Clegg on AV referendum bill: “We must make the system fair. We must put people back in charge.”

by Stephen Tall on September 7, 2010

The BBC reports:

Plans to change the way MPs are elected have cleared the first Commons hurdle. A bill introducing a referendum on changing the voting system, changes to constituency boundaries and fewer MPs, was backed by 328 votes to 269.

Labour says the changes would affect Labour-supporting areas and said the bill was “political skulduggery”. Tory opponents of the referendum said it could cost £100m but deputy PM Nick Clegg said it would restore “people’s faith in the way they elect their MPs”.

Despite criticism, the bill passed with a majority of 59 and a Labour bid to kill it off was defeated by 347 votes to 254.

And here’s an excerpt from Nick Clegg’s speech to the Commons moving the bill to introduce the alternative vote:

Fewer, more equally sized and more up-to-date constituencies will help to bolster the legitimacy of parliamentary elections. However, in parallel with that step, we must address the question of reform of our voting system. Some believe that we are better served by sticking with the current system, which, they say, benefits from its familiarity and strong constituency link. Others believe that it leads to too many safe seats, giving many MPs jobs for life with only minority support from their constituents. Advocates of AV note that it would retain the current constituency link, but that it would give people more say over their vote by allowing them to rank candidates in order of preference. As a general rule, therefore, MPs would come to Westminster with the support of the majority of their voters. …

There are members of the Government who hold contrasting views on these systems. Come the referendum, there will be those of us who campaign on different sides. We emphatically agree, however, that the final decision should be made not by us, but by the British people. Despite our differences on this matter, that is the shared position of the Government, and I hope that the Opposition will be able to support it as well. We propose that the referendum should ask a straightforward question: do voters want to replace the current first-past-the-post system with the alternative vote system, yes or no? If there is a “yes” vote in the referendum, the alternative vote system will come into force together with the new parliamentary boundaries.

The reforms that the Bill proposes are at once significant and simple. Ensuring that people’s votes are more equal and giving voters a say over their voting system are both important reforms. They are about correcting unfairness in the way voters elect their representatives and putting power in the hands of people. If we together cannot deliver these reforms, we will have to ask ourselves what we really meant when each of us promised our constituents that we would seek to reform and strengthen our politics. We promised a new politics. Today is the day we must begin to deliver on that promise. We must make the system fair. We must put people back in charge. I commend the Bill to the House.

Ten Conservative MPs voted against the Coalition bill:

    Brian Binley (Northampton South)
    Peter Bone (Wellingborough)
    Bill Cash (Stone)
    Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
    Philip Davies (Shipley)
    Philip Hollobone (Kettering)
    David Nuttall (Bury North)
    Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
    Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)
    Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)