HL Deb 26 April 1990 vol 518 cc730-44

7.25 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Bonham-Carter.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Amendment to European Assembly Elections Act 1978]:

Lord Bonham-Carter had given notice of his intention to move Amendments Nos. 1 and 2: Page 1, line 5, leave out ("Assembly") and insert ("Parliamentary"). Page 1, line 8, leave out ("Assembly elections") and insert ("Elections to the European Parliament").

The noble Lord said: In Clause 1 I have put forward a series of amendments of a technical nature which also carry through to Clauses 2 and 3. I am advised that there is a minor technical error in all these amendments. I shall reintroduce them on Report with the Committee's permission. I propose not to move them at present.

[Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.]

Lord Underbill moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 9, leave out from ("of) to end of line 10 and insert ("a system of proportional representation as set out in an order to be submitted by the Secretary of State and approved by Resolution of both Houses of Parliament." ").

The noble Lord said: I must make it clear at the outset that, although I speak from the Opposition Dispatch Box, as is customary on a Private Member's Bill I speak in a personal capacity. My noble friends will act completely freely. There will be no whip on the amendment or on the Bill.

Some surprise has been expressed at the nature of the amendment. I should like to make it quite clear at the outset that as an individual I have never been opposed to proportional representation despite what some people may have thought, but I have been concerned about the possible political repercussions and consequences of certain aspects of proportional representation. At Second Reading I outlined the consideration being given by the Labour Party policy review to various systems of election for different institutions and that different forms of elections may be considered for differing institutions.

The Bill makes a constitutional change. I do not believe that it is a matter that ought to be the subject of a Private Member's Bill. As I said at Second Reading, I fully appreciate the explanation given about the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and the support that he had from noble Lords. However, the Bill cannot be left as it is.

At Second Reading (Official Report, 23rd March, col. 513) the noble Lord said I make it clear … that the measure does not in any way alter the way that Members of Parliament are elected to the House of Commons".

That was a very important proviso that the noble Lord made. He also stated: The Bill is so constructed that Parliament can approve the principles of proportional representation in regional constituencies without committing itself to the single transferable vote system".

He added: Other options are open for consideration".

Later in his speech the noble Lord said: I have opted for the single transferable vote for a number of

The amendment that I propose provides what I believe the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, suggested; that is, to adopt the principle of proportional representation for European parliamentary elections without laying down any precise system. There may be some comment, in view of the frequent criticism that has been made about leaving too many powers to the Secretary of State, that it is a little dangerous to insert in my amendment that a system should be such, as set out in an order to be submitted by the Secretary of State and approved by Resolution of both Houses of Parliament".

That appeared to be the only way to tackle this matter without infringing what are generally regarded as the conventions of the House and removing from the Bill the power to do anything whatever.

Without my amendments, the Bill would simply transfer the system used in Northern Ireland to the rest of Great Britain. Again, that is stated by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, at col. 514 of Hansard. In effect, that is to transfer the single transferable vote system operating in Northern Ireland to the rest of Great Britain.

If we leave Clause 2 as drafted, we shall have large regional constituencies. I must repeat what I said on Second Reading: that will mean that in Scotland there will be one European constituency—72 Commons ones will return eight MEPs. Wales will have one European constituency—38 parliamentary constituencies will return four MEPs. I do not know how candiates will be selected, but that seems to me to open the way to a list system by either the Scottish or Welsh executive committees of the different parties. That system is one to which I have always been opposed, and I believe that my party has generally disliked it. In England at present there are 66 European constituencies. Those are already large, covering 523 parliamentary constituencies with an average of eight parliamentary constituencies for each European one. On Second Reading, I explained why, when we in the Labour Party set up the European constituencies, we laid down that there should be accountability with a minimum number of meetings of the delegate and executive body each year. The Bill will provide just nine European constituencies for England. That will be approximately 58 parliamentary ones for each MEP.

Clause 3 is really consequential. The Boundary Commission would work on the basis of large regional constituencies.

Acceptance of my amendment would mean that the principle of proportional representation for the European elections is provided for but the system will not be laid down in the Bill. That is not desirable in a Private Member's Bill. Moreover, there should be greater consultation on different types of systems, but it should be subject to an order approved by the resolution of both Houses.

