New Clause 88 — Referendum on voting systems

Part of Bill Presented — Climate Change (Sectoral Targets) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 9th February 2010.

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Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea 7:45 pm, 9th February 2010

It is a pleasure to follow David Howarth. I shall be considerably briefer than him, even if it means taking fewer interventions.

I would like to give an unreserved welcome to Government new clause 88. Some months earlier, I tabled new clause 32, with the support of my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) and for Reading, West (Martin Salter), and 25 other hon. Members, and I think that we are entitled to say that we prompted and prodded the Government to table their new clause 88. That is not to say that the two new clauses are identical-ours, I think, is superior in a couple of respects-but if either is passed tonight, we will be content.

New clause 32 calls for a shift to AV. It recognises that that represents only a small change from a system of x-voting to 1-2-3 voting, but I do not underestimate the difficulty of getting even that small change agreed. After all, there has not been a change in the voting system for more than 100 years. Like a tractor stuck in the mud, it requires a huge effort to move it just a few inches, because we have to overcome the forces of inertia, which we have heard plenty of tonight. I therefore thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend Mr. Wills, and the Prime Minister for tabling the new clause.

I shall address the arguments and comments of the official Opposition. Often when I hear them barracking Labour Members, I know that they do not have any rational arguments. Their motto seems to be, "When in doubt, shout." Daniel Kawczynski, who has left his seat, has tabled an amendment entitled, "Simple majority voting". First past the post might sometimes be called the majoritarian system, but it is the system that we are now trying to introduce-the AV system-that is the true majoritarian system, under which the winner must have majority support. What can be wrong with that?

First past the post is like tossing a coin, in that it only really works when there are just two candidates. That is why it usually works for presidential elections in the States, where there are rules that make it very hard to have a third candidate on the ballot paper. Arguably, it worked reasonably well in this country until about 100 years ago, when there were usually two candidates per seat, but the moment there are three candidates, it becomes a lottery. We need only look at a classic example in Northern Ireland that I was discussing with my hon. Friend Mark Durkan. In seats where the Unionists and nationalists are evenly divided, if two Unionists and one nationalist stand, the nationalist is elected, and if two nationalists and one Unionist stand, the Unionist gets in. It is not how people vote, but who stands, that decides the result.

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