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Orders of the Day — European Assembly Elections Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th July 1977.

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Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

Yes, of course. But we have not voted yet, and after the vote there will be no alternative. It is rather an academic question.

I do not believe that the regional list system is the best available but it has certain advantages. It means that the number of votes is reflected in the seats, so that if a party holds three-fifths of the vote it gets three out of five seats. That is new. The system also gives some choice to the elector among the candidates within his party list. That again is new. It is also, in my view, a system which could, although not necessarily would, be ready in time. Although we may want to look at Schedule 3 and carry out certain amendments, the system is simple.

Its disadvantages are that, although one counts the party totals, if a candidate for a party fails to get the necessary quota, or if he exceeds his quota, those who vote for him will have no way of expressing where they would wish their second preference to go. The elector would get that ability under the single transferable vote system, but not under the regional list system.

The main defect will be that in Northera Ireland, where one cannot have cross-voting and cannot share second preferences with any other party, it will probably split the vote between the SDLP and the Alliance Party, to the benefit of those more extreme on the right or on the left. That is one reason, I suspect, why the Government in their White Paper said that if we were to have the first-past-the-post system for the United Kingdom, we would have to have proportional representation or STV for Northern Ireland.

I wonder why they said that. I think that they accepted their own advice, in paragraph 14 of the White Paper, that the first-past-the-post system magnifies swings. That is something of which every Government approve when they are in power—a magnification of the swings— because they benefit, and of which every Opposition approve when they think that they are about to become the Government. But they both know full well that minorities are very often underrepresented, and that in the case of Northern Ireland it would probably be the Roman Catholic minority. Indeed, it would probably not be represented at all. Therefore, even with the regional list system, I should still like the single transferable vote in Northern Ireland, because it is vitally important that both religious communities and all shades of opinion there should be as accurately reflected as possible.