What I have said explains why I moved this amendment, the purposes behind it and why I believe it so desirable that this amendment should be carried so that the principle but not the actual system on which the elections shall be conducted is accepted. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

It may be helpful if I speak immediately from these Benches. Of course, as the sponsor of the Bill my noble friend will reply. First, we understand the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, faces. We have considerable sympathy for his position. However, it is true to say that had we come before this Chamber without specifying which electoral system we wished to see, we should have been ridiculed from all sides. Therefore, we felt that we had to put a system into the Bill. We very carefully put that into a schedule so that it could be seen to be free-standing from the rest of the Bill and capable of amendment at a later stage, or indeed modification by an amending Bill by a subsequent government of whatever colour.

Therefore, I want to be quite clear that we are not trying to railroad STV through this Chamber. We believe that that system is the best available. We may be wrong on that; and we are prepared to listen to argument, and we are prepared to be convinced. However, we have a very firm belief that STV is the best system.

Perhaps I may take a few moments of the Committee's time to explain why that is. To do that, I must compare the various voting systems.

Broadly speaking, voting systems divide themselves into two—proportional and non-proportional. Of the non-proportional systems, first-past-the-post, which is the one used in this country except for European elections in Northern Ireland, is the one that we know best. The alternative vote, which is often regarded as a form of proportional representation, is non-proportional. I shall not go into the details of the first-pass-the-post system because we all know about that.

The alternative vote can produce in certain circumstances a slightly fairer result by a qualified majority. However, it can also produce some quite weird results. As I say, it is not proportional and a party which came second in every seat in the country at the first count could still win every seat in the country by the redistribution of votes given to third, fourth, and fifth parties.

Proportional systems are roughly of two types —that is, list systems of one sort or another and STV. There is also the additional member system which is used in West Germany. That is a sort of half-way house.

The Labour Government in 1977 proposed the D'Hondt system which is a system of multi-member constituencies as all proportional systems demand. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, says, that leads to large constituencies, but proportional systems with only 81 seats at stake are bound to lead to large constituencies. One may question whether the direct constituency connection between an MEP and his locality is quite as strong as that between a Member of another place and his constituency. The connection between a Member of Parliament and his constituents is important and is seen as important. However, I sometimes wonder whether it would not be of greater help—and this applies to another place, but particularly to Europe—if people had the opportunity of having at their disposal, as it were, a Member of Parliament of their own party. There are large tracts of this country which have no Conservative Members of Parliament, and those which have no Labour Members of Parliament.

I do not always feel that, much as those in another place, and indeed in Europe, may try to look after the rights of all their constituents, that the constituents necessarily feel comfortable in going to a Member of Parliament of a party other than that which they support. There are certain questions which I, as a voting member of the public before I came to this place, would not have wished to have taken to elected Members of Parliament, particularly when I have stood as a candidate against them.

Under the D'Hondt system the voter has an X vote with no second, third or subsequent preferences. The party with the highest vote gets the first seat which goes to the candidate of that party with the highest vote. There is then an average highest counting system, and the result is fairly but by no means totally proportional. There is no chance of cross-party voting. In the end your vote may go to someone of whom you do not approve in the party for which you voted. That is a problem with all party list systems. They leave power in the hands of the party machine, whether they be national or regional list systems or any other list or pseudo-list system. It leaves too much power, in our view, in the hands of the party bureaucracy.

The other system, which is a sort of halfway house, is the additional member system as used in Western Germany. One half of the MEPs are elected in constituencies and the other half are elected on national party lists. The voter has two votes, one for the candidate and one for the party. There is a topping-up system to ensure reasonable proportionality. The problem with that is that it creates two classes of member and it still leaves the power to choose the ranking in the national list in the hands of the party.

STV, where the voting is on a one, two, three basis rather than an X system, as someone said, is as simple as one, two, three. The elector can express the widest possible choice for as many or as few candidates as he wishes. It is a simple voting system, though the counting is rather more complex. I myself have counted at STV elections within my party and if I can do it it cannot be all that complicated. It certainly is not beyond the wit of returning officers in the North and South of Ireland.

