HL Deb 07 June 1994 vol 555 cc1082-4

3.2 p.m.

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the justification for the votes in European parliamentary elections held in the United Kingdom on a Thursday not being counted until 9 p.m. on a Sunday at the earliest.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, under Article 9(2) of the Council Act the counting of the votes in a European parliamentary election may not begin until after the close of the poll in the member state whose electors are the last to vote. In a number of member states voting will take place on Sunday 12th June. Counting of the votes will begin after 9 p.m. in the evening our time when the polls will have closed in all member states.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his reply, but he has not actually given the justification for which I asked. Is he aware that in presidential and congressional elections in the United States results from states on the Atlantic seaboard are announced before voters in California, Oregon and so on have gone to the polls and that this has never caused any problems in the United States? Does he agree that one of the main reasons for the very low turnout in this country for these elections is the three or four day gap between polling and the announcement of the result, which kills any element of excitement or dramatic tension that there might otherwise be?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not think that European polls are supposed to be the focus of excitement which the noble Lord seems to suggest. He referred to the United States system. That system may suit the United States but it does not happen to suit the European Community. In 1976, when the first elections were planned, the nine member states agreed on electoral procedures under what is called the European Act. The noble Lord said that I have not given any justification for why this was done. I have, I think, given him the justification, which is that the Act says that. The whole purpose is that member states should not be influenced by the outcome of the elections which have already taken place in other member states.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to the low turnout in European elections in this country and talked as if the delay in announcing the result is the reason for it. Is not the real issue the fact that other countries—all but three other countries—hold their elections on a Sunday, which is not a working day, and that our turnout figures may well be reduced by the fact that we insist on having elections on a working day?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is a point of view, but I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has any reason to suggest that. The fact is that Thursday has always been a traditional polling day in this country, as it has been in Denmark, the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands. Those four countries always do it on Thursday because that is the day that they have traditionally been used to. Other countries do it on Sunday, which is the day that they have been used to.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that some of us are rather concerned about the analogy drawn by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who appears to be suggesting some form of federal solution to our difficulties?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly correct. The position which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, put forward happens in a United States of America. But as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out, we are not a United States of Europe and I do not think there is any intention of being so.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, have the Government given any thought to changing the day from Thursday to Sunday? I know that Thursday is traditional but that does not mean that thought cannot be given to such a change in order to stop the rather farcical situation of having to wait three days for the results. If the question is related to influence of the electors by our declaring our results on the Thursday, why is it that exit polls will be allowed to declare their results on Thursday evening?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, polls which are not electoral polls can be taken at any time. The noble Baroness said—I have forgotten now what she did say. If she would be kind enough to repeat her first question very briefly, I shall answer it equally briefly.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, I asked whether the Government have given any consideration to changing the day to Sunday in order to stop the farcical situation of having to wait three days for the results.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am sure that the Government do give it consideration; but as soon as; they start considering it they decide not to change the day. It seems to me to be a perfect example of the excellence of subsidiarity.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a change from Thursday to Sunday would cause great inconvenience to a great many voters, in view of the practice in this country of many people going away at the weekend?' Is there not much to be said for retaining Thursday, as a working day, when people are used to going to vote?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is a very good point of view, too. I think that we had best stick to Thursday.