Unelected Lords debate elections for MEPs

March 5, 2012 5:00 PM

Chris RennardToday, I challenged the Government to improve upon the unpopular 'closed list' system for electing Britain's MEPs. The debate was foreshadowed by a piece I wrote for Politics home: http://www.epolitix.com/latestnews/article-detail/newsarticle/more-power-to-choose-meps/

There was a fierce row about this issue in the House of Lords in 1999 when Labour carried out their Manifesto commitment (and a legal obligation) to introduce Proportional Representation for the European Parliament elections.

Many peers including the Liberal Democrats and crossbenchers such as Lord Alton (for whom I am a former election agent) objected to Labour's use of a system that puts power in the hands of political parties rather than voters. The system means that the political parties rank their candidates in order of preference so that voters who support a particular party have no say in which candidates from that party might get elected.

I asked if "Could not consideration be given to using, for example, the transferable system already in use in Northern Ireland for electing MEPs, which is in use in Scotland for local elections and which the Government propose for future elections to the House of Lords? Failing that, will the Government at least consider using an open-list system, which would give more power to voters and less to political parties?"

The response was disappointing as those who criticised the system in 1999 seem not to have thought yet about changing it before the next European Parliament elections in 2014, although Lord Howell of Guildford did say that it could be considered.

More surprising to me, however, was the attack in the House of Lords from Lord Rooker on 'unaccountable MEPs'. The former MEP sitting behind me, Lord Teverson, was clearly shocked that unelected peers could say this of elected MEPs and former European Commissioner Lord Kinnock attacked the negative portrayal of the European Parliament .

More annoying to me was the way in which Labour backbenchers (Lord Grocott) and Tory (Lord Cormack) claimed that a referendum rejection of a system (Alternative Vote) that is anything but Proportional Representation was somehow a rejection of PR when this option was not allowed by either of these parties to be on the ballot paper. It is a shame that so many parliamentarians seem to know so little about the different systems by which people can get elected - and might one day get elected to the House of Lords!

The debate is http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/lords/todays-lords-debates/read/unknown/31/