As noble Lords are aware, a winning quota of votes is established by simple calculation based on the total number of votes cast and the total number of seats to be filled. A candidate who exceeds the quota on the first preference is elected. Surplus votes are then redistributed on the basis of second preferences. If another candidate reaches the quota, his or her surpluses are again redistributed and that process continues until a candidate fails to be elected on a particular round. At that point the person with the smallest number of votes is deleted and his or her second preferences are redistributed.

Each elector therefore has a chance of casting a vote for a successful candidate. It is not absolutely proportional, but it is very nearly. It has the beauty that voters can express choices across party lines, which is a very useful facility. Because of that it encourages a wider range of candidates. Parties will tend to, and indeed do, put up candidates who cross ethnic and sexual barriers. There is a far better chance of women being elected under that system than under first-past-the-post.

It is a system which is not unknown in the United Kingdom. I have a list of organisations which use STV, and some will be well known to the noble Lord, Lord Underbill. The list includes the Association of University Teachers, the EETPU, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, the National Union of Journalists, the National Union of Teachers, the General Synod, Church of England, the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society and many others. I think your Lordships will agree that that is a broad spectrum of organisations.

In the short time available I have tried to encapsulate the thinking behind our belief that STV is the system best applied to a proportional system for Europe. It is not a totally entrenched view; if someone will persuade us of something different we shall be perfectly prepared to discuss that. We had to put something into the Bill. We put in something which we believe to be correct. I hope it is possible to resist the noble Lord, Lord Underbill's amendment, because that is a mistake.

I have great sympathy for the noble Lord and understand why he is in that position; the Labour Party is still making up its mind in relation to this difficult problem. I do not want to inhibit the process of thinking going on in the Labour Party as it moves towards a belief in proportional representation for the European elections, which is clearly expressed in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord. I have a suspicion that his noble friend sitting behind him, if he does not actually explode before I sit down, will have a word or two to say later in this debate.

I hope that noble Lords present tonight will sustain the Bill as it stands in the knowledge that changes can be made at a later stage. It is not enough to leave the matter in the hands of the Secretary of State to bring by order before both Houses of Parliament such a significant change in the voting pattern. I cannot support the amendment.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Monson

Despite the persuasive argument of the noble Lord, Lord Underbill, I oppose the amendment. If this assembly/Parliament, in which small countries have been allocated a quite disproportionate share of the voting power so that the United Kingdom can easily be outvoted by countries with a combined population less than 52 per cent. of our own, is to exert increasing control over our lives—I hope that it will not, but I fear that it may if we are not careful —it is essential that as many people as possible of genuinely independent mind be elected by voters in the United Kingdom.

By "independent mind" I do not only mean those with no party political affiliation, but also those independent minded members of political parties who are not afraid to reject the strict party line whenever they feel it right to do so. The only realistic way that one will have any chance of such individualistic individuals, if I may use that term, being elected is by adopting the electoral system proposed in the Bill as it stands.

Earl Russell

I should like briefly to take up the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Underbill, that a Private Members' Bill is not the appropriate method of proceeding in this matter. The precedernts are against him. When my great grandfather introduced the great Reform Bill in another place, I admit that he did it from the Government Front Bench. However, he was only in a position to do that because more times than I care to count he had introduced it as a private Member and gone on and on until people were persuaded. This is entirely the appropriate way to begin the consideration of an issue of this sort.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Before this evening I had not interested myself in this particular measure. I am afraid I have to say to the Liberal Democrats that the reason I have not done so is because they are a party without any chance of power. They are unlikely to gain the government of this country and indeed have reached a situation where they have fewer votes now and much less support than they did 10 years ago. It therefore seems to me that they have not been able to persuade the great British electorate of the benefits of this particular policy nor indeed of any other policy which they have espoused.

Under those circumstances it was probably right for me to ignore the Bill. However, when my noble and respected friend—I mean that very sincerely —proposed an amendment from the Front Bench which gave support to the principle of proportional representation, I felt that I had to take some note and publicly express my disagreement with him.

