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Alternative Vote System

Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 22 June 2010

1. When he expects to publish the timetable for a referendum on the alternative vote system for general elections. (3357)

The Government have made clear their intention to introduce legislation providing for a national referendum on the alternative vote for future elections to the House of Commons. The appropriate timetable for that legislation and the subsequent referendum is currently being considered within Government. Further details will be announced to the House in due course.

Given that answer, why has the Deputy Prime Minister prioritised boundary changes, as opposed to a date for a referendum on the electoral system? Can he answer that question, or has the Prime Minister leaned on him?

The coalition agreement is clear. We want to proceed with the preparations for a referendum, giving people the choice to choose a new electoral system—the alternative vote system—and, in parallel, to proceed with a review of boundaries. Reviewing boundaries in this country is not a new thing. If the hon. Gentleman would care to look back at the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, which establishes the provisions for reviews of boundaries, he will see that the legislation imposes a requirement on us to keep the size of the House of Commons lower than it currently is, and to have greater equality between the sizes of constituencies. I do not think that anybody will quibble with the principle that people’s votes should count equally, wherever they so happen to live.

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that there will be no move to hold a referendum on voting reform on the same day as any other elections, after the ruling given by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, which said:

“we recommend there should be a presumption against holding referendums on the same day as elections”?

As I have said, we will shortly come forward—I hope to do so well before the summer recess—to set out our plans for a referendum to give people in this country the choice to choose, if they so wish, to change the electoral system to an alternative vote system.

May I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his position and give thanks to him for implementing a Labour party manifesto commitment that was not in the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestos? Will he reflect on the fact that in February the Liberal Democrats in this House proposed that an additional question—on the single transferable vote—should be asked in any referendum? If that was proposed again by his colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches, would he vote for or against it?

This from a party that back in 1997 had a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on a change to the electoral system. The previous Government had 13 years to do that, and they did absolutely nothing. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman, having sat on his hands for 13 years, is finally displaying some urgency about getting on with the political reforms that his Government failed to deliver. Our coalition agreement is absolutely clear: we are going to hold a referendum on whether people want to have a new electoral system—the alternative vote system.