Clause 1 — Referendum on the alternative vote system

Part of Royal Commission (London) – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 12th October 2010.

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Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion 8:30 pm, 12th October 2010

I am delighted to be called at such an opportune moment. Nick Boles spoke of the purgatory that he has endured in the past few hours. As a Liberal, sitting here has not been the most pleasurable experience for me, either.

Let me start by dispelling the myth that I am either distinguished-the accolade that Dr Lewis bestowed on me; I was sitting next to my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith, so it was a case of mistaken identity-or an anorak, which Mr Leigh accused me of being. Indeed, I am also not an agent of the forces of darkness, as suggested by Mr Davidson.

I did not intend to speak, but, like other hon. Members, my conscience has been pricked by some contributions. I say, first as a Welsh Member of Parliament and secondly as a Liberal Democrat, that the debate has been powerful-a little one-sided, but none the less powerful-and it has touched on the legitimacy of the devolved institutions.

I remain enthusiastic about the referendum. The alternative vote system is not ideal-it is not the system for which my party has spent many years campaigning; that is STV-the single transferable vote. However, it is what is on offer. I do not believe that there were great conspiratorial discussions in the Cabinet Office or anywhere else when the coalition document was drawn up. Indeed, I know that there were not.

As a Liberal, I believe in government partly by referendum. We should not lose sight of that: whatever our view of AV, we are putting the matter to the British people. I do not accept that there has been a conspiracy. We have heard different evidence from different people about the effect of differential turnout and the alleged implications of the date.

I want to focus on three issues. The first is cost. Sadiq Khan said that cost was a significant factor. Others dismissed that, but I would like to hear from the Minister about cost. I came here believing that it was a factor, but others have said that it is not, so I want to hear more.

Secondly, I want to acknowledge the comments of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford. I know what my voters in Ceredigion and Aberystwyth will say when faced with the prospect of three elections in a year. They said it when we held the first elections for the National Assembly in the same year as the community council and county council elections. "Not more elections!" they said. I want to deal with that specifically when we consider turnout, because it is a concern.