HC Deb 14 December 1999 vol 341 cc135-6
4. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

What assessment he has made of the operation of the electoral system in Scotland for European parliamentary elections. [101222]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

My right hon Friend has made no such assessment. Responsibility for the system for European parliamentary elections lies with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is currently undertaking a review of this matter.

Dr. Lewis

Is it not a shame that the Secretary of State has not assessed the implications of the proportional representation list system in European elections for Scotland arising from a recent development in England, namely, the resignation of Pauline Green, the former leader of the party of European socialists and Labour MEPs for London, to take a better paid job only six months after she stood for, and was elected to, the European Parliament under a Labour ticket? Is that not a weakness of the system, in that the electorate will have no chance to punish the Labour party in a by-election? The next candidate will take Buggins' turn and move up into the space vacated by the rather dishonourable tactics of the lady to whom I have referred.

Mr. Wilson

I have no idea why the hon. Gentleman thinks that the resignation of Pauline Green is relevant to Scottish Question Time. [Interruption.] It may be that her mother was Scottish; I do not know. That is the only legitimacy that I can question. We assess or reassess electoral systems not on the basis of individual behaviour, but on whether they are right for democracy in this country. That is a much better form of motivation and one that the Tories could not conceivably understand.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Speaking as a federalist and a supporter of electoral reform, may I say to my hon. Friend that a new electoral system was well understood by the people of Scotland, and that that was particularly true after the elections to the Scottish Parliament? I look forward to a referendum on proportional representation for this place. Does he agree that the whingeing from Opposition Members plays into the hands of the secessionists and day trippers in the Scottish National party?

Mr. Wilson

As my hon. Friend opened his question with the words, "Speaking as a federalist", a brief reply is appropriate. Speaking as a representative of Her Majesty's Government, I can assure him that there will be no change in the electoral system to the House without a referendum. That is absolutely clear. With regard to the European system, it is worth pointing out, in the interests of balance, that under the first-past-the-post system, the by-election in the north-east of Scotland, which was the last test under that system, attracted a turnout of 20.5 per cent., which suggests that there was not exactly a lather of excitement there, either.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Will the Minister admit that 20.5 per cent. is hardly an excuse for abolishing by-elections? Will he tell the Secretary of State, who has been uncharacteristically lugubrious this afternoon, to cheer himself up by going along to his colleague the Home Secretary—[Interruption.] Of course the Secretary of State knows what "lugubrious" means. Will he tell the Home Secretary that no true democrat can conceivably support a system where party comes before candidate, and that in Scotland, at least, people will have no truck with that?

Mr. Wilson

I do not want to intervene in the dialogue between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend. On the subject of who is lugubrious, it takes one to know one. With reference to the first-past-the-post system and the constituency link, it is extremely important to maintain the link between constituency and Member of Parliament, as happened in Scotland in the case of the constituency-elected MSPs. There must and will be no change in elections to the House without the matter being put to the British people.

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