I intended to ask on what authority my noble friend moved the amendment. He has explained the position; that although he spoke from the Front Bench—and it is important that we distinguish this—he was speaking not for the Labour Party in the House of Lords, nor for the Labour Party n any sense at all, but for himself. Of course, he is entitled to have an opinion of his own and he is entitled to express it. I ask again with the utmost respect —my noble friend is a man for whom I have huge respect, and always have—whether it was wise for him to have put that view and to have moved this amendment from the Front Bench.

The fact is, of course, that the Labour Party has given no authority for any change in the present circumstances. It may well be considering matters at present but there is no agreement within the party that we should proceed with proportional representation or any type of proportional representation. The Labour Party conference has not given its authority and if there is one matter on which the Labour Party must give its authority it is on the method of voting for all elections in this country. It is the Labour Party which fights those elections. It is the Labour Party which provides the candidates. It is the Labour Party which provides the wherewithal to fight elections. Therefore, it must be the Labour Party conference which ultimately decides.

Indeed, the Leader of the Labour Party has publicly announced his opposition to proportional representation. He does not believe that it is the fair system which is claimed for it by the proponents of this Bill, and others. He does not necessarily believe that it is more democratic to elect representatives by proportional representation as against the first-pass-the-post system. Therefore, the Leader of the Labour Party has declared his opposition and the Labour Party has not yet made up its mind, but my noble friend is perfectly entitled to his own point of view as, indeed, I am entitled to mine.

Arguments have been put forward that, although proportional representation might not be good for electing our government, it could be acceptable for electing such a body as the European Assembly or Parliament, call it what you will.

Lord Bonham-Carter

Or a Scottish assembly.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Do we have a Scottish assembly? I did not think we had a Scottish assembly. Are we to have one?

Lord Bonham-Carter

I understood that the Labour Party is committed to a Scottish assembly and that the executive decided that it should be elected by a system of proportional representation.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Yes, but that is for the future and the Labour Party has not yet decided as to whether a Scottish assembly should be elected by proportional representation. The Labour Party conference has not yet given its go-ahead, even though the Scottish executive might like to have a future assembly elected by proportional representation. However, I have been diverted from my argument about the European assembly.

I was saying that arguments have been put forward that as this assembly in Strasbourg, this polyglot assembly, is not at present a legislative assembly, it does not matter whether it is elected by PR as it has no powers. However, the fact is that the assembly in Strasbourg wishes to gain many more powers; indeed, it wishes to gain many more powers than this Westminster Parliament has now. Certainly the view of the leader of the Conservative group in Europe —I forget what it calls itself now —believes that this Parliament should be subordinate to the European Parliament; so the matter becomes very much more important.

I happen to believe that proportional representation is not necessarily more democratic than our present system. Indeed, it is a system which can cause all sorts of difficulties and problems when there is no certainty about the government who exercise that government and the sort of people who exercise that government. For example, on three occasions in Greece a criminal conspiracy which called itself a government was elected and because of the system of PR the people were unable to get rid of those elements which made it a criminal conspiracy. Even in Ireland we presently have a situation where strong government cannot proceed because of the electoral system.

Therefore, all that PR represents is not necessarily good and the system will not necessarily produce the results which are claimed for it. As I said, I very much regret that I cannot support my noble friend Lord Underhill in his attempt to improve this Bill. Certainly he is attempting to improve it and there is no question about that. His amendment is infinitely better than what is contained in the Bill but because I disapprove of and disagree with the principle I very much regret that on this occasion I simple cannot support him.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has put forward this amendment with his usual fairness and frankness but, with respect, there are two conclusive reasons why it is unacceptable. First it is quite unacceptable that the electoral system should be fixed by ministerial order under delegated legislation. That would be so if one simply left it there, but one goes further. It is still not conceded that it is not a convention of this House that your Lordships do not vote against an order in delegated legislation.

I argued as strongly as I could on the student loans Bill that you Lordships should vote, in a proper case, against any order presented by way of delegated legislation. I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, had conceded that at the Report stage of that Bill, but the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal was far more cautious on Third Reading and merely said "if your Lordships should vote against an affirmative resolution. He seemed to go further last night but nevertheless it is not yet conceded that your Lordships can properly vote on such a matter. That merely reinforces the objection against so important a constitutional matter as the system of voting being fixed by ministerial order.

