Elections Bill Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Elections Bill

Lord Moore of Etchingham Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Wednesday 23rd March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Mar 2022)
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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They can vote them out, but it is much more obscure—the link is much less direct. The supplementary vote system, which is what we are talking about replacing, clearly allows weaker candidates, with fewer first preference votes, to get through the system because of second preference votes, which have the same value as first preference ones—that does not seem right.

My only regret about the Bill is that it does not get rid of the even more confusing additional member system for the London Assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, we fortunately no longer have the proportional representation system for the EU elections, which resulted in MEPs being distant and certainly not accountable to electorates. I would personally look again at the systems used in Scotland and Wales, but I shall stick to my normal practice in your Lordships’ House of not getting involved in devolved matters. It is time for our electoral systems in England to return to their roots and for the first past the post system to be the default for national elections and all English elections.

Lord Moore of Etchingham Portrait Lord Moore of Etchingham (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I have been affected by the debate this evening. I was intending to speak—if I was going to speak at all—in a rather different way, because I have anxieties about the way that the Government introduced this legislation, at the point when they brought in all the material about the form of election. But I have been stirred by the other side of the argument, because something that I feared has definitely now come about: the people arguing against the Bill are really trying to bring back proportional representation, as a much wider piece of argument, into the whole of our public life and our electoral system—

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I did not argue in my speech for bringing proportional representation forward at all.

Lord Moore of Etchingham Portrait Lord Moore of Etchingham (Non-Afl)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that and accept what she says. I am thinking more widely of the debate—

Lord Kerslake Portrait Lord Kerslake (CB)
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Does the noble Lord agree that I also made no argument to extend proportional representation? My specific concern was about this change and it being made without consultation.

Lord Moore of Etchingham Portrait Lord Moore of Etchingham (Non-Afl)
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I listened closely to the noble Lord’s speech, and it is perfectly true that he made a very long and important argument about the specifics, but he also expressed a general preference for proportional representation.

I wish to make a very simple point, which I think came across very well in what the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said. He described how, even under the strict chairmanship of Lord Jenkins, it took 12 months of what he called “immense complication” to look at these issues. That is precisely the problem with all this. It is dangerous to confess to ignorance in this very learned and expert House, but despite covering politics in various ways for 40 years, I have never been able fully to understand or explain all the different voting systems that clever people keep coming up with, and that is an argument against them. If somebody who is paid a salary to try to understand these things still finds them complicated, there is something wrong with them. All right, I am stupid, but I make the point that it is very important for the buy-in of a democracy that people can understand what is being said, what is being offered and how to perform the operation they are invited to perform. They can do so under first past the post, but under proportional representation they cannot, broadly speaking. Therefore, I oppose these amendments and support the Bill.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I used to be a full supporter of first past the post, very much in the spirit of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in relation to accountability. However, over recent years I have started to see a problem that I wanted to raise—I am not just doing this as counselling. Because of the whole of Clause 11, we have been invited, in a way, by the Government to discuss electoral systems, and that is one of the problems with the way it has emerged. I would not be discussing it if they had not brought it in, but now that everyone else is discussing it, I will join in.

I was minded to support Amendment 136 until I realised that it was an amendment that would overturn a referendum, which struck me as not a good idea and not likely to fit in with my general position on these things. It is perhaps ironic to those people in this Committee arguing for proportional representation that I was elected using that method in the European elections and came top of the list. I do not know if people think that was a fully democratic system, because a lot of people did not think that I should have been there at all, or elected in that way, when I stood only for very particular reasons, as we know.

These are the problems with first past the post in 2022 that I cannot get my head around. Through this Bill, we want to reassure voters that elections are watertight in terms of fairness and that they represent what they want as voters. In a number of debates, we have discussed our worries about different clauses that might be seen to be disenfranchising voters—sometimes I think these are overwrought worries, but they are worries none the less. It seems to me, however, that first past the post, in lots of ways, makes many people’s votes redundant and represents a frustration with what is happening politically.

I remember that before the 2016 referendum I was invited to a think tank gathering at which most of the people were supporters of remaining in the European Union. They assumed that I was as well, because that is what nice think-tankers did. They said that one problem they had was that the referendum would not be taken seriously if they did not get a big turnout, so what could they do to get a big turnout? The consensus in the room was that it must be emphasised that a vote in the 2016 referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime vote where, for once, every single person’s vote would count. They went out and argued that very successfully and the nation said, “My goodness, for once my vote really will count.” As a consequence, people took it seriously that they were being asked to make a big constitutional decision and that this was one election where every individual vote meant something. In the build-up to the referendum, it led to grass-roots discussion groups being set up around the country, family conferences and people getting together with their research. People took the whole thing extremely seriously and there was an atmosphere of vibrancy and buzz, with people saying, “What should we do?” as they assessed the pros and cons. People rose to the challenge that their vote counted, an idea which I think really resonated.