Clause 1 — Referendum on the alternative vote system

Part of Royal Commission (London) – in the House of Commons at 6:45 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 6:45 pm, 12th October 2010

My hon. Friend has made his point.

I hope that all Members, whether for or against a change from the first-past-the-post system to the alternative vote, agree that if we hold a referendum on the voting system, it is imperative that that referendum is transparent, clear and understandable to the British people and that the result is invulnerable to any charges of illegitimacy. I fear that the timetable for the referendum proposed by the Bill will fail on each of those counts. So I urge coalition Front Benchers to listen to the concerns being articulated by people of all political persuasions about the dangers of a clash between the referendum and local and national elections, which, as we must not forget, are due to take place in some places but not in others.

In Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, numerous warnings have now been given about the danger of combining the referendum with elections to the various devolved institutions. Those warnings have highlighted that holding simultaneous polls risks confusing voters and muddying political debate. That is not a patronising view from Westminster politicians; it is the view of the devolved Executives. In Scotland especially, there is, as has been said, concern about the unhappy experience of coupled elections in 2007, which gave rise to significant numbers of spoiled ballot papers, and that experience could be repeated. Mrs Laing referred to Ron Gould, who recommended against combining polls.