The second reason is that although the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, does not so intend it, this is a wrecking amendment. Obviously there are many systems of proportional representation—quot homines, one is tempted to say —and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, clearly explained the principal one. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, controverted any system of proportional representation but it is not necessary to go into that at all because this amendment proposes that the elections shall be by such system of proportional representation as the Minister shall put forward by way of a statutory order.

However, there is no obligation on him to put forward any order at all and neither is there any time limit within which he must do so. We know perfectly well from what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said at Second Reading that this Government will have nothing to do with the Bill. From what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has said, I strongly suspect that the same view may well be expressed by a Labour Home Secretary. The result would be that there would be no obligation to put the Bill into effect in any way or to have any system of proportional representation whatever for European elections. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will not press this amendment.

8 p.m.

Lord Cockfieid

I do not propose intervening in the internecine strife between members of the Labour Party though my sympathy is very much more with the noble Lord, Lord Underbill, both on constitutional grounds and on personal grounds, having on more than one occasion found myself at variance with the leaders of my own party.

The institution in question is correctly known as the European "Parliament".That was settled once and for all in the Single European Act, as re-enacted in this country in domestic legislation. There is a strong argument for saying that the original translation into "assembly" was incorrect. The Treaty of Rome is a French document which was written in French. The French Parliament is the Assemblée Nationale and not unnaturally the drafters of the treaty used the word "assemblée".

If one refers to any of the leading French dictionaries on this matter it will be found that the terms "assemblée" and "parliament" are largely interchangeable. What is more, the Robert dictionary describes both the House of Commons and the House of Lords as "assemblées". I am sure that that will upset the noble Lord but that is the position.

There is another point that I wish to take up. I refer to the campaign of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, against the voting rights accorded to countries such as Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland. The reason for those voting rights is perfectly simple. When the treaty was first signed the votes were deliberately weighted in favour of the Benelux countries to prevent them being oppressed by the larger countries. That formed part of the acquis communautaire. We were bound under the Treaty of Accession to respect the acquis communautaire and there is no way whatever in which we can resile from our obligation to respect the rights of Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland. The noble Lord is entitled to complain about anything he likes, but there is nothing whatever that he can do about it.

I come to the substance of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Underbill. As I said at Second Reading, I do not believe that any valid comparison can be drawn between what is done or needs to be done in relation to the elections to the Parliament at Westminster and what is done in relation to elections to the European Parliament. I explained that in great detail at Second Reading and I do not propose repeating what I then said.

I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that if one has a Secretary of State or government opposed to proportional representation, no order would ever be laid. I know that it is regarded as an abuse for a Minister to frustrate the intention of a statute by refusing to make an order to bring it into effect. But we all know that it has been done and that it will continue to be done. Therefore, in effect, however admirable the motives of the noble Lord, Lord Underbill—I entirely understand and respect the arguments that he put forward—de facto this amendment would destroy the Bill.

There are also the points that were deployed in this Chamber at very great length over the Education (Student Loans) Bill, that it is vesting unreasonable and unacceptable powers in the hands of government to make what in effect is not only primary legislation but primary legislation of great constitutional importance.

The only other argument I bring forward is that the system which this Bill proposes is one which has been enacted for Northern Ireland and is in force there. Therefore, there is a very sound precedent in our own country for implementing it.

Lord Holderness

I wish to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, who claims certain democratic credits for the present system of first-past-the-post. I expressed my view earlier to noble Lords. I said that it was very difficult to claim democratic credit for a system which denied any representation to a party winning one in four of the votes cast. Therefore, I was delighted to hea:" about the move which the noble Lord, Lord Underbill, has made from what I thought—I hope rightly—was the comparatively resistant position which he seemed to suggest when we debated this Bill at Second Reading.

There are only three broad alternatives for future elections to the European Parliament. The first is to continue the system of first-past-the-post, which is not being discussed at the moment and about which I have strong views. The other alternatives ane either to have some kind of a list system, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, suggested, or some rather purer proportional system such as that suggested by STV. I would prefer a purer proportional system to an additional member system, in which I have been interested in other connections.

