Elections

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 23rd May 2007.

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Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat 3:08 pm, 23rd May 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the conclusions of the internal Department for Constitutional Affairs examination of different electoral systems in the United Kingdom will be published.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, the review is currently under way in the Ministry of Justice. It will include information on the recent elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly in March 2007 and the recent May elections to the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament. A publication date has not yet been established.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

My Lords, when will the Government honour their manifesto promise to put to the people in a referendum the issue of elections to the House of Commons? Does the Prime Minister designate regard this issue as a vital ingredient in his campaign to reconnect citizens with their Parliament? I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that the report will take into account recent elections, but will she take this opportunity to reiterate and emphasise that the 141,891 spoilt ballot papers in Scotland were on the first-past-the-post and top-up ballot paper and not on the proportional representation STV ballot paper for local councils? Clearly the citizens understand how well the system can work; can she confirm that the ministry does as well?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a number of questions. It is important to make sure that anything we put to the country has been debated in Parliament. One purpose of the review is to look at the implications of different voting systems across the UK. Given what happened in Scotland and the implications for the voting in London where we were concerned that the elderly might not have been able to understand the voting systems so well, we considered this carefully. I hope that the results will be available very soon.

Photo of Lord Maxton Lord Maxton Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that however undemocratic the first-past-the-post system may sometimes seem, if we look at what is happening in Scottish local elections, we see how undemocratic PR can be. Small minorities are beginning to rule the roost and the larger parties are not being given the power they should be in the local authorities. Is my noble friend aware that before 1914, when the Liberal Party was last in power, it was opposed to PR and the Labour Party, which was then a small minority, was in favour of it?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

How times change, my Lords. The important thing is to look at our voting systems in the context of what we are seeking to achieve. There is no doubt that the first-past-the-post system has given clarity in terms of election; the single-member constituency has been very valuable in the relationship between MPs and their constituents. Moving to other systems takes us away from that to other aspects of obtaining government which noble Lords may prefer, but which we have to debate fully before we can move anywhere in that direction.

Photo of Lord Trimble Lord Trimble Conservative

My Lords, will the review take into account the consequences for forming an Administration, bearing in mind that as a result of our electoral systems, we now have a minority Administration in Scotland, a coalition in Northern Ireland and a similar situation in Wales? Will the review also take into account the consequences for the governance of this country if, as a regular event after elections, Governments could not be formed with an overall majority?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, the terms of reference for this internal review are much tighter than those which the noble Lord has suggested. It is looking at the systems used for the Greater London Assembly, the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament; it is also considering the findings of the Jenkins report, the Independent Commission on Proportional Representation, the Richard commission and the Commission on Boundary Differences and Voting Systems. What the noble Lord describes in terms of the outcome is a broader political question that is worthy of debate in your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Brookman Lord Brookman Labour

My Lords, following on from the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, is my noble friend aware of what exactly is happening in Wales at the moment? The Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Welsh nationalists are meeting to form a Government when the major party in Wales is the Labour Party. Do we want that sort of system in our country?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, the people of Wales will see what happens and I am sure will wish to re-elect a Labour Government in Wales as soon as possible.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that I put down a Question for Written Answer about the Electoral Commission's report on the Scottish elections with a request that the report be supplied to your Lordships' House before we rise in two months' time? Her department has ignored that and said that it is entirely up to the Electoral Commission. Is it not vital that we have that report before 26 July?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I will look into the noble Lord's request, but it is right that the Electoral Commission determines that report. I understand the wish to make sure that the House has access to the report as soon as possible. I will write to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend deal with the possibility of revoking the alternative voting system in Wales and Scotland?

Photo of Lord Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that the review will consider that the elections in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are much more likely to deliver to people the outcome they desired when they cast their votes than the Westminster first-past-the-post system did two years ago, when one party obtained a mere 35 per cent of the vote and won 55 per cent of the seats?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I had a personal bet about when the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, would mention 35 per cent—I knew that he would not miss the opportunity to do so and I can now pay myself a great deal of money. The purpose of the internal review is to see how these systems are working. As it is an internal review, I would not want to give it responsibility for much broader questions which should be for your Lordships' House and another place to debate.

Photo of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister is doubtless aware of the dangers of trading statistics in these matters, but is she aware of one in particular: in the recent Scottish elections, one minority party, the Greens, lost 70 per cent of its seats, five, but now has more influence than it has ever had in the history of the Parliament, at a time when energy and nuclear energy will be debated very seriously?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, if we were having a wider debate about voting systems and their consequences, we could see examples across the world of very small parties carrying huge influence. The noble Lord makes a good argument for considering these issues further, but it is not for the internal review to do that.