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Electoral Systems

Volume 471: debated on Tuesday 29 January 2008

I made a written ministerial statement on 24 January, announcing the publication of the review of voting systems. Copies of the review have been placed in the Library.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. In responding to the review, Ministers have said that it is an important contribution to the debate about the strengths and weaknesses of different voting systems, and the options for electoral reform. As the review is essentially desk research, it raises the question of where that debate will take place. Is there not now a case for asking voters—engaging the public in the debate—what kinds of different electoral systems can best contribute to different forms of politics and what they want from their political system in this country?

It was precisely for that reason—to inform the kind of debate that my hon. Friend wants—that we published the review. This is an important issue, and we look forward to hearing the results of that debate.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that whatever changes may be made to the voting system—this paper is clearly an important one—it also matters how the system of voting works? Does he also agree that the changes that his Government have initiated in the past have not been an outstanding success, and that one of the things that dignified our democracy in the past was the absolute integrity and assurance of our voting system? Will he please put it back to what it was?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman on the first part of his question, because of course such matters are fundamentally important. However, I do not agree with the second part. We have always taken the integrity of the voting system seriously. The legislation that we have passed has had that absolutely at its heart, but we have a problem—as I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise—with the disengagement of significant parts of the electorate from the political system. All of us owe it to our electorate to do whatever we can to increase participation. That is what has driven our reforms, and it will continue to drive our approach, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the integrity of the system remains fundamental.

But did we not set up the Electoral Commission to consider these ideas? Since its creation, we have seen voting turnout decline, confidence in politicians fall, and the Council of Europe has criticised our postal voting. We give that outfit £27 million a year. Why?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his contribution, although I am not sure that it is fair to suggest, as he seems to do, that all those phenomena are the fault of the Electoral Commission. We are reforming the commission. We want it to improve its performance and we are confident that it will do so.

Has the Minister noted that Signor Prodi has recently pointed out that proportional representation has made it almost impossible to govern Italy?

As always, the hon. Gentleman makes an invaluable contribution to the debate.

Will my hon. Friend take evidence from Scottish councillors who are now enjoying—if that is the correct word—the single transferable vote electoral system? It means that we have more than one councillor a ward, and as a consequence, instead of one councillor being directly accountable to his or her constituents and visiting the community council, two or three have to turn up at gala day committees and such like. That has a very detrimental effect on their health.

That is another valuable contribution to the debate and I am delighted that the review of voting systems has already produced such an interesting collection of views.

Is it not the case that this so-called review of electoral systems is actually little more than a cover for the Government’s abject failure to address existing electoral issues, such as the need to counter rampant electoral malpractice, poor voter registration levels, hopeless electronic voting projects and the dire need for sensible party funding proposals?

Up until this moment, we have heard an interesting collection of views on the review of voting systems. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not feel able to address the issue at point. The answer to his question is, in short, no.

I do not know what latitude the Minister has to look into the way in which European Union elections are operated. We have a problem with parliamentary elections for Westminster, but the turnout in European elections is much lower. Can he look into that so that we could perhaps return to the old system and, instead of the discredited proportional representation list system, we could have proper European constituencies, with one MEP representing one set of people?

Of course we will look into that. The whole point of the review of voting systems is to invite contributions to the debate about something that is fundamentally important to the health of our democracy.