Apart from that reason, and because I like supporting definite rather than indefinite propositions, I would find it very difficult to accept the position of the noble Lord, Lord Underbill, because I would not know where I was. Therefore I shall continue to support the principle of the Bill and resist his amendment.

Viscount Ullswater

I recognise the purpose of the noble Lord, Lord Underbill, in bringing forward this amendment. My noble friend Lord Ferrers pointed out to noble Lords during the Second Reading debate that there are different systems of proportional representation. Indeed, different systems or systems with variations are used by several member states within the European Community. For some time the European Parliament has been pressing for the introduction of a uniform electoral procedure for its members throughout the Community. However, no consensus has so far been reached. Therefore, it would be premature to seek to devise a system of proportional representation for Great Britain in advance of a consensus.

We should wait to see what proposals finally emerge from the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and consider them on their merits at that time. However, to adopt the device now proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Underbill, to meet this situation would, I suggest, raise objections of a constitutional nature. The system and its details by which members of the European Parliament should be chosen are matters of too great importance to leave to subordinate legislation, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, has emphasised, notwithstanding that the draft instrument would require the approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament. In electoral matters even points of relative detail are reserved for the primary statute. I refer, for example, to the specification of the precise layout and content of the ballot paper. If the amendment were to be adopted further consequential amendments to the European Assembly Elections Act 1978 would be necessary — amendments of which it appears the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has given no indication of an intention to table. For all those reasons I am opposed to the amendment.

Lord Bonham-Carter

It has been an exceedingly interesting debate so far and I should like to thank all noble Lords who have participated in it. I should like to avoid various booby-traps which lie in my path such as getting involved in an internal Labour Party dispute in which I feel I would be ill-equipped to engage. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who made a most admirable Second Reading speech in opposition to the Bill, that the Bill discusses the future. If he thinks that we should not be discussing the future, he should not in a sense be discussing the Bill.

The main objections have been that it is in some sense unconstitutional for a matter of constitutional importance such as this to be put forward in a Private Member's Bill. That objection was smashed at the net and was dealt with finally and conclusively by the brief and effective intervention of my noble friend Lord Russell. He referred to the performance of his great grandfather whose example I would not hope to emulate but which I shall anyhow attempt to follow. I would further say that the discussion as to the nature of the proportional representation system which we would adopt has been extremely well covered by my noble friend Lord Tordoff.

I made it perfectly clear at Second Reading that we were not unalterably and inescapably attached to the single transferable vote though on balance we thought it was the best system. If someone else should come up with a better system, and if that system received general support, we should be perfectly ready to consider it. But everything else being equal, we thought that the single transferable vote had a number of extremely important arguments in its favour. In putting it in the schedule we were not in point of fact making an important statement but a suggestion that we were not unalterably attached to it.

I must also avoid getting involved with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, on the right of Members on these Benches to put forward arguments in favour of policies on the ground that we were unlikely in the near future to become the government. That has been the fate of all political parties at some time in their history. It has never been an argument against their putting forward proposals in which they believe. Indeed we have in the past proposed that this country should join the European Community when the other parties disagreed with it. It is only the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who still maintains that point of view.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

And 13 million other people.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

I remind them that we exist and that we shall continue to put forward policies in which we believe.

When I was elected to another place a very long time ago I was asked to have a drink by no less a person than Mr. Churchill, as he then was. Also having a drink at that time was Sir Reginald Bullingham-Manner, as he was known, Mr. Churchill said, "It's nice to have Bonham-Carter in the House of Commons, isn't it?" Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller said, "Not at all". Mr. Churchill replied, "They worm themselves in, they worm themselves in". That is the position of parties like mine. We tend to worm ourselves in.

I shall come to the body of the matter. It was encapsulated in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, which as always was worth listening to and to which one has to pay attention. He expressed a real difficulty which he has tried to resolve. I welcome what he said, just as I welcome what the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, said, as a significant advance as spoken by two people from their respective Front Benches. For the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Tordoff, we have to set out a form of proportional representation in the Bill. To have failed to do so would have been regarded as totally ridiculous. From speeches we have heard from both sides of the Chamber—I agree that not a great many noble Lords have been present—that system has received a reasonable degree of support. If any other system were chosen for European elections there would have to be an amending Bill. Therefore, I do not think that the problem is insuperable.

