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Mr. Laws: The hon. Gentleman is right. One benefit of the proportional systems introduced in Scotland and Wales is that small, unpopular parties that were not represented there in the past now are.

Following on from the increasing use of proportional systems across the country since 1997, through the continuing strong case for PR for Westminster, which includes the problem of turnout in many constituencies, I come to the Government's own position on the matter. In 1993, John Smith, then leader of the Labour party, committed it for the first time to a referendum on the issue. The Prime Minister firmed up that position before the 1997 general election, and the 1997 Labour party manifesto contained commitments to hold a referendum on PR during the lifetime of the Parliament elected in 1997 and to set up the Jenkins commission. Although the commission reported, the referendum did not go ahead.

Today, we are left with the position set out in the 2001 Labour party manifesto, on which I hope the Minister can shed some light. The Labour party declares:

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Now that different systems of election have been widely used across the country—not once but twice in Scotland—and we have already seen the benefits of using a PR system, many people hope that the Government will conduct their own review and consult as far as possible not only within but outside Government on what conclusions should be derived on the use so far of such systems.

The Minister will be aware that there is already an independent commission on PR, chaired by the distinguished journalist Peter Riddell and by David Butler, and that it produced an interim report earlier this year. I believe that the final report will be produced early in 2004. I hope that the Government will examine that report carefully, draw conclusions from it, establish the review alluded to in the 2001 Labour party manifesto, and carry out that review and public consultation over the coming year. Perhaps the Minister will be able to shed light on that tonight.

I wish to make sure that the Minister has time to respond in detail and to take interventions from me, if he will allow that, but I shall complete my comments by reminding him of a much-quoted paragraph—perhaps the most famous—in the rather famous and distinguished report that Lord Jenkins and the independent commission on the voting system produced in 1998. In paragraph 26, the commission—although the wording makes one suspect that the late Lord Jenkins had something to do with its drafting—reported:

The commission continued, saying that the first-past-the-post system

it might be expected that now is

The commission and Lord Jenkins went on to say:

That is an accurate précis by Lord Jenkins and his commission of the position on PR for Westminster. I urge the Minister to plot a way forward on PR for Westminster and assure us that, in the interests of the country if not his own party, he will now take this issue out of the long grass.

7.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): I congratulate the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) on allowing us an opportunity to look in more detail at the

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cornucopia of luscious psephological fruit that he has laid on the table. Despite his thirst for an immediate change to the system of voting for Westminster MPs, the Government have a relatively good record on proportional representation. We have shown a willingness to address the issue where appropriate and take action when necessary. In our first term, as we have heard, we set up an independent commission to look at proportional representation for Westminster, under the distinguished chairmanship of the late Lord Jenkins, which produced an interesting and significant report, parts of which have been cited.

We introduced proportional representation for the European parliamentary elections in 1999, for the Scottish parliamentary elections and the Welsh Assembly elections in 1999, for elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998, and for elections to the London assembly in 2000. Our European parliamentary elections use a regional list system of PR. For each of the nine electoral regions in England, and for Scotland and Wales, each party presents a list of its candidates ranked in an order determined by it. Individual candidates may, of course, also stand for election. I hesitate to mention in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) the counting system invented in 1899 by the esteemed Belgian psephologist Victor d'Hondt, a good friend of his. Perhaps it is enough to say that the votes are counted in a way that ensures that votes cast for the parties or individual candidates ensure a proportional result.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): While my hon. Friend is educating the House, nay the nation, he should mention that d'Hondt is truly proportional only when finessed by the Droop quotient.

Mr. Leslie: Whenever I hear the word "d'Hondt" I think of my hon. Friend and will do so for evermore, particularly in respect of that variant.

The list system is by far the most common system for elections to the European Parliament throughout Europe, so we are at one with most of our European colleagues. Some hon. Members argue that the system breaks the link between the voter and his or her representative, but others argue that voters have a choice about which Members in a multi-Member constituency they can go to with their problems or queries. They may even choose different Members with different interests depending on their problem. The list system makes sense for the large constituencies in the European elections in which one MEP represents about 700,000 constituents.

Elections to the Scottish Parliament are conducted on the additional member system. In addition to the 73 MSPs elected on a first-past-the-post basis in each constituency, an additional 56 Members are elected from a list for the region as a whole. Again, the list candidates are arranged by party and the votes for them are counted by the d'Hondt method. The Welsh Assembly is also elected using the additional member system, but in that case there are 40 constituency Members and 20 list Members. Although all the evidence points to those systems working well and

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producing proportionate results, I understand that there is a certain amount of dissatisfaction in both Wales and Scotland about, for example, the relative status of list and constituency Members. No one disputes, however, that the system produces a more proportionate result by political party and ensures that the voice of minor parties is more fairly represented. What the additional member system preserves is that link between the constituent and the representative. It also offers the opportunity of approaching a list member if the voter thinks that that member may represent them more effectively.

Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he explain why every time the Government introduce a new body such as the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament or a regional assembly, they choose to use a proportionate voting system, while they refuse to move on proportional representation for this place?

Mr. Leslie: I suspect that the reason for taking a fresh look at voting systems when we establish a new body is precisely because it is a new body that is established on a more blank canvass, so we have a capability to stand back and look at arrangements afresh. I shall mention some of those matters later.

We know about the situation in Northern Ireland, where all elections except those to Westminster are held under the single transferable vote system. As we have seen in the recent Assembly elections, that is a complex system in which voters number the candidates in order of preference, but its advantage in Northern Ireland is that at least strict party proportionality can be the result.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): I am most grateful to the Minister for referring to the recent Assembly elections. May I urge him to have a quiet word with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ensure that, when we have proportional representation, procedures are put in place to ensure that the count does not take two days to produce a result in a small constituency or in any of the moderately sized constituencies in Northern Ireland? If we have proportional representation, there must be procedures to advance that voting system.

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