‘Elections for Mayor of London
(1) The Greater London Authority Act 1999 is amended in accordance with subsections (2) to (5).
(2) In section 4 (voting at ordinary elections)—
(a) in subsection (1)(a), omit “(referred to in this Part as a mayoral vote)”;
(b) in subsection (2), omit “, unless there are three or more candidates”;
(c) omit subsection (3).
(3) In section 16 (filling a vacancy)—
(a) in subsection (3), for “a mayoral vote” substitute “one vote which may be given for a candidate to be the Mayor”;
(b) for subsection (4) substitute—
“(4) Section 4(2) (simple majority system) applies in relation to the election as it applies in relation to the election of the Mayor at an ordinary election.”
(4) In section 29 (interpretation of Part 1), omit the definition of “mayoral vote”.
(5) In Schedule 2 (voting at elections), omit Part 1.
(6) In section 165 of RPA 1983 (avoidance of election for employing corrupt agent), omit subsection (4).
Elections for elected mayors of local authorities in England
(7) The Local Government Act 2000 is amended as follows.
(8) In section 9HC (voting at elections of elected mayors)—
(a) for subsection (1) substitute—
“(1) Each person entitled to vote as an elector at an election for the return of an elected mayor is to have one vote which may be given for a candidate to be the elected mayor.”;
(b) in subsection (2), omit “, unless there are three or more candidates”;
(c) omit subsection (3).
(9) In section 9HD (entitlement to vote), in subsection (2), for “first preference vote, or more than one second preference vote,” substitute “vote”.
(10) In section 9R (interpretation of Part 1A), in subsection (1), omit the definitions of “first preference vote” and “second preference vote”.
(11) In Schedule 2 (election of elected mayor), in paragraph 1, after “authority” insert “in Wales”.
Elections for mayors of combined authority areas
(12) Schedule 5B to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (mayors for combined authority areas: further provision about elections) is amended as follows.
(13) In paragraph 4 (voting at elections of mayors)—
(a) for sub-paragraph (1) substitute—
“(1) Each person entitled to vote as an elector at an election for the return of a mayor is to have one vote which may be given for a candidate to be the mayor.”;
(b) in sub-paragraph (2), omit “, unless there are three or more candidates”;
(c) omit sub-paragraph (3).
(14) Omit paragraph 5.
(15) In paragraph 6 (entitlement to vote), in sub-paragraph (2), for “first preference vote, or more than one second preference vote,” substitute “vote”.
Elections for police and crime commissioners
(16) The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 is amended as follows.
(17) In section 57 (voting at elections of police and crime commissioners)—
(a) in subsection (2), omit “, unless there are three or more candidates”;
(b) omit subsections (3) to (5).
(18) Omit Schedule 9.’ —
This new clause makes provision for the simple majority system to be used in elections for the Mayor of London, mayors of local authorities in England, mayors of combined authority areas and police and crime commissioners.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
These amendments move elections for police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, the Mayor of London, combined authority Mayors and local authority Mayors to the simple majority voting system, more commonly known as first past the post. The new clause amends legislation that provides for the supplementary vote system to apply when there are three or more candidates in an election or by-election for each of these posts. Under the new provision, each voter has one vote and the candidate with the most votes will be elected. Amendment 59 is consequential on that provision and modifies the long title of the Bill to include provision about the use of the first-past-the-post system in elections for certain offices.
The Government’s manifesto committed to supporting the first-past-the-post system. That reflects the will of the British people in the nationwide 2011 referendum, which saw two thirds of voters in favour of retaining first past the post for parliamentary elections.
All I can say is that that would have been a question for my predecessor. These discussions happened before I came into post. I know that this was a Government manifesto commitment, and I see no reason why, if there is a convenient Bill to allow us to fulfil a manifesto commitment, we cannot use it as a vehicle for doing so.
The Government’s manifesto committed to supporting the first-past-the-post system, as I have said, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced in March the initial recommendations of the review of police and crime commissioners. It recommended that the Government introduce legislation to change the voting system for all combined authority Mayors, the Mayor of London and police and crime commissioners to first past the post when parliamentary time allowed. The Home Secretary’s review of police and crime commissioners also extended to Mayors who can exercise PCC powers, to metro Mayors and to the Mayor of London. Changing the voting system for local authority Mayors, too, to first past the post will ensure consistency in voting method for all directly elected Mayors in England. This undertaking aligns with our belief that the first-past-the-post system is robust and secure and provides strong local accountability.