More important in my reservations concerning what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said is the constitutional matter which was dealt with so authoritatively by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, the noble Lords, Lord Cockfield and Lord Holderness, and the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater. I do not think that I have a great deal to add to that. It seems to be constitutionally unacceptable that a change in the electoral system should be put through by an order which is in itself unamendable.

I hope therefore that those arguments and the tenor of the debate will allow the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to consider withdrawing his amendment. I trust that what I have said will help him to do so.

Lord Underbill

I thank noble Lords for the kind words they have uttered in damning my amendment and I appreciate their sentiments. I did not go into the details of the different systems of PR because, as has been rightly said, some systems that people call PR are not PR at all. I refer in particular to the alternative vote. I believe it was Mr. Churchill who said that it is a system which gives the most worthless votes to the most worthless candidates. I have studied the various systems and I shall not be moving my next amendment which deals with the Long Title.

I have dealt previously with the position of the STV in the Republic of Ireland. I studied carefully in the Irish newspapers all the results of two of the Republic's elections. When I see that someone well down the list eventually becomes elected because of the transfer of votes, I feel there is something wrong with that system. Nor can one call that proportional representation. Therefore I did not want to go into the detail of the systems of election.

My problem in dealing with the matter is the one which has already been advanced. I fully recognise the danger of a matter of this kind being dealt with by secondary legislation. One cannot amend an order—an argument I have used from this Dispatch Box time and again. On the other hand, to let the Bill go through without attempting to improve it would have been completely wrong. I think that I would have been open to criticism if I had just let the matter go through.

The danger of putting a precise system in a Bill is that it requires very detailed discussion, with a fair amount of consultation taking place beforehand, on the various systems, and you cannot possibly do that on a Bill of this kind. The interesting thing is that the noble Viscount did not tell me what the Goverment intend to do. What is their attitude to the Bill? We were told on Second Reading that they were neutral. However, at some stage they will have to decide what they intend to do with the Bill.

I do not intend to withdraw the amendment. However, in view of the very few people who have heard the arguments this evening, I shall not divide the Committee. I shall deal with it by voiced opinion.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [The electoral system]:

[Amendments Nos. 4 to 13 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Underhill

Perhaps I may point out at this stage that I intended at the outset of the debate when dealing with Amendment No. 3 to state that I was speaking also about my intention to oppose the inclusion of Clauses 2 and 3 in the Bill but I omitted to do so. However, in the light of my previous statement, I do not propose to press the matter further.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Assembly constituencies in England]:

[Amendments Nos. 14 to 33 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

In the Title:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 34: Line 3, leave out from ("representation") to end of line 5.

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may say a few words about this amendment. Obviously, in view of the attitude I have taken thus far, I shall not be pressing it to a Division. However, in order to be able to speak upon it I must move it.

Reference has been made to the system in Northern Ireland, but I hope that noble Lords read very carefully what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said on Second Reading. He explained the constitutional position of STV in Northern Ireland. He outlined how it was first used in local elections, and in Stormont elections and then brought back again for the purpose of European elections.

I repeat what I said on Second Reading. There are special problems in Northern Ireland and it was always understood that what was adopted in the Province would never be used as justification for adopting the system in the rest of the United Kingdom. As I have said before, statements made by Ministers do not mean a thing. In saying that, I do not mean to be rude. However, it is what is written in the Bill that is important.

It is wise to draw attention to the fact that there are special conditions in Northern Ireland They were first adopted in 1920. But I do not believe that that is any justification for the words contained in the Long Title that the system in Northern Ireland should be adopted for the rest of the United Kingdom. That is what the Long Title suggests. I beg to move.

Lord Bonham-Carter

I do not propose to keep noble Lords very long with what I have to say. We are not using the Northern Ireland precedent as a justification; we are simply saying that it is a mechanism which has worked well and that it is a simple way of introducing proportional representation into the rest of Great Britain. As I said, it is not a justification; it is an example and one which we suggest should be followed.

Lord Underhill

In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.