Clause 1 — Referendum on the alternative vote system

Part of Royal Commission (London) – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 12th October 2010.

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Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice 6:30 pm, 12th October 2010

The hon. Gentleman was, I am sure, in the House when the then MP for Cambridge referred to it as a "jemmy in the door". I am not sure what the current intentions or aspirations of the Liberal Democrats are-survival might be one of them-but it is just a nasty piece of work, because we are not sure what they stand for or what the end goal is. But that is what we have, and sometimes the best can be the enemy of the good. We are where we are.

Others, of course, favour retaining the existing, first-past-the-post system, believing it a more straightforward method of voting that is more likely to avoid hung Parliaments and unstable Governments. I respect those views. Such differences of opinion are as evident in the Labour party as they are anywhere else-I hasten to add that some of my best friends hold that view. Yet although many of my colleagues are divided on the merits of different electoral systems, we are united in our belief that we should have a public debate about whether to move to AV, and that the voters should be given the final choice in a referendum. Although we support such a referendum, we share the concerns that many have voiced about precisely what the best time to hold it is. We believe that there is a serious concern about whether it is wise to combine such a referendum with the elections on 5 May 2011, as clause 1 proposes.

If passed, the Bill will change the way we choose Members of our elected House of Commons, change the size of the House of Commons, change our boundaries and change the way we do politics for at least a generation. Let us compare and contrast the haste with which that is being done-something on which there is a genuine difference of view, and not just between political parties, but within them-with House of Lords reform. I am not being critical of the groundwork being done on House of Lords reforms. All parties and most MPs agree on the need to reform the House of Lords. However, this coalition Government have established a Joint Committee, which is currently meeting and chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, with a draft Bill to be published before the end of this year. The draft Bill will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee over several months, and a Bill will be formally presented to Parliament, with, I am sure, a lengthy Second Reading debate, followed by a Committee stage and so on. Why is House of Lords reform treated with such care, attention and detail, yet House of Commons reforms is treated with undue haste and contempt?