Peers put PR plan in disarray

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT has been forced into a humiliating climbdown over a new proportional representation voting system for elections to the European Parliament. It is to announce a review of the proposed "closed list" system, by which electors can vote for a party but not individual candidates in the regional constituencies.

The move is designed to drive a Bill implementing the new voting system through the House of Lords by the end of the Parliamentary session this month. Tory hereditary peers, angered by Labour plans to abolish their voting and speaking rights, have been turning out in droves to vote against the Government's plans.

The Opposition is trying to hold up the Bill in the Lords so that it falls by the end of the 1997-1998 Parliament, which ends this month. This would cause havoc for next year's European Parliamentary elections and would mean that all political parties would have to begin their candidate selection proceedings again.

Jack Straw has decided that in an attempt to get the Bill through he will announce his intention to "review" the closed list system after the European elections next year. The move could lead to the scrapping of the closed list system, which has been criticised as a ruse for getting loyal Blairites into office.

The Home Secretary's office was in frantic talks with Labour MEPs about the Bill last week. "We are not changing the Bill. It will still be closed lists," said a source close to the Home Secretary. "After the European elections we will hear from parties to see what they think."

The move is to be supported by the Liberal Democrats, who have accused the Tories of political opportunism because they did not make an issue of closed lists when the Bill was at committee stage. The Liberal Democrats would prefer open lists, which allow voters to place a mark next to an individual candidate, but are voting for the Government.

"It's a nonsense for hereditary peers to be blocking a measure about how we conduct our democracy," said a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.

Around 22 Labour MEPs, many of them old Labour activists, are expected to lose their seats under the closed list system which enables Millbank to vet candidates giving disloyal politicians unwinnable spots on the list. Ken Coates, a Labour MEP, said, "The hereditary peers want to spike the Government's guns because they are about to be led off to the abattoir themselves. They are altogether too bossy."