It was right and important that Parliament was the first to know about proposals for a referendum on the alternative vote. The Bill will be debated in Parliament, and we will listen also to views from all the devolved Administrations. I have written to the First Minister in Edinburgh to explain the reasons behind our proposed timetable for the referendum.
The Deputy Prime Minister must understand the level of anger in Scotland on this issue, and the fact that there was no consultation with the Scottish Parliament before the decision was made has increased that anger. Did he ever consult the Scottish Parliament before making it, and will he now discuss it with it?
As I said, I thought it right that this Parliament was the first to know about such a major issue. I simply do not understand why it is considered in any way a detraction from the Holyrood elections next May in Scotland that, at the same time, people across the United Kingdom should be asked to reply to a simple yes/no question on whether they want the alternative vote. It is disrespectful to the voters and people of Scotland to suggest that somehow they are incapable of making two decisions at once.
Notwithstanding the fact that my new and best right hon. Friend would, I am sure, now deprecate the fact that if we had had the alternative vote in 1997 the Conservative party would have been reduced to a pathetic rump of 65 MPs, does he not think that precisely because AV is not proportional, it raises complicated questions? It is extraordinarily dangerous, therefore, to have the referendum on the same day as other elections, namely the Scottish elections. We need a proper debate on the issue.
About 84% of voters in England will be voting, or eligible to vote, next May. In Scotland and Wales everybody will be entitled to vote. About 39 million people will be invited to vote next May, and it seems to me that instead of asking people constantly to go back to polling booths to cast separate votes, it is perfectly right to invite them to have their say on a simple yes/no issue on the same day, at, by the way, a lower cost to the Exchequer—it will save about £17 million.