Second Reading

Part of Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:04 pm on 24th March 2010.

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Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 9:04 pm, 24th March 2010

I did not want to get into this. The supplementary vote is more unfair than the alternative vote, as the London Assembly elections show anyway. I did not want to go down that route because I wanted to stick to talking about the alternative vote. That is what is in the Bill.

There are very unfair aspects to the alternative vote-it is a sham. It maintains the concepts of safe seats whereby voters are ignored by one party and taken for granted by the others. No real contest, where candidates offer choices to electors, takes place in those seats. We all know that the electoral battle is in the marginals under first past the post. The thing that makes me sad and a little angry is, frankly, the sheer arrogance of the Government, who are dragged to the promise of a referendum after 13 years and try at the same time to provide the answers to the present system. It is clear that there is no consensus among the politicians. If the promise originally made of a proportional alternative-a family of choices-cannot be kept, which is patently the case, the honest approach is to have a referendum as happened in New Zealand asking, first, if voters want to retain the present system or have a change and, secondly, if they vote for a change, to offer them a family of choices. Let the people decide. What is the problem with letting the people decide on the voting system for the House of Commons-by which time we will have had such reform that we will all have a chance to vote, I hope. Why should Ministers, most of whom do not want any change, make this decision? That is what is in the Bill and it is fundamentally wrong and unfair. It is also worse because, under the Bill, Ministers will write the question and set the date. What on earth did we set up the Electoral Commission for? It should have that power, not just to check the wording and the propaganda and look at how the money is spent. It should not be down to Ministers to write the question, which is then presented in secondary legislation to Parliament. Some of these people are my friends, but they are political leaders who in a lifetime have shown not the slightest interest in fair voting. Indeed, they have slagged many of us off who have converted or been there all the while-then they suddenly see the light. It is too late, too little; it is a phoney proposal and for the wrong reasons. It is treating the voters like fools, and I do not think that the public will buy it.

Nobody has raised this, but I would naturally expect that all the votes on this part of the Bill in this House will naturally be free votes. I assumed that they were so in the other place. If and when the chance arises-and I have been absolutely negative on this, because I wanted to concentrate on the alternative vote-I shall come forward with positive amendments so that a choice can be made. Those amendments would meet the criteria of the Hansard Society report of 1976, the Plant report of 1992 and the Jenkins commission in 1998.