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Clause 1 — Referendum on the alternative vote system

Part of Royal Commission (London) – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 12th October 2010.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East 7:45 pm, 12th October 2010

As my hon. Friend Mrs Laing made clear, it is a very serious step to vote against the leadership of one's party for the first time. It will not come as a surprise to those in the Whip's Office to hear that I shall be doing that today, because I informed them in advance that that was the decision that I reached. In fairness to them, with their typical liberality, they have not sought to put any pressure on me to dissuade me. [Interruption.] They genuinely have not.

What I really regret is that I shall be voting in such a way when the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Mr Harper, is at the Dispatch Box. He smiled as he heard me mention his name. He, at least, is aware that I have had the pleasure of attending the weddings of only two hon. Members. One was Mr Speaker's and the other was my hon. Friend's, even before he was elected to this House. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will reach every bit as eminent a position as Mr Speaker, but I fear that it will not be on the strength of the arguments that we will hear from him today.

The shadow Secretary of State said from the Dispatch Box that he was puzzled to learn that the Government were going for the option of holding the referendum on an important constitutional issue on the same day as party political elections. I am glad to see him re-entering the Chamber in time for me to assist him by answering the question that he put. There is a simple answer: it is because the Liberal Democrats insist on it. The Conservative party would not have dreamt of putting forward this ghastly proposal to substitute the alternative vote for first past the post in any other circumstance, and it is being jerked about by its coalition partner.