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Electoral System

Volume 461: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2007

We have just heard the Secretary of State say that notwithstanding the fact that two out of three voters voted to continue the Union, we face a perverse situation in which the party in government in Scotland is determined to push for independence. The Under-Secretary of State will recently have heard many of his Labour colleagues call for a return to the first past the post system, so will he instigate a review and consider returning to a simple, clear method of electing Members of the Scottish Parliament, namely the system that we have here—first past the post?

We set up an independent commission, led by Sir John Arbuthnott, to consider the consequences of having different electoral systems in Scotland. He and his commission looked into the matter and came back with the recommendation that we should not move back to first past the post, or move to the single transferable vote system right across Scotland, but that we should keep the current system as it is. It is a reflection of the fact that during the Scottish Constitutional Convention, there was an attempt to reach consensus. Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman’s party had taken part in the Constitutional Convention, it might have been able to make the hon. Gentleman’s comment at the time. We have a system and it has produced a result that we openly acknowledge: it has given the Scottish National party a one-seat advantage, but it should not think that it has any mandate whatever to break up the United Kingdom. That would be going against the clear wishes of the vast majority of the people of Scotland.

But will the Minister accept that the voting system for this place should remain as it is—that is, that it should be first past the post?

As the newly elected Scottish Executive have a good Gaelic song, doubtless the SNP could have looked forward to election victories regardless of the voting system used. However, is it not the case that Scotland’s electoral system should be a matter for Scotland’s Parliament and all the parties within its Parliament?

The Scotland Act 1998 is very clear: issues relating to the constitution are reserved to this place, and that includes the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament. We have no plans to change that.

When looking at the Scotland Act, will Ministers consider the position that it is completely wrong that someone should be able to stand under first past the post, under the list system and for a local authority, and so may fail in the first, fail in the second and fail in the third? There are parties in which people are able to do that, whereas in our party we stand for only one position. Surely that is right.

I think that it is probably best to leave the issue to the individual parties concerned; it is up to them to make a decision on whether they should have people who are on the list, who stand under first past the post and who stand for the council, too. My hon. Friend will be aware, of course, that the Arbuthnott commission looked into that, and rather explicitly ruled it out.

I am sure that all Members want trust in our electoral system to be restored after the mess of last month’s elections, and a full and comprehensive inquiry is clearly vital to that. However, we now face the ludicrous situation in which the inquiry investigating the thousands of spoiled ballot papers will not be able to see a single one. Will the Minister tell me why he has not yet brought forward the necessary legislative changes to ensure that the inquiry is able to examine the spoiled ballot papers, and will he do so now?

We have been absolutely and consistently clear: the inquiry is independent of Government, and an independent international expert has been brought in to lead that inquiry. If I were to start second-guessing what those carrying out the inquiry might ask for, or how they should go about their inquiry, I would rightly be accused of interfering with it. We have said that we stand ready to co-operate with Mr. Gould, and so we do.

The Minister will be aware that the subject of the elections was raised at First Minister’s questions in the Scottish Parliament on 31 May, when the First Minister referred to his telephone discussions with the Secretary of State. Although I am pleased to learn that they were cordial, the First Minister also indicated his intention to push for

“a more thorough and independent inquiry”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 31 May 2007; c. 316.]—

into the Scottish election debacle. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister accede to that request?

The First Minister has not actually made the request, so it is difficult for me to accede to a request that has not been made. I have not had a telephone conversation with the First Minister, but I had the unalloyed joy of spending three hours with him over a curry in Renfrew a week last Sunday, and he did not raise the matter with me then, either. If he says one thing to the Scottish Parliament and does not say it in this place, that highlights the fact that he has a seat here and if he came and took his seat and served his constituents in Banff and Buchan, he could make that point to us at Scottish questions.