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Lord Evans of Parkside: My noble friend referred to the fact that he allowed himself during the period from 1975 to 1979 to be called a Member of the European Parliament. I wish to make it clear that others of us were also seconded to the European Assembly during that period who always refuted the title of Member of the European Parliament and insisted on being called Members of the European Assembly.

However, like my other noble friend, I am amazed at the amendments that have been tabled. I am even more surprised at the support that they have received from the Conservative Front Bench. If, for instance, the Committee accepted the amendments and called Members from Britain "deputies", "delegates", or "representatives", we should be the only country among the 15 so to call our representatives. All the other countries would describe them as Members.

It is argued that the European Parliament is different from the House of Commons. This place is also somewhat different from the other place, but we are proud to call ourselves Members of the House of Lords. I suggest that these amendments have no particular role in the Bill, and I find some parts totally deplorable.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I cannot refer to anything that my noble kinsman has said because I do not have any relatives here. If I had any who might have been related to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I might have asked what is the crystallised position of the Opposition Front Bench. Does the noble Lord support the title "deputy"--it sounds awfully foreign to me--or

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"delegate", or "representative"? I am not sure what the Opposition view is. I am happy to say on this occasion how pleased I am to note how sound on Europe and European matters the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, always is. He made the point perfectly well--

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I thank my noble friend for that remark.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I offered it deliberately as a hostage to subsequent fortune. It was, as always, a pleasure to listen to the concluding remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, delivered in his constructive way.

I sometimes wonder why we spend almost half an hour on a matter which, it may be thought, is of little substance. The European Parliament is what the Parliament is known as. "Member of the European Parliament" is the commonly used and accepted term throughout Europe. I respectfully commend the noble Earl for his extraordinary assiduity and diligence, but he still leaves deputies as,

    "Deputies of the European Parliament",
delegates as,

    "Delegates of the European Parliament",
and representatives as,

    "Representatives of the European Parliament".
We still have a European Parliament, but we have no members of it.

Everybody now uses the term,

    "Member of the European Parliament".
As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, pointed out, we happily describe ourselves as Members of this House and other people as members of local authorities, members of the Freemasons, members of the golf club, or whatever. The European Parliament uses that terminology and MEPs themselves use it to describe their occupation.

I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that there are subsequent amendments that focus on the way in which the proposed elections will be carried out. However, the MEPs are elected and, whatever they are called, their role remains exactly the same. They will still be Members of the European Parliament elected to represent their region. Nothing that the Home Secretary said in the citations from his remarks contradicts or calls that into question in any way. France, Germany, Greece, Portugal and Spain all elect their MEPs using the system proposed in the Bill, and,

    "Member of the European Parliament",
is the accepted and acknowledged term. It is the role that matters, not the title we give to the person who carries it out. The terms "delegate", "deputy" and "representative" are not in the mainstream of our tradition. Therefore, on that single ground alone, they ought to be resisted.

3.30 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk: I am grateful for the support of my noble friends Lord Waddington and Lord Henley for the principle underlying my amendment. It is important. I am not sure that I can help the noble Lord,

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Lord Stoddart of Swindon, with his puzzlement, except to say that, irrespective of whether MEPs sit in the Parliament, there can be no doubt that MPs and MEPs are, as it were, different species. We have that on the authority of the Home Secretary and the Minister.

As an aside, one dictionary definition of "representative" is:

    "One who represents a number of persons in some special capacity; especially one who represents a section of the community as member of a legislative body".
I believe that that is a reasonable description of an MEP's duties.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, gave us his customary root and branch comments on the nature of the European Parliament, for which I am very grateful. I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell; I cannot do otherwise. I suspect that he is right in suggesting that the amendments would have little practical effect. I repeat that I none the less felt it important to have a discussion about the underlying principle.

I indicated earlier that I was not labouring under any false optimism. I cannot say that I am in full agreement with the comments made by the Minister. I shall read them closely in Hansard. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 to 5 not moved.]

