New Clause 88 — Referendum on voting systems

Part of Bill Presented — Climate Change (Sectoral Targets) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 9th February 2010.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 5:45 pm, 9th February 2010

I will give way in a moment, but I want to make some progress first. I have already given way a great deal.

I suggest that the case for making the change is to do with the fact that we have moved from a two-party arrangement in the House-which is what obtained, unusually in British politics, between 1945 and 1970-to the three or four-party system that has much more often been the default setting of British politics. The question of whether there should be a change is nothing new-as I shall make clear, it has been debated on a number of occasions-but of course some hon. Members will ask why we need to make the change now. The answer is that in the past 12 months, as everyone knows-it has affected hon. Members in all parts of the House in the same way-we have seen a crisis of confidence in our political system and our politicians on a scale that none of us has witnessed before in our political lifetime. Trust has been profoundly damaged. [Hon. Members: "That has nothing to do with it."] It has everything to do with it.

Immediate action has already been taken to clear up the expenses system, with the passage of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 and with the clauses in this Bill to strengthen the new regime already approved by the House. We will shortly debate the recommendations of the Wright Committee on improvements to the way in which the House operates. Those are important initiatives, which show that we mean to put our own house in order in due course, but all of us here must do all that we can to restore trust in politics, and it is axiomatic that part of that process must involve consideration of which electoral system can best serve the people of this country and asking them to make a decision. Our response is to put in place a credible alternative which would go with the grain of what the British people value in our system, and allow them to express their clear view in a referendum.

Sensible constitutional change should enhance the effectiveness and legitimacy of our institutions, not undermine them. I suggest, and I will suggest to the British people if these new clauses are passed, that adopting the alternative vote system would achieve that. The alternative vote system builds on the strengths of our current system: direct accountability for individual Members, and the chance for voters to select or eject Governments. I believe that it would help to rebuild the trust and connection between electors and their representatives that is vital to restoring politics.

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