Members. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) once again made it clear that he does not support the principle of a closed list. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), in what the House will agree was a highly principled speech, expressed the unease that he and many colleagues feel. He spoke for many people when he put the issue in the context of other changes that are taking place.
We also heard excellent speeches from various Conservative Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) made a cogent and well-researched speech, and was right to draw attention to the authoritative voices that have spoken out against the principle of the closed list. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) made a reflective and closely argued speech, in which he demolished the Home Secretary's arguments. I shall deal with some of those arguments in a moment. We also heard excellent speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) and for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who all spoke with real conviction.
It was ludicrous for the Home Secretary to suggest that the debate was got up by hereditary Conservative peers. It might be convenient and easy for the Home Secretary to take that line, but it does not do justice to the merits of the Lords amendment or to the principle at stake. The House of Lords has reflected the widespread concern that is felt not only in both Houses of Parliament but outside, by many organisations that are interested in electoral matters but which take no particular party line.
As the Home Secretary knows full well, the principle at stake is whether voters should have a choice of individual candidates, or whether only parties should appear on the ballot paper. It is unwise for him to keep on trying to demolish particular forms of the open list offered to the Government as variations.
At the beginning of the whole process, the Government had a choice. They had made a bald commitment to change the system, and had the choice of adopting an open or a closed-list system. The Government decided to go for a closed-list system, which was very instructive about their priorities. Since then, the Home Secretary has said that various systems are too difficult for us to understand. That is an insult to the House and the British people.
How is it that so many other countries in the European Union struggle along with an open-list system? Why is it that an open-list system is not invincibly difficult for voters in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands? Why is it that voters in those countries can cope with an open list, but voters in the United Kingdom cannot?
The Home Secretary tried to draw comfort from other countries in the European Union that have a closed list, but he will know that it is a different system from that proposed, as it operates at a national rather than regional level. The fact that the proposed system operates at a regional level makes it even more conducive to centralised party control.
I refer the Home Secretary to the excellent work of the constitution unit. It makes it more difficult for smaller parties to stand, as they have to obtain a higher threshold of votes to achieve representation. A regional closed-list system is a double whammy for party control. That is what the debate is all about, as was made clear by the interventions that the Home Secretary took from the hon. Members for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) and for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), among others.
In more forceful terms even than we would have used, they sought to characterise the closed-list system as one in which centralised party control and opportunities for cronyism are rife. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, West said, it is a system that makes it possible for party bosses to slip a Mickey Finn into the list, without the voters being able to do anything about it. As a result, in the fulness of time, MEPs will represent their party bosses rather than the voters of their region, and there will be no incentive for individual MEPs to stand up for the interests of their region or their constituents. They will be totally beholden to and owned by the party bosses.
That point has been made clear tonight. It puts the debate into a wider setting, and is certainly consistent with the pattern of behaviour of the Labour party in an increasing number of other settings, such as London and Wales, as my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay said.
If we need any more evidence that the proposal is all about exerting centralised party control, we can find it in the way in which the Labour party has chosen its candidates. The Home Secretary was right to say that those are internal Labour party matters, and we do not propose to venture into them, but they supply compelling evidence. Unlike Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members, who are individual party members who have had the opportunity to have a say, Labour Members have had no such opportunity.
The Home Secretary's argument about party lists was well demolished by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire, who drew attention to the important fact that, at least, within an open-list system, after the party bosses had drawn up the list, the voters would have the opportunity to express a preference for candidates on the list. In the closed-list system, that is not possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire asked whether the Home Secretary's amendment in lieu was transparent and could be relied on. Given the history of the year in which we have debated the matter, I do not think that it could. The Home Secretary said that he had always been consistent. We recall his words on Second Reading. He may have been consistent by his own criteria, but we recall a slightly different tone being set in those early debates, when he boasted about the consultation that was taking place. On Second Reading, he told us that he had an open mind on these matters, and that, although he had a preference, he was prepared to listen to the arguments. He even put a paper in the Library—
The Home Secretary asks whether he is being criticised. It is a matter of record that he said that he was prepared to listen. We believe that every representation that he has received from Labour Members, from Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members and from every outside organisation, is against the principle of the closed-list system, yet the Home Secretary and the Government decided to adopt that principle even though everyone else was against it. The Home Secretary discarded the Belgian system for reasons that he knew all about in the first place, and did not look at the other seven EU countries that also had a modified form of the open-list system. They were all cast aside. Every system has been ridiculed as far too complicated and difficult for voters to understand.
