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Lord Steel of Aikwood: I do not know whether the noble Lord was present earlier, but his position was unfortunately described as "absolutely useless" by his noble friend.

Lord Waddington: My noble friend can be assured that I said nothing of the sort. I was referring to what could happen when those who were as low down on the list as he was, having been selected, then decided to back out. That was the situation which I was posing and I wish my noble friend luck.

The Earl of Dartmouth: I thank both Members of the Committee for those effective and gracious interventions. However, I was present when my noble friend Lord Waddington made his comment and I integrated it into the body of my speech. I hope therefore that the Committee will not mind if, in passing, I refer to it again.

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Though my position in the list is below the statistically-likely level of election, for me to have been selected is, for me, a great honour. However, I recognise that it is a minor distinction compared with the huge electoral achievements of other Members of the Committee. Any minor euphoria that I may have felt in this selection was swept away when, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, indicated, my noble friend Lord Waddington described candidates on the list below the perceived level of election, as "worthless".

Lord Waddington: If my noble friend will give way, I can assure him that I did not say that. I was suggesting that if, as has happened, those in the lower part of the list decided that it was not worth going forward because their chances of election were so small, others would have to be brought in. That is not the position of my noble friend. However, in my over-excitement I used the word "useless" when I should not have done so and that is not my true view.

The Earl of Dartmouth: I thank my noble friend for his even more gracious retraction. However, I did the honourable thing and took the offered place on the list. And I say to my noble friend, retraction or no retraction, please do not shoot the pianist; he is doing his best.

Three basic points were made earlier which, from my interesting perspective, I regard as entirely valid. First, the introduction of this system for European elections will have the effect of discrediting proportional representation as a whole. I happen to be against proportional representation for reasons into which it would be otiose to go at this time, but doubtless I shall have the opportunity to debate in this Chamber on another occasion.

For most electors, this will be the first time they have been exposed to what Members on both sides of the Committee have always portrayed as being the wonders of proportional representation. As has been said by the House of Lords committee, they have been deprived of their right to select individuals. As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, pointed out, that will have the effect inevitably of discrediting all forms of proportional representation for the future. The electors are unlikely to make the distinction between this specific form which they will be utilising in June 1999 and other forms put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

Another point which has not so far been made concerns the status of members of the European Parliament. Even at the present time--this is a value judgment--MEPs have less credibility than Members of another place. They tend to have a lower value. Of course, the lower value is not reflected in a lower cost since the average cost to the taxpayer of a member of the European Parliament is approximately £990,000 per annum.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: How much?

The Earl of Dartmouth: The figure is approximately £990,000 per annum. It is one of the points that can be made to those who are interested that, by comparison, the average cost of Members of this Chamber is a mere £25,000 per annum. I believe that means we get

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25 noble Lords for each MEP. That perceived lesser status of MEPs is likely to be made worse by the system proposed by the Government.

A concern with which I entirely agree has been put forward in relation to turnout. It has long been a concern that there is a lower turnout in the United Kingdom for European elections as compared with the elections to the European Parliament in continental Europe. However, should the Government introduce this basically baffling system to the uninitiated--it took me a full day to wrap my head around it when I was applying to be a candidate--and other baffling systems which have also been proposed, it will make the turnout much worse and diminish the credibility of the European Parliament. I detect a lot of rabid pro-Europeans in this Chamber and suggest that they think very carefully before supporting the Government's proposals.

My final point concerns the issue of who gets on the list. We were told by one of the Members of the Committee opposite--it was news to me--that the Labour Party list will be determined by an 11-strong executive. I would characterise that cabal as a kind of Star Chamber with no stars. I, for one, feel sorry for would-be Labour MEPs who are going to have to grovel their way up this particularly greasy pole. By contrast, in the Conservative Party, hustings are open to the entire membership. That is as democratic a solution as is possible under the limitation of the government proposals.

Sadly, I must say to the mover of the amendment that STV is no solution. The fatal flaw is the need to have multi-member constituencies and the average number of electors for each MEP in the United Kingdom for the European Parliament is 508,088 electors. That means that STV, although still an improvement on the Government's grotesque proposals, does not make much sense. So, reluctantly, I shall have to oppose the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I shall try again to avoid taking part or giving my vote in the beauty contest on which method of PR I prefer. The more I have listened to this debate--I trust other noble Lords are beginning to agree with me--the more I feel that first-past-the-post is something we could deal with in just a few minutes, all agree with and then go home for the evening. But there we are. We are into PR so we have to look at all these variations.

