Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I welcome the more constructive approach adopted by Her Majesty's Government and look forward to further progress. However, will my noble friend confirm that it is the Government's intention that the remaining British deep-mine industry will continue to be the safest in the world? Will he also confirm that the Government will not shrink from amending the current regulations if that seems desirable?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, our aim is to create a competitive market. Within that, we shall make certain that safety regulations are maintained and amended if necessary.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, even if the Kyoto targets are met, how will the Minister arrest the inevitable rise in emissions consequent upon the eventual retirement of the nuclear power stations by about 2020, and how will coal help the situation?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the new policy will not affect the UK's capacity to reach its Kyoto target of a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases averaging 12.5 per cent. between 2008 and 2012 compared with emissions in 1990. To the extent that new gas-fired stations eventually come on stream, this will aid the situation and make it easier to reach the targets.

Lord Lofthouse: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that on the sale of the electricity industry £1 billion was allocated to PowerGen for that company to produce a desulphurisation plant at Ferrybridge power station? That plant has never been produced. What has happened to the £1 billion?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, United Kingdom sulphur emissions are continuing to fall rapidly beyond what our international obligations strictly require. We are encouraging generators to run flue gas desulphurisation stations ahead of non-FGD stations. We have made clear that we believe that all major generators should have at least one FGD station. Eastern has announced plans to fit FGD at West Bourton.

EU Pre-accession States and UK Universities

3.1 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

4 Nov 1998 : Column 271

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, access to higher education in any member state on terms no less favourable than for home students, including fees, forms part of the package of rights and obligations that accompany full membership of the European Union. The Government believe that it would not be appropriate to extend this right to non-member states. However, a total of 11 pre-accession countries are, or soon will be, taking part in the EU's education programmes. One part of Socrates Erasmus allows students from those countries to come to the UK for part of their higher education without paying fees in the UK.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she not aware that at the moment the universities in the United Kingdom are pricing themselves out of the market and that as a result these "5+1" nations are not able to send their students to our universities? Does the Minister agree that that is unfortunate not only for our universities and our students but also for the students of the "5+1" nations who would return, having attended our universities for education, and assist the "5+1" nations, which include the four Visegrad nations and the northern Baltic state of Estonia? Will she approach European Union Ministers in other countries to see whether the system can be changed? If the system cannot be changed, will she increase the number of Chevening Trust scholarships available to these "5+1" nations?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am not aware that UK universities are pricing themselves out of the system. More students from the European Union are studying here this year than last and there are many more students from the European Union in the UK than there are British students abroad in the European Union. The British higher education system encourages students from the "5+1" countries to spend part of their time studying in the UK. As I said in my initial Answer, the new arrangements for students from those countries to come here on Erasmus programmes will be very beneficial for them.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness whether "5+1" is a term of art. If so, how does one qualify for entry?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I believe that "5+1" is something of a term of art. The "1" is Cyprus and the "5" are the pre-accession countries of Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, perhaps I may help the noble Baroness. The fifth country is Slovenia. Will the noble Baroness answer the second part of my question, which concerned the Chevening Trust? Many of our ambassadors, including the ambassador to Estonia, Mr. Craddock, is not receiving any funds this year from the Chevening Trust because they have all been used up. Certain students from Estonia are denied access to education in this country.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, there are many good cases for support of students from all over the

4 Nov 1998 : Column 272

world through the Chevening scholarship scheme. In considering priorities, we have to look at the former Commonwealth countries and countries in the third world as well as those in central and eastern Europe. I shall convey the noble Earl's comments about the particular needs of the latter group of countries to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.

European Parliamentary Elections Bill

3.5 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reasons be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons reasons be now considered.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line refer to HL Bill 88 as first printed for the Lords]


Clause 1, page 2, line 1, leave out ("a registered party, or").

The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason--

Because it would result in a voting system which is undesirable.



That this House do insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish rose to move, That this House do insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to this amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4.

This is a relatively simple issue concerning the form of proportional representation system for next year's European parliamentary elections. Let me make it clear to your Lordships at the outset that I do not dispute with the Government or the Commons the decision to change our system for the election of MEPs from a first-past-the-post system to a regional list system. That argument is over. What I dispute is the way the regional list system is to be operated.

The United Kingdom is to be divided into large regions, with between four and 11 members in each region, the average being seven or eight. Each party standing in the election will submit a list of those it wishes to put forward for election to the European Parliament. Most importantly, it will put that list forward in its order of preference; that is, in the party's order of preference. On polling day next year the electorate will be asked to vote for the party of their choice--only the party, not the candidate. On the ballot paper will appear the party list as determined by the

4 Nov 1998 : Column 273

party, and we are grateful to the Government for that. The individual voter, however, will have no way of influencing that all-important order. After the polls have closed, the total party vote will be determined for the region and a simple mathematical calculation, devised by a Belgian mathematician, Victor d'Hondt, will be used to decide how many seats each party should have. If the Conservative Party is entitled to three seats in a region, numbers one, two and three on the list will be elected. Your Lordships will see that, while it is open to the elector to decide which party to vote for, it is not open to the elector to decide on his or her preferred order within the list. Hence it is a called a closed-list system, and that is the one that the Government favour.

