Mr. Alex Carlile
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will seek to introduce proportional representation for local government elections.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)
Why, on this day of county council elections, are the Government afraid of facing local government elections by fair and democratic means? Does the Minister agree that the likely result of the elections is that yet more issues will be decided by caucus rather than by democratic debate?
As a non sequitur, the hon. and learned Gentleman's latter assertion takes a great deal of beating. The epitome of caucus politics is a hung council—politicians having to get together to sort out what policy will be, rather than electors doing so.
Does my hon. and personal Friend agree none the less accept that there are already more than 30 local authorities with no overall control and a possibility that that number might increase in the next 24 hours? Does he further agree that it makes slightly more sense to have local authorities which are broadly proportionate to the votes cast rather than made up according to arithmetical accident?
The trouble with the approach that my hon. and personal Friend advances is that the Bill, which has been introduced in another place and which would do what he required, would provide electoral districts for local authorities of between four and nine members—hardly an additional ornament to local democracy—and give councils power to adjust their boundaries. That is an invitation to the sort of malpractice that might go on in other jurisdictions, but which has never been allowed to go on here.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we in Northern Ireland have experience of proportional representation and that we do not commend it? Will he accept our advice that the Government should persist in their view not to introduce it into Great Britain and that they should definitely reconsider its application to Northern Ireland?
I shall not be tempted into folly and comment on the last question, not even today. However, I obviously welcome advice from the hon. Gentleman, and I shall consider it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the introduction of proportional representation will in no way prevent ugly and loutish scenes such as those organised by the hard Left in Southwark town hall last night?
I thoroughly agree.