If Labour Members want to set any store by the amendment, they should look at the earlier amendment that was tabled by their own Back Benchers, calling for an evaluation by the Home Secretary of the open-list system after the elections had taken place. The amendment was tabled by the hon. Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg). It was an honourable attempt to give the Government the opportunity to think again, but they refused to do so.
That adds force to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire, who has drawn attention to the fact that the Government's proposal means that primary legislation would be required for a change to be made. If the Government had been prepared to listen to the arguments, they could have had a report ready by now, and implemented its conclusions in the Bill at this stage. However, they were not prepared to listen.
The real motive throughout has been to enhance centralised party control. This is a revealing glimpse of the real character of new Labour—more opportunities for cronyism and for centralised party control. We would do well to reflect on the widespread concerns outside the Chamber, and consider carefully the Lords amendment, which gives us an opportunity to have an open-list system. We do not prefer that to a first-past-the-post system, but it would strike a blow against centralised party control.
I shall be brief. We have discussed the nature of the list system at every stage of the Bill's passage through the House, and everything that needs to be said has probably already been said.
The Government remain strongly of the view that the list system for which the Bill originally provided is the most appropriate for Britain to use to elect our Members of the European Parliament. I am afraid that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and his hon. Friends have not understood that we are talking not about elections to this House or to local councils, but about elections to the European Parliament, where 84 people represent the whole of Great Britain. Once they are elected, the MEPs do not perform the constituency functions that are familiar to members of this House, because the European Parliament is not responsible for housing, social security, individual employment matters, education or any of the issues that provide us all with so much of our constituency case work.
The public have far less opportunity to get to know the MEPs and aspiring MEPs in their region.
I shall come to the hon. Gentleman in due course. I shall let him in if there is time.
If the Lords amendment were accepted, voters would be forced to choose between candidates of the same party, which would inevitably involve some arbitrary and irrational choices. If anyone doubts that, they should bear in mind my experience during the 1970s, when I was a member of a local authority in a six-member ward. Every four years, two of us stood for election. My fellow Labour candidate was always Maurice Spillane, the local chemist, who, sadly, has since died. Every time that we stood in tandem, I came first because the first letter in my surname is "H", and Maurice Spillane came second. Thankfully, we were always both elected—it would have been surprising in that ward had we not been. Although I fondly believed that I always managed to beat him because of the sheer force of my personality, the truth is that it was because my name began with "H".
That will happen again. The evidence shows incontrovertibly that the choices would be exercised to the detriment of female and ethnic minority candidates. The Government are not prepared to countenance that.
There is also the problem that the open-list system, which the other place wants to introduce, might well—in fact, probably would—produce perverse results. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary carefully demonstrated how the candidate who receives the most votes might not win a seat. I genuinely ask Opposition Members to consider the implications of that.
Much has been said about how electors will feel about not having a choice between named candidates. Such criticism deserves an answer. Having chosen a candidate, how would a voter feel when he or she found that the majority of people who voted chose the same candidate, yet that candidate was not elected? That is not just a fanciful notion; it could happen if the system proposed in the other place were adopted. That argument is incontrovertible.
I turn to the passionate speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), which demonstrated his commitment not just to the House but to many other issues. He is a very passionate democrat. I enjoyed his speech, although I obviously did not agree with all his conclusions. As a democrat, is he prepared to abstain, as I think he said he would—even abstention would be an endorsement of the proposal—or to support in the Lobby a vote that was won in the House of Lords on 20 October by a majority of 44 simply because hereditary peers took part? On 4 November, there would not have been a majority of 29 without the intervention of hereditary peers. I ask him to reflect on that. I would be very happy if he joined us in the Lobby.
I turn to the thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), who showed a far greater understanding of the systems than any Conservative Member, including those on the Front Bench.
If the right hon. Gentleman does not accept that, he should compare the speech of the hon. Member for Hallam with his own. It will become clear to him that the hon. Gentleman knows what he is talking about.
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the Division Lists. My hon. Friends indicate their assent by the way in which they vote at the end of the debate.
I do say it with a straight face.
I turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). I should like to pick him up on one point. If I heard him correctly, he said that he was elected on an open list of one. He will correct me if I am wrong, but when the good people of Wrexham went to the polling booth, they found that he was the only Labour candidate on the ballot paper. He therefore stood on a closed list of one. I do not think that he can argue with that.
I am coming to my comments on the hon. Gentleman's speech. If he is not happy after I have made them, I shall give way to him.
For three consecutive parliamentary evenings, I have sat here and listened to speeches by the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). Although I have not agreed with them, I must admit that they have improved each evening. However, they started from a pretty low point. I make this as a political point, and would not want it to be misunderstood as anything else, but I have a fear that I shall share with the House. It is that, when I wake up in the middle of the night I shall see before me a vision of the hon. Gentleman speaking, because it seems as if, every time I look up, there he is. Despite that, I enjoyed his speech tonight.
The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked about what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said about the review that will take place after the European elections to see how the system has worked in practice. I shall not add to what my right hon. Friend said, but as the hon. Gentleman asked about it, I shall make clear the intention behind the review. There will be a full and thorough review of the operation of the system. Nothing should be ruled out, and that includes comparisons with the way in which other systems might hypothetically have worked.
I shall not, if my hon. Friend will forgive me, because the House has further business to deal with after the debate.
We have introduced an amendment that will ensure that, after the first elections using the system, a review will take place. I hope that, when our proposal is considered in another place, careful account will be taken of that commitment.
To elect their Members of the European Parliament, almost all the larger states of the European Union already use the system that the Government propose. It is true that nine member states use open or semi-open-list systems, but, with the exception of Italy—which I might venture to suggest offers no lessons when it comes to electoral systems—all those countries are small, and their political traditions are different from ours.
For all those reasons, the House should reject the amendments that were made to the Bill in another place thanks to the votes of those who have never been elected to any Parliament. We believe that the system that the Bill provides is appropriate and simple, and offers no prospect of perverse results. The idea that unelected hereditary peers can overturn the type of democratic system that the House proposes is too bizarre to contemplate.
|Division No. 373]||[9.47 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Buck, Ms Karen|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Burgon, Colin|
|Ainger, Nick||Butler, Mrs Christine|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Byers, Rt Hon Stephen|
|Alexander, Douglas||Caborn, Richard|
|Allan, Richard||Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)|
|Allen, Graham||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Campbell-Savours, Dale|
|Ashton, Joe||Caplin, Ivor|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Casale, Roger|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Caton, Martin|
|Barron, Kevin||Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)|
|Battle, John||Chaytor, David|
|Beard, Nigel||Clapham, Michael|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Clark, Dr Lynda|
|Benton, Joe||(Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Clark, Paul (Gillingham)|
|Berry, Roger||Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)|
|Best, Harold||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Blackman, Liz||Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)|
|Blizzard, Bob||Clelland, David|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Coaker, Vernon|
|Boateng, Paul||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Borrow, David||Coleman, Iain|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Connarty, Michael|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Cooper, Yvette|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Corbett, Robin|
|Breed, Colin||Corston, Ms Jean|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Cox, Tom|
|Browne, Desmond||Cranston, Ross|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Crausby, David|
|Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)||Illsley, Eric|
|Cummings, John||Ingram, Adam|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)|
|Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)||Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)|
|Cunningham, Ms Roseanna||Jamieson, David|
|Dalyell, Tam||Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)|
|Darling, Rt Hon Alistair||Johnson, Miss Melanie|
|Darvill, Keith||(Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Davidson, Ian||Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)|
|Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)||Jones, Helen (Warrington N)|
|Dawson, Hilton||Jones, Ms Jenny|
|Dewar, Rt Hon Donald||(Wolverh'ton SW)|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Dowd, Jim||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)|
|Drew, David||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Drown, Ms Julia||Jowell, Ms Tessa|
|Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Edwards, Huw||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Efford, Clive||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Kelly, Ms Ruth|
|Ennis, Jeff||Kemp, Fraser|
|Etherington, Bill||Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Khabra, Piara S|
|Fearn, Ronnie||Kidney, David|
|Fisher, Mark||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Fitzsimons, Lorna||King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)|
|Flint, Caroline||King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)|
|Flynn, Paul||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Follett, Barbara||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Lawrence, Ms Jackie|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||Laxton, Bob|
|Foster, Michael J (Worcester)||Lepper, David|
|Foulkes, George||Leslie, Christopher|
|Fyfe, Maria||Levitt, Tom|
