Clause 1 — Referendum on the alternative vote system

Part of Royal Commission (London) – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 12th October 2010.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 9:15 pm, 12th October 2010

The Government's position is very clear: there is an imperative to get the results of the elections to Parliament, the Assemblies and local councils decided first, because it is important who runs those organisations. The result of the referendum is important, but given that any change will not come in until the next election, the counting of the referendum will take place after the other counts. The Government have made that position clear and it is shared by the Electoral Commission. This might be a little frustrating for those who want the referendum result to be given as early as possible, but it is important that elections are counted first. That was the very clear sense that emerged from the previous Parliament when we debated when the general election count should take place. Results of elections need to be heard first.

My hon. Friend Mr Jenkin, who is in his place, referred to the Government's view of the referendum outcome and gave all sorts of thoughts as to how we had arrived at the date. Of course the Government are neutral about the outcome of the referendum. The two coalition parties are not, but the Government do not have a view. When the Deputy Prime Minister and I were considering the Bill and its details that was the view that we jointly took.

I also do not take my hon. Friend's view, which we debated a little following his intervention, about treating votes differently. I do not buy the argument that, because some parts of the United Kingdom are voting and some are not, that in some sense treats voters differently. Even voters in the parts of England that do not have other elections next year are perfectly capable of listening to the arguments. They have the same ability to go out to vote as anybody else, and I do not understand this argument about differential turnout that he and other hon. Friends raised.