Lord Holme of Cheltenham moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 1, line 9, at end insert ("according to the system set out in sections 3 to 3B").

The noble Lord said: In speaking to the group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 6, 13, 17, 18 and 20 in the names of my noble friends Lord McNally and Lord Steel and myself, I propose that we amend the Bill to use what is sometimes called, in shorthand, the Belgian system.

There are four voting systems before the House. We have the Government's proposal in the Bill; we have the amendments on which I shall speak in a moment; we have Amendments Nos. 12 and 23 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Earl, Lord Kitchener, to provide for the single transferable vote; and we have Amendments Nos. 14, 16, 19 and 21 from the Conservative Front Bench in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Mackay and Lord Henley.

My proposition is very simple. We have a good Bill and it is extremely important that it is passed. But we must not make the good the enemy of the best. I seek, with the help of my noble friends, to improve the Bill by making one fairly straightforward change to it.

Before I come to my amendment, in order not to take up more of the Committee's time later, perhaps I may briefly review the attitude of these Benches to the other two voting systems in the amendments we shall discuss shortly. The amendment to provide for the single transferable vote has a great deal to commend it and we on these Benches have a great deal of sympathy for it. The Liberal Party and now the Liberal Democrats have consistently urged the case for the single transferable

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vote for parliamentary elections over many years. In this instance that system is not ideal because of the very large constituencies proposed in the Bill. My party has not supported it for European elections for some 20 years but, rather, supports the kind of system which we hope to introduce to the Bill today.

Another problem with the single transferable vote, as the Committee will know, is that the Home Secretary has made clear his inexorable opposition to the change whereas that is not the case with regard to the amendment to which I shall speak shortly.

The Conservative Front Bench are most unlikely aficionados of the Finnish system, given their past record on these matters. Perhaps I may say how much I welcome their conversion to proportional representation for European elections. I did not gain the impression from the very warmed up remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that there had been such a conversion, but maybe there has been. We shall look forward to hearing what they have to say about it. The problem with that amendment is that it will mean changes to boundaries, and thus involve delay, and, in a Bill with regard to which time is of the essence, it could be interpreted as a wrecking amendment.

It is an extremely important priority to get the Bill through the Committee and to bring us into line with Europe. I need hardly remind the Committee that the Treaty of Rome commits us to the introduction of a uniform electoral system. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, this is not a farce. It would be a farce if we continued to change the balance of the European Parliament by being alone in Europe in not having a fair electoral system. What we have here is a 90 per cent. Bill. The amendment seeks to make it a 100 per cent. Bill.

The amendment we propose, while retaining the constituencies proposed by the Government, would allow an element of voter choice by opening up the ballot paper and allowing the voter to choose the candidate and hence vary the order on the party list. This system has been researched by NOP. The results showed that the majority would prefer European elections to be conducted by the system that we propose from these Benches. At Second Reading the Government quoted Home Office research on the subject, but I should point out that that was not quantitative research but research derived from small focus groups. We all know how devoted the Government are to focus groups, but I suggest that in this instance a rather wider testing of opinion is desirable.

In the conclusions of the wide test carried out by NOP it is stated:

    "Voters can react strongly to the removal of the right to select a candidate for themselves, even if they already tend to vote on the basis of party".
It must commend itself to your Lordships that in a modern democratic system people like to have some balance of candidate and party when they express their preference. Our amendments allow them to do that.

In conclusion, these amendments would enlarge voter power at the expense of the party. They represent a minimal but effective change to the Bill and, crucially,

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where time is pressing, would involve no delay to it. The Home Secretary has blown hot and cold on this matter. At Second Reading of the Bill in another place, he said:

    "I am prepared to listen to the arguments for adopting a Belgian-type system and to give them careful consideration".--[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/97; col. 814.]
At the moment he is blowing more cold than hot. I hope that by the end of this afternoon's proceedings it will become clear whether he and his Ministers in this Chamber are now warm to a change which is wholly justifiable in terms of democratic enhancement and which will help to make a good Bill the best possible Bill. I beg to move.

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