However, it does not have to be a closed list; it can be an open list. With the open list, as proposed in the amendments passed by your Lordships when we last considered the matter, the elector will vote for his or her party by voting for the preferred candidate on the list. There will be no party box; there will be boxes for each of the parties' candidates on the list. After the poll, the party total is achieved by totalling the votes for each of the parties' candidates, the d'Hondt divisor is used, and the number of the seats allocated to each of the parties is achieved in exactly the same way as for a closed list. But now comes the real difference. Again let us assume that the Conservative Party has gained three seats. Instead of the three winners being determined by the party, as in the closed list system, the three winners will be those three people who have achieved the highest votes from that party's electors. In other words, that is a people's choice and not a party's choice.

Your Lordships' amendment would therefore allow the European elections to proceed by proportional representation based on regional lists; but the people, the voters, the supporters at the ballot box of each of the parties, will determine who on the list would go to Brussels to represent them--the people's representatives, not the party's.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, in his elegant defence of the party's choice and not the people's choice, suggested, the last time we debated this issue, suggested that it was important that the parties should be able to fix the list, essentially so that candidates who may not, for whatever reason, receive the endorsement of that party's voters can be elected. That is not so much trusting the people as telling the people that the party knows best.

Yet even in an open list system the party machine has significant input, if that brings comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. The party will be able to decide who will be on the list and the order in which their names shall appear on the ballot paper. I suggest that both lists give enough advantages to the party's favoured sons and daughters to satisfy even the noble Lord, Lord Williams.

Your Lordships will have read the well-argued Commons reasons:

    "The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason--Because it would result in a voting system which is undesirable".

4 Nov 1998 : Column 274

They did not burn too much midnight oil thinking up that one. Is it not interesting that the Government think that the open list is undesirable?--because, in reality, that is what this means. They are almost alone in thinking that. I pointed out on the last occasion when we discussed this issue what the Electoral Reform Society had had to say in a press release:

    "We are all for proportional representation and we give the Government credit for having moved so quickly in introducing PR for European elections. But there is more to electoral reform than PR. We want to see voters being able to exercise more choice, and certainly not less choice, over who their MEPs will be. Such a system"--
that is, the closed list--

    "is bad for voters, bad for candidates and bad for democracy"--[Official Report, 20/10/98; col. 1320.]
According to the Electoral Reform Society--which in every other way is delighted with the Government--the closed list system chosen is bad for voters, bad for candidates and bad for democracy.

In order to demonstrate that this is not a Conservative-inspired idea but has a broad base of support from those people who are particularly interested in electoral reform, Charter 88 said this:

    "We believe that voters should be able to choose between candidates of the same party. We are especially concerned that voters are not given the impression that the new voting system is being introduced for party political benefit".
Perish the thought!

    "We are concerned that if the Government insist on the use of closed lists voters may be left with the impression that the voting system has been manipulated for party political aims".--[Official Report, 20/10/98; col. 1320.]

Since the Commons discussed our amendments on these matters on 27th October and decided, in their elegant words, that the open list was undesirable, we have had the report of the Jenkins Commission, which was described by no less a person than the Prime Minister as making a well argued and powerful case for the system that it recommends. We have been over these issues a number of times, but I would like to read some of the words written by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, with regard to the list system which he proposes as the top-up part of the new system that the report recommends for the other place.

The list top-up system is very akin to the regional system that we are now looking at for the European Parliament. I will read it to your Lordships because the Commons should be allowed to consider this weighty addition to the issue. If they do not listen to me--and I do not particularly expect them to--if they are not too good at listening to your Lordships, if they do not seem to want to listen to the Electoral Reform Society or to Charter 88, they should consider what the commission set up by the Prime Minister has to say.

Paragraph 138 says this:

    "Under a reform system it is crucial that the voters' right to express their view of individual candidates should be at least maintained and preferably enhanced. First past the post does retain the right, theoretical in most cases but occasionally practical as the last election showed, to get rid of a deeply distasteful candidate even in a nominally safe seat".

4 Nov 1998 : Column 275

I suspect it is talking about Tatton.

    "It would be a count against a new system if any candidate, by gaining party machine endorsement for being at the head of a list, were to achieve a position of effective immunity from the preference of the electorate. This is the essence of the case for open as opposed to closed lists for Top-up members".
It is also the essence of the case for the open as opposed to the closed list in the regional list system proposed for Europe.

In paragraph 139, the report states:

    "Nevertheless it remains essential that the elector should have two rights; first, to bolt the party ticket completely with his or her second vote, in other words to vote for a candidate of one party for the constituency and then to cast his or her vote in a different direction for the Top-up representative or representatives".
This is particularly applicable to the system proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and also used for the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly.

    "Without this right"--
the right to vote differently--

    "the new system would not fulfil the objective of freeing the voter from the prison of having to suffer an unwanted candidate for the constituency in order to get a desired government. Second, however, it is equally desirable"--
and this is the real point--

    "that the voter should be able to discriminate between the candidate put forward for the list by the party for which he or she wishes to cast the second vote. Only if this is so does the Commission feel that it will have sufficiently discharged its third requirement of providing for an extension of voters' choice".

There is no voters' choice beyond choosing the party in the system proposed for the European parliament. We should take this opportunity of enlarging that voters' choice and moving to the open list. In the light of the Jenkins Commission report, which has come to hand since the 27th October, I invite your Lordships to invite the other place to think again. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

3.15 p.m.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he tell us whether it is the view of the official Opposition that they support the Jenkins Commission report?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page