I just wonder why it was a Conservative Government who introduced the supplementary vote system for police and crime commissioners if the simple majority voting system is so desirable.
I believe it was a coalition Government who introduced PCCs, not a purely Conservative Government. We have had PCCs for 10 years now and there has been plenty of time to review the system and decide whether improvements can be made. There are many things that previous Labour and Conservative Governments have done that future Governments will change, and this is one of them.
Changing the voting system will ensure consistency, and this undertaking aligns with our belief that first past the post is robust and secure and provides strong local accountability. Moving to first past the post will make it easier for the public to express a clear preference. Additionally, as a simple, well-understood and trusted system, it will reduce complexity for voters and administrators alike.
I must say that I was very surprised when we received an instruction motion. To be honest, I had not seen one before during my time in this House, and I did not realise that the Government had been so disorganised that they had forgotten to put one of their manifesto commitments in the Bill, but by all accounts, that is exactly what has happened. It is not only chaotic, but deeply disrespectful to the House.
Our colleagues who do not have the privilege and joy of serving on this Committee got to debate the Bill on Second Reading, when we had no idea that this new clause would be included. Although we are able to debate this new clause, our colleagues were not able to raise concerns about it on Second Reading. It is disrespectful to our colleagues that they have not yet had the opportunity to raise concerns about this clause, but it is also disrespectful to this Committee. When, through the usual channels, we decided which witnesses should give evidence to the Committee, we did not know that a new clause was going to be tabled that would massively shake up the way in which many elections take place in England and Wales. We were not able to get witnesses who were experts in voting systems before the Committee, so that we had the opportunity to quiz them—to ask questions and explore whether the first-past-the-post system is as desirable as the Minister seems to think. We did not have the opportunity to explore how successful, or perhaps otherwise, the supplementary vote system has been in mayoral elections in England, or in police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales. None of that was allowed for, which is disrespectful to this House, this Committee, and our colleagues who did not have the opportunity on Second Reading to ask questions and scrutinise the Government.
Moving beyond the incredibly disrespectful way in which new clause 1 has been tabled and turning to its specifics, I ask the Minister what consultation she or her predecessor have had with Mayors about whether this was a change they were seeking. Having spoken to many elected Mayors over the past few weeks, it strikes me that they did not know that this was coming, and it has come as something of a surprise. There was no clamour for it from their offices, and they are deeply hurt that the Minister has not reached out to them to consult with them on this new clause.
Specifically looking at London—I admit that I have had to swot up a fair bit on this issue, because I am not a London MP—in 1998, in the Greater London Authority referendum, Londoners were asked whether they wanted to have a Mayor and an assembly, and it was clear that that Mayor would be elected using a supplementary vote system. Londoners agreed, by a majority of 72.01%, that this was something that they wanted. Is this Committee going to overturn a democratic referendum—the democratic will of the people, we might say; in this case, the people of London—to change the voting system?
Last time we had a debate about changing the voting system in this country, the alternative vote referendum that everyone has clearly long since forgotten about, that question was put to the people, because this is a really major change. For us to be changing the voting system used in elections in this country not by referendum, not even by putting it in the Bill and debating it on Second Reading, but by slipping it in in Committee, is absolutely shocking and appalling. It is one of the lowest points of this Bill; as I have said at earlier stages, there are plenty of other things in this Bill that I disagree with, but I am deeply offended by the way in which the Government have gone about this. It is disrespectful, and it is riding roughshod over democracy.
Specifically in the case of the London referendum, every single London borough voted to elect their Mayor using a supplementary vote system. Who is this Committee—many of us are not even London MPs—to say to those people, “You voted in that referendum for that, but we are taking it away from you”? I had a little look at the breakdowns for different boroughs, because I was surprised when I saw that every London borough had voted for it—this is a diverse city—but in the lowest supporting areas, Havering and Bromley, it was still 60% and 57% voting in favour of that system, with the highest support being in Lambeth and Haringey, which had 81% and 83% respectively.