|Galloway, George||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Gardiner, Barry||Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||Linton, Martin|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Liddell, Mrs Helen|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)|
|Godsiff, Roger||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Goggins, Paul||Lock, David|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Love, Andrew|
|Gordon, Mrs Eileen||McAllion, John|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||McCabe, Steve|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||McCafferty, Ms Chris|
|Grocott, Bruce||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Grogan, John||McIsaac, Shona|
|Gunnell, John||McKenna, Mrs Rosemary|
|Hain, Peter||McLeish, Henry|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||MacShane, Denis|
|Hanson, David||McWalter, Tony|
|Healey, John||McWilliam, John|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Mallaber, Judy|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter|
|Heppell, John||Marek, Dr John|
|Hesford, Stephen||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Hewitt, Ms Patricia||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Hinchliffe, David||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Hoey, Kate||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Home Robertson, John||Martlew, Eric|
|Hood, Jimmy||Maxton, John|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||Meale, Alan|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Miller, Andrew|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Moffatt, Laura|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)|
|Hurst, Alan||Morley, Elliot|
|Hutton, John||Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Mullin, Chris|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)||Snape, Peter|
|Naysmith, Dr Doug||Soley, Clive|
|Norris, Dan||Southworth, Ms Helen|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Spellar, John|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|O'Hara, Eddie||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Olner, Bill||Stevenson, George|
|Palmer, Dr Nick||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Perham, Ms Linda||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Pickthall, Colin||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Pike, Peter L||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Plaskitt, James||Stott, Roger|
|Pollard, Kerry||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|Pond, Chris||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Pope, Greg||Stringer, Graham|
|Pound, Stephen||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann|
|Purchase, Ken||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Radice, Giles||Timms, Stephen|
|Rammell, Bill||Tipping, Paddy|
|Rapson, Syd||Touhig, Don|
|Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)||Truswell, Paul|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Rooney, Terry||Vaz, Keith|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Roy, Frank||Wareing, Robert N|
|Ruane, Chris||Watts, David|
|Ruddock, Ms Joan||Webb, Steve|
|Russell, Bob (Colchester)||White, Brian|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Ryan, Ms Joan||Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd|
|Salter, Martin||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Sarwar, Mohammad||Wills, Michael|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Wilson, Brian|
|Sawford, Phil||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Woolas, Phil|
|Sheerman, Barry||Wray, James|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Shipley, Ms Debra||Wyatt, Derek|
|Short, Rt Hon Clare||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)||Mr. Keith Hill and|
|Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)||Mrs. Anne McGuire.|
|Amess, David||Brazier, Julian|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Brooke, Rt Hon Peter|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Browning, Mrs Angela|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Burns, Simon|
|Beggs, Roy||Butterfill, John|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Chapman, Sir Sydney|
|Bercow, John||(Chipping Barnet)|
|Blunt, Crispin||Chope, Christopher|
|Body, Sir Richard||Clappison, James|
|Boswell, Tim||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Collins, Tim|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Colvin, Michael|
|Brady, Graham||Cormack, Sir Patrick|
|Cran, James||MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Maples, John|
|Day, Stephen||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Duncan, Alan||Moss, Malcolm|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Evans, Nigel||Norman, Archie|
|Faber, David||Page, Richard|
|Fabricant, Michael||Paice, James|
|Flight, Howard||Paterson, Owen|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Pickles, Eric|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Randall, John|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Gale, Roger||Robathan, Andrew|
|Garnier, Edward||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)|
|Gibb, Nick||Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)|
|Gill, Christopher||Ruffley, David|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Green, Damian||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Greenway, John||Shepherd, Richard|
|Grieve, Dominic||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Spring, Richard|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Hammond, Philip||Steen, Anthony|
|Hawkins, Nick||Streeter, Gary|
|Hayes, John||Swayne, Desmond|
|Heald, Oliver||Syms, Robert|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas||Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)|
|Horam, John||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Hunter, Andrew||Tredinnick, David|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Trend, Michael|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Key, Robert||Wardle, Charles|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie||Wells, Bowen|
|Laing, Mrs Eleanor||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Whittingdale, John|
|Lansley, Andrew||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Leigh, Edward||Wilkinson, John|
|Letwin, Oliver||Wilshire, David|
|Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Lidington, David||Woodward, Shaun|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Luff, Peter||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Sir David Madel and|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Mrs. Caroline Spelman.|