New Clause 88 — Referendum on voting systems

Part of Bill Presented — Climate Change (Sectoral Targets) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 9th February 2010.

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Photo of Roger Godsiff Roger Godsiff Labour, Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath 8:15 pm, 9th February 2010

Although this is hardly the dominant issue on the doorstep or in the pubs and clubs, I welcome the Government's commitment to holding a referendum on the alternative vote system. I have no problem with the concept of referendums. We had one on EU membership in the 1970s, one in Scotland on the setting up of the Scottish Parliament, and one in Wales on the setting up of the Welsh Assembly. We should also have had one on the Lisbon treaty, and I voted for such a referendum in the House, unlike my friends on the Liberal Benches who were split three ways: some were for, some were against, and some did not know.

I am not in favour of the concept of proportional representation, because it results in minority parties being able to determine who will govern, and extracting their price accordingly. We have only to look at the most purist example of PR-the Israeli Parliament-to see the consequences of purist PR. I have always supported the alternative vote system because it is not PR but an improved version of the first-past-the-post system. I am somewhat surprised that those who argue strongly for the first-past-the-post system-of which I am also a supporter-cannot see that AV represents an improvement on it while retaining the constituency link.

The essence of the alternative vote system is that the winning candidate has to get 50 per cent. plus one vote. As a number of Members have said, what can be wrong with that, when only a third of right hon. and hon. Members were elected by more than 50 per cent. of the electors in their constituencies? It also means that electors who support minority parties, particularly in so-called safe seats, can exercise their choice without feeling that their votes are wasted. As I said to my good friend, Sir Patrick Cormack, it allows them to have a second, third or fourth choice-depending on how many candidates there are on the ballot paper. What it does not do is force people to vote more than once. If people wish to cast only one vote for one candidate, they can do so and their vote is not invalidated. If they choose to vote for a minority candidate-as some would say, to vote with their hearts first of all-they will also have a second choice to vote with their heads afterwards.

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