New Clause 88 — Referendum on voting systems

Part of Bill Presented — Climate Change (Sectoral Targets) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 9th February 2010.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 6:00 pm, 9th February 2010

I do not withdraw that allegation, because it happens to have the merit of being true. What is more, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the proposal would disproportionately hit urban areas, where there are fewer Conservative Members-although there are still some-and more Labour and Liberal Democrat Members, because of the under-representation on the electoral register of millions of voters in those areas. The hon. and learned Gentleman also fails to take account of the need for natural communities to be represented in the House.

Another point makes the Conservative proposal completely bogus. There is a suggestion that the size of this House has somehow increased exponentially. That is not true. The size of this House has increased by 3 per cent.-21 Members-since 1950. The size of our constituencies has increased by 25 per cent. over that period. The work load from constituencies of Members of Parliament, even in this time that I have been in the House, has dramatically increased. The consequence of the Conservative proposals would be to gerrymander boundaries, detach Members of Parliament from their constituencies and, where Members of Parliament exist, add considerably to their work load. That can only mean that the level of service to constituents would be less good, at a time when we should be increasing it.

Let me briefly run through the amendments and new clauses. Amendment 136 provides for a number of provisions in the Bill to come into force when it receives Royal Assent. New clause 88 makes provision for the date of the referendum and the detail of the question to be set by secondary legislation after consultation with the Electoral Commission, defines the alternative vote system that would be the subject of the referendum and defines that it will be a binary choice. New clause 89 defines the franchise, new clause 90 defines the referendum period, new clause 91 relates to the role of the Electoral Commission, new clause 92 provides for funds to be made available, new clause 93 provides a mechanism for settling accounts for expenditure, new clause 94 relates to challenges to the referendum result and new clauses 95 and 96 make minor amendments to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Amendment 137 amends the long title of the Bill. Let me remind the House that the 2000 Act contains detailed regulation to ensure fair play, including fair money, for both sides of a referendum campaign. This is an important debate. Its subject is a fundamental plank of our democracy and it comes at a time when this House is held in dangerously low regard. The Government have tabled these new clauses after considerable study and consideration.

The debate about AV has been going on for 100 years. The alternative vote takes on the considerable strengths of our system and, I suggest, builds on them. We propose a referendum, however, because we believe that it is not for us to make the final decision. It is important that the people should have that choice in a referendum. If the Conservative Opposition feel so strongly about the merits of first past the post, why do they not have the courage of their convictions? They should back the proposals and allow the people in their constituencies, as well as those in every other constituency across the country, to make that choice-a mature and balanced choice-after detailed debate some time before October 2011. That is what we propose and that is what I believe should be supported. I commend the new clauses to the House.

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