Of course, the voters in all those boroughs were voting in favour of the principle of a Mayor and an assembly and not specifically the voting system employed. But may I put a question to the hon. Lady? At the last London Mayor election, almost 5% of voters in London saw their votes essentially not count, because of the confusion that the system engendered. That is why the Government are proposing the change.
I have completely forgotten the hon. Gentleman’s first point, but on the second, there were a lot of spoilt ballots in London this time and that was because the ballot paper was designed with two columns, rather than one column, for the first time. I have to be honest: I have seen the ballot paper, which was shared on social media, and it was shocking. It should never have been allowed to go to print. [Interruption.] It is amazing that it got past any level of scrutiny. There is probably a lesson to be learned about how we legislate and how we make sure that checks and safeguards are in place to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised, because I do not think—
Thank you, Mr Pritchard.
For more than 20 years, Londoners have been using the supplementary vote system to elect their Mayor without major incident. There were some issues with spoilt ballot papers at the last election—I concede that—but I think that it was very clearly because of the design of the ballot paper, as we did not see that in previous elections. Clearly, the ballot paper needs to be better designed.
I will raise again with the Minister the point about police and crime commissioner elections, which take place in England and Wales. It was a Conservative-led Government—she wishes to push her Liberal Democrat colleagues under the bus for the coalition, which is a pattern of behaviour that we have seen a fair bit—who chose the supplementary vote system for those elections, because there was a consensus, which new clause 1 is shattering, on a supplementary vote system. It is not proportional representation. It is not a radical change to the electoral system. But it is a fairer way of voters casting their vote, and I think there was a general consensus about that, which is why we saw it introduced for regional Mayors in England and police and crime commissioner elections—many of these under a Conservative Government, of course. It is why, since the year 2000, that system has been used pretty much consistently when bringing in new elections. I have counted them up: there have been 212 elections using the supplementary vote system in England and Wales since the turn of the millennium, and I think that voters are confident in using it now.
The only election that is not first past the post in my constituency in Lancashire is the election for police and crime commissioner, which uses the supplementary vote. The feedback I always get from my constituents is about how nice it is, in their words, “to be able to vote for the person who is my favourite candidate really, but then to have my vote count in relation to the people that we know the contest is actually between.” That is because the electorate are of course an intelligent electorate. People know whether their preferred candidate is likely to be in the final run-off of two, and they vote accordingly.
I thank the shadow Minister for giving way again. I am listening to what she is saying, and she may be interested to learn—in fact, both Opposition parties may be interested to learn—that in 2011 I actually voted for the alternative vote system, which makes me rather unusual on the Conservative side. In 2011, however, the country quite firmly did not vote for AV, and did not believe in the principle that people’s second votes should essentially count the same as their first votes. That is what the supplementary vote system means. SV is, in my opinion, far worse than AV, but I, on this side of the House, respect referendum results. I think both Opposition parties should do the same thing.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman: we absolutely should respect a referendum result. That is why I am surprised to see those on the Government Benches riding roughshod over the 1998 Greater London Authority referendum, in which it was very clear that the supplementary vote system for Mayor of London was what people wanted—by a huge majority. I do believe in respecting referendum results, and I respect the referendum results that he referred to. I voted against AV, so we were on different sides in that argument. I personally think that there are far better voting systems than AV, but this is not a debate about different voting systems. I think it is about riding roughshod over the democratic will of Londoners in 1998 by pushing through in Committee something that has not had the scrutiny of the full House. The way in which the Government have gone about this, whereby we have not been able to take evidence as a Committee and truly scrutinise the measure, is shocking. I know fine well that Government Members will just all vote for this anyway, but I ask them to look at their consciences on this new clause, because it is overturning the democratic will of the people of London.
The voting system has been working fine. I have to question why it is a Government priority suddenly to change it. The cynical part of me, and I am not normally a cynical person, would suggest that the Government feel that they cannot win an election under a supplementary vote system and perhaps think they have a better chance under first past the post. Perhaps it is a case of “If you can’t win the game, move the goalposts,” because it looks an awful lot like that.
