Electoral Systems

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 28th October 2008.

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Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Liberal Democrat, Ross, Skye and Lochaber 2:30 pm, 28th October 2008

What progress has been made in his Department's review of electoral systems; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The Government's review of voting systems was published in January this year. It considers the experience of the voting systems introduced in the United Kingdom since 1997, and much comparative data from around the world. The review forms an important part of the continuing debate on electoral reform—on which, of course, I have a very open mind.

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If Jack Straw has a very open mind on voting systems, the Pope is a Jew.

Mr Straw claims the Government's review is an important part of the continuing debate on electoral reform but does nothing to encourage debate.

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Liberal Democrat, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

I think that we all knew about that latter point. It is nice to hear that the Justice Secretary can get a word in edgeways, given the plethora of Ministers that he has assembled around him. He will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the great electoral reformers of recent years, with the number of systems that he has introduced at different levels in different places. When he published the Government's review of electoral systems, to which he referred, he said that it was to "inform the current debate". If so, why is there is no specific mention of electoral reform in the White Paper, in the Government's draft constitutional reform Bill, or in the next steps of governance process? Is not that a bit of an oversight in terms of informing the debate? Why not extend the joyous Scottish experience of the single transferable vote for local government south of the border?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The right hon. Gentleman and I probably have slightly different views. [ Interruption . ] I may have an entirely open mind, but I have reached a settled conclusion on the system of electing coalitions of the kind that they have in Austria, which led to deadlock and a failure of the electors to express their opinions, in Israel, which leads to continual and repeated elections, in New Zealand, where the introduction of proportional representation led to a decline in turnout, and in Norway, where proportional representation is blamed for causing political disengagement by preventing voters from being able to turf out Governments. So far, therefore, I have not been convinced. As for Scotland, it is of course true that the party of which I am honoured to be a member has introduced in manifestos, and therefore in legislation, some forms of proportionality in elections—not to this place but to other assemblies. I note that one commentator, Mr. Simon Jenkins, pointed out in The Guardian last year:

"The Lib Dems are proving that they cannot work a system to which they have hitched their wagon for half a century."

He concluded:

"It is surely time for the Lib Dems to fold their tent and go."

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Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston

Whatever the merits of proportional representation, will my right hon. Friend, in his review of electoral systems, take another look at the system that was employed in the European elections, and probably conclude that a closed list system is just about the worst of all possibilities?

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The one advantage that a closed list system has is that it is at least party proportionate, but Ms Stuart is otherwise right that it is about the worst of all possibilities. The...

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin Continue reading

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend will remember that the closed list system was a manifesto commitment in 1997, and it was my duty, simply as a servant of the party, to put it before this House without expressing any personal opinion about its merits or otherwise. She may have noticed, however, that in the proposals in the very good all-party White Paper on the reform of the House of Lords—I have to say, for the avoidance of doubt, that this was not a proposal with which the Opposition were associated—we ruled out, whatever other system was proposed, a closed list system. My hon. Friend, and indeed the House, may wish to give a wider audience to that conclusion.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Does the Justice Secretary agree that any form of proportional representation will lead to no Government or to bad Government—and furthermore, that any list system will ensure that this place is stuffed full of supine party individuals, here only to do what their party tells them, that that will do this House no good, and that people will have less and less interest in politics and in how this House operates?

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Mr Winterton is right that any list system will stuff the Commons with "supine party indivduals", but he should remember that the present First Past The Post system is a one-line list system and most MPs are elected as party individuals regardless of personal...

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin Continue reading

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I agree with the hon. Gentleman in every particular. Alongside his serious points, let me make a serious point.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

And neither is John Bercow, and neither are most of my hon. Friends— [ Laughter. ] And just so that we are clear, some say that I am not, either.

I understand the sedulous attractions of proportional representation, although I profoundly disagree with them. The point that those who support PR have never been able to explain is that there can be no proportional transfer of votes into power. A criticism made of first past the post is that it often gives power to a minority, but it usually gives power to the largest minority, whereas the overwhelming difficulty with proportional representation is that it gives power to the smallest minority.

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Jack Straw blames on PR something which is inevitable in majority rule. If in a group of 5 people 2 think one way and 2 think the opposite, then the 5th person must decide the issue. This person only appears to have the power because the other 4 have already made up their minds. In reality the majority, 3 out of 5, rules. Unlike in the Commons, where Straw's 35% rule.

Submitted by Andy Johnson Read 1 more annotation

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Does my right hon. Friend believe—

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Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston

I was bowing to age, there, Mr. Speaker. May I assure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice that many of us in our party in Scotland do not support STV? It is causing major problems with constituents. They do not know who their councillor is. Other constituents are playing councillors off against other councillors, and there is a detrimental effect on councillors' health. Instead of going to one community council meeting, they have to go to three or four, multiplied over a month.

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Then you and your party should not have introduced an electoral system that has filled the Scottish Parliament with party hacks and otherwise unelectable stooges.

Submitted by Bob Burnett Read 2 more annotations

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I take full note of what my hon. Friend has said, and I will record that as a balanced contribution to the consideration of what we shall do in future.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

Does the Minister agree that the most popular Government in the UK at the moment are the Scottish Government? They happen to be a minority Government and they have the advantage that they cannot force through any measures on their own, but need other parties to join with them. That tends to give a majority view to issues that are carried forward—and STV at council level means that people have the choice to bypass sleepy traditional councillors.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I also note that the alleged attractions of the Scottish Executive are rather diminishing as reality presses in on them, and the claim that Scotland would form an arc of prosperity—along with those other paradigms of prosperity, Ireland and Iceland—now looks slightly tatty.

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