HISTORY of a sort was made at the Palace of Westminster last Friday when Viscount Ullswater was elected to the House of Lords. Those who thought that the idea of an elected second chamber was on indefinite hold can be reassured. Lord Ullswater filled a vacancy caused by the death of Viscount Oxfuird who was one of the rump of 92 hereditary peers still left in the Lords pending the much-delayed decision on the House's future. Ullswater was one of the 661 hereditaries thrown out in 1999 but last week he stood with 80 other noble candidates for this opportunity to return to Westminster. Although the outcome of the election was of little importance in itself, the means by which it was achieved is worthy of note. A system of proportional representation known as the alternative vote system was in force; each of the 423 Lords who voted was able to name a second choice if his first preference was not the winner. This method required 42 rounds of counting until a clear winner emerged, although Viscount Ullswater had been among the leaders all the way and eventually got 151 votes to beat Viscount Montgomery, son of the Field Marshall, who had 116. If this is how proportional representation works, it may need some revision before it is more widely used.
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