I am unsure why Government Back Benchers are not rising in defence of their Minister on the implementation of this crucial manifesto promise. The Minister could not quite explain why it was not in the Bill when it was presented on Second Reading. Trying to blame a predecessor is an interesting approach, not least because the other Minister who spoke on the Bill in the House when the instruction motion was moved, Christopher Pincher, said that the Government “speak with one voice”, so we would expect them all to understand exactly what the lines are.
Some of the earlier clauses related to local elections that are devolved, so it is not necessarily the place of the Scottish National party to get desperately involved in this debate, or to tell Members of Parliament in England what decisions they should or should not make, but it might be useful to offer at least some reflection on the effect of the clause, not least on the devolution settlement across the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister said that he is a champion of the devolution settlement, and when he forced through the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and other aspects of Brexit legislation without the consent of the devolved legislatures much of that was on the grounds of his experience as Mayor of London, and that being Mayor of London was somehow equivalent to the entire institutional structure of the individual devolved legislatures.
What those institutions have in common is that they are elected on a proportional basis. At the moment, the Mayor of London has to win a supplementary ballot. Every Mayor has had to go into a second round to be chosen. The First Minister of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, has to command a majority across the legislature. That normally adds up to something very close to a majority of the votes that were cast in the election. I think I am right in saying that almost every First Minister in Scotland, except obviously in the majority Government, has required support from another party, or at the very least abstentions, in order to get elected.
In Scotland, our local authorities for several elections have been elected by single transferable vote. The effect of that is that the voices of all voters are heard. There is a ward in my constituency of Glasgow North, Partick East/Kelvindale, which was represented by four different parties—the Scottish National party, a Labour party councillor, a Conservative councillor and a Green party councillor. That meant that voters had a very wide choice of who they wanted to speak to. The distribution of votes was reflected proportionally, and people had someone they could go to whom they could trust—but voters in England, it seems, will not.
We have only to look at the results of the elections to this place—this is perhaps not the clause specifically to debate that—to see how well the Conservatives fare. When we SNP MPs were elected in large numbers in 2015, our parliamentary group leader at the time made the point that it did not reflect the result proportionally, but perhaps we are straying slightly. I want to come back to the election of the Mayor of London, and the results of first-past-the-post elections.
Perhaps Conservative Members—I look forward to hearing from them when they rise to speak in support of the Government—are quite comfortable with the idea that Ken Livingstone was elected on the first ballot with 39% of the vote in 2000, and with 36.8% of the vote in 2004. That is the mandate for someone to be the Mayor of a major European metropolitan city, which the Prime Minister himself has claimed is a kind of equivalent to the entire Scottish Parliament and the devolved Scottish Government. That is the equivalence that he has made between his role as Mayor of London and the entire devolution settlement in Scotland. It seems that Government Members are quite content with the possibility of someone being elected to that position on about 35% of the vote.
To be fair, I have already made that point. I am very happy to submit myself to the electorate under any proportional system that the Government want to introduce. The hon. Gentleman can be sure of the SNP’s support for a Bill introducing such a system; we have said that many times in this House.
The experience of preferential voting in Scotland is that results can change, and that has not always been to the SNP’s advantage. In fact, owing to the nature of Scottish politics at the moment, there is a clear trend with transfers. Where the SNP is a voter’s first preference, they cast their vote for that party. That is the very clear trend. In fact, in the ward that I mentioned, the SNP won the vote in the recent by-election, under first past the post; we got the most votes. We had an excellent candidate in Abdul Bostani. He got the most first preferences, but because of transfers, he lost out, so that ward is now represented by two Labour councillors, one Green councillor and one SNP councillor. It was a Conservative vacancy, incidentally; I say that for anyone who has not turned up to enough of the Committee sittings. That proves my point on the issue on which the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme was trying to catch me out. It proves the value of preferential voting systems.
Ultimately, it is for England’s Members to make a determination about what electoral system is used by their local authorities, but Government Members have to think very carefully about the consequences of this.
Does my hon. Friend agree that any lingering doubt that any of us may have had about the Government’s motivation in introducing the Bill is done away with by the parachuting in of this new clause? It is utterly self-serving, completely politically partisan and fundamentally undemocratic. Furthermore, does he agree that we and our colleagues should get out of here as quickly as possible, because Scotland needs to escape this nonsense?