I have to say that this variation is one which has been around for a long time. It is certainly different from the list system we discussed earlier and will again turn to later. It has been the historic position of the Electoral Reform Society and, until today, it was the historic position of the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. If he recalls--it seems many hours ago--I made a point of saying in introducing our earlier amendment that it was and is the preferred system of the Liberal Democrats for parliamentary elections.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I presume that intervention tells me that it is the preferred system for

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parliamentary elections to the other place and not European parliamentary elections, not Scottish parliamentary elections and not Welsh assembly elections. We pick and choose. So it is not actually the best system philosophically if it is only the best system in certain circumstances and we will pick and choose on the others. I rather suspect that it has a lot more to do with the "love in" the Liberal Democrats now have with the Government. They are prepared to accept the Government's preferred system to theirs in order to advance this "love in" and to advance the whole discussion on proportional representation.

We have as a background to this debate and all these debates the threat--I use the word advisedly--of proportional representation for the other place. As the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, rightly pointed out to us, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and his team of people, all signed up members of the PR tendency, are going round the country holding meetings. I was going to say "great meetings"; they may be great men but they sure are not holding great meetings. I can confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, said about the average attendance. I took the trouble of sending someone along to the one held in Edinburgh. I asked, "Was it crowded?". He replied, "It depends what you mean by crowded. Even the Tory party in Scotland can hold bigger meetings".

Noble Lords: Oh!

8.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Yes, we can indeed. If your Lordships think they are small, you should have been at the Jenkins' parade in Edinburgh. The interesting thing about it was that, as my friend said, everyone who was there was a signed up member of the PR tendency. He seemed to think that there were absolutely no members of the governing party there; I can only assume because in Scotland the Labour party has the good sense to know that the last thing on earth it wants is PR and therefore it did not go along in order that it could not be accused of encouraging the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. Perhaps it ought to have gone along to put the other point of view. But, on the basis of these tours around the country, I certainly hope that no one will tell me that there is a great demand for proportional representation.

One has to judge STV, first, against the Government's chosen method and also against first-past-the-post. When we look at STV for the European Parliament, first-past-the-post becomes a perfectly valid alternative in European terms. The Maastricht Treaty states that the elections should be held,

    "in accordance with a uniform procedure in all member states".
If we choose STV, we certainly will not be choosing to move towards a uniform procedure. Indeed, the European Parliament, in a resolution in 1993, made it clear that the distribution of the votes shall be based on lists drawn up either for the whole territory of a member state or for regions on multi-member constituencies. So we would not even be agreeing with the position set out by the European Parliament. If we were going to

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disagree with it by going for STV, perhaps I may suggest that we should disagree with it and stay with the traditional system.

STV has some merit. It gets closer to proportionality, if that is one's principal aim. But I believe that one ought to have a number of objectives in a voting system and one has to balance them. No electoral system achieves all the objectives, as I pointed out at Second Reading and in the debate on the Government of Wales Bill. The problem about STV is that it still requires large constituencies. It inevitably does. Therefore, the important link between an individual member and his constituent is broken by STV every bit as much as it is broken by the list system. I was amused by the by-election point but I will not go on to discuss that.

My objection to STV is by and large the same as my objection to the list system. It breaks the one-to-one relationship between an elected member and his constituents. That member is democratically elected. He is chosen by a local constituency party and not by the party apparatus. The party apparatus will choose the STV list just as surely as it would choose the PR system at which we are looking for the European Parliament.

With the single transferable vote one has the problem of the order in which the names are placed. In a long list of people everyone knows--all the statisticians have proved it--that the guy at the top of the list achieves an advantage. It may not be a large advantage but it may be sufficient of an advantage to get him elected; whereas if he was last in the list he might not be elected. However, my objection to STV is slightly more complicated. I shall not go into it at any great length but it is this.

I believe that there should be one person one vote. The STV system delivers multiple votes. If someone happens to choose a candidate to vote for first who just comes out below the quota line and stays there for quite a long time, he will never have any of his other votes counted. But someone who votes for "tail-end Charlie" will have his second vote counted, his third vote counted and his fourth vote counted. Equally, someone who votes for a candidate who wins by miles will then have at least a proportion of his second vote counted. When I think about it, it seems to me that I ought to be encouraging this system as it would appear to provide good employment for mathematicians. One has to weigh the balance of the surplus votes and divide them up according to proportionality inside whatever is left over. In the case of people who vote for a person first who wins by a mile, they will then have their second and sometimes their third or fourth votes counted as well. That seems to be a negation of one person, one vote.

I have always felt that to be one of the fundamental philosophical flaws in the single transferable vote system. Therefore, I am not in favour of it, although I accept that it does some things better than the system advocated by the Government. But it does other things in exactly the same poor quality way in contrast to the long tradition we have in this country of single member constituencies voted on by first-past-the-post.

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While I thought the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made a better fist of explaining STV to us than was made in the amendment about the Belgian system earlier on, I am still not convinced that it is worth moving to STV away from our first-past-the-post system. I certainly would not be able to support the amendment in the Lobbies if the noble Lord pressed it to a Division. But I suspect that he may not. He may wish to see whether he can persuade his old party to be loyal to its traditional beliefs and support STV.

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