If by “here”, my hon. Friend means the Union, yes, I entirely agree; if he means this Committee Room, I am afraid I do not agree, because I know how desperate Sir Edward is to chair our final sittings next Wednesday, so it is important that the Committee takes as long as it can to consider every one of these new clauses in great detail. I therefore look forward to all the speeches from the Conservative Back-Bench members of the Committee, who will now rise in defence of this major constitutional change that the Government want to bring forward. When they do, I urge them to reflect on the growing divergence that we have spoken about. This is not a levelling up or a coming together, but a growing apart of the constituent parts of the country, which have pretty fundamentally different perspectives on how democracy is, and should be, done. Although it is not for SNP Members to tell Members from England how their local elections should be determined and run, they ought to think about the issue carefully before they cast their vote.
I want to respond to a few points made by Opposition Members. On engagement, the policy was announced back in March. It is just that it was not a Cabinet Office policy; it was a policy from the Home Office and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, as it was known then. I am informed by officials that there was engagement with Mayors, but the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood may not have been aware of it.
The point about the procedure being disrespectful to the House is nonsense. The House voted for the procedure. It is also wrong to say that people have not had a chance to debate it if they are not on the Committee. I am sure that the Chair will correct me if I am wrong, but anyone not on the Committee who wants to take part in its debates can do so; they just do not have voting powers. No one not on the Committee has turned up today. That means that they did not want to debate this. If they did, they could have done so, just as we all have.
The hon. Lady made multiple references to the London mayoral and London Assembly elections. She is probably not aware that I was elected to the London Assembly in 2012, when I was a list candidate, and in 2016. She says that this is not something that people want. People repeatedly complained about how frustrating the system was. Going back to 1998, when a 2011 referendum occurred, is to ignore more recent evidence. Going back to 1998, when a 2011 referendum occurred, is to ignore more recent evidence. To say that 23 years after the 1998 referendum, which was not specifically on the voting style but really about whether or not to have a Mayor, is a very specious argument. I do not accept it at all.
I also found it mildly amusing to hear the hon. Lady say that the Committee needs experts to explain how first past the post works in relation to other voting systems. All of us here know how first past the post works, and also how the other systems work. I am not sure we can reasonably say we need so much expert advice on the way we are all elected.
Finally, the hon. Lady says that this is undemocratic, and I believe one of the SNP Members said that this was for political reasons. The fact is that in London mayoral elections, to which they are referring, no election would have had a different result, irrespective of whether it was first past the post or transferable voting. This is making things simpler and easier to understand for people who have complained.
To correct the record, I said that it is utterly self-serving, and completely politically partisan, and fundamentally undemocratic.
And I still reject the hon. Gentleman’s point. The fact is that we have a Labour Mayor at the moment; we have had more Labour Mayors than Conservative Mayors; and first past the post gives accountability and strength to the people who are elected.
The Minister is absolutely correct about the London Mayors, and that first past the post would not have changed the results of any London mayoral elections. Is she aware of any mayoral posts currently held in England where the result would have been different using first past the post? Could she perhaps give an example of some of those?
No. I do not have a list of the mayoral elections that would be different, because the point is that we are not doing this for political reasons; we are doing it to simplify the system.
I will finish this point, because I know we want to finish this this afternoon. This was a manifesto commitment; people voted in the 2019 election knowing that this was in our manifesto. What would be undemocratic would be if we did not do this. That is why I urge Members to support the new clause.
I will just let the Minister know the answer to my question, which is, of course, that there are some mayoral elections in England that would have been different if they had been held under first past the post. From the ones that I have seen, that would be because the Conservatives would have won under first past the post, while under the supplementary vote, they did not. I just thought I would help the Minister by pointing out that her amendment does very much help the Conservative party.
Before I put the question, on a procedural point just for information, Members not on the Committee can attend this Bill Committee, but must sit in the Gallery. They cannot sit with Committee members, or indeed speak or vote. On delegated legislation, they can contribute from the floor, but not vote. Just to ensure that Members do not think I have come out as some sort of procedural genius like Mr Rees-Mogg, that was on advice from the Clerk. It is always good to take advice. It would not be credible if it was from me, I know.