Independent Commission on the Voting System, chaired by Lord Jenkins
of Hillhead. I would like to thank the members of the commission for
their hard work in producing the report, and for doing so well within
In December last year, the commission was asked to recommend an
alternative to the present electoral system for Westminster. Its
terms of reference were:
- The commission shall be free to consider and recommend any
appropriate system or combination of systems in recommending an
alternative to the present system for parliamentary elections to be
put before the people in the government's referendum.
- The commission shall observe the requirement for broad
proportionality, the need for stable government, an extension of
voter choice and the maintenance of a link between MPs and
The commission recommends a two vote mixed system. Under this system
between 80% and 85% of the members of the house of commons would be
elected from individual constituencies. Since the total number of
MPs would remain unchanged, constituency boundaries would need to be
redrawn, and constituencies made correspondingly larger.
The constituency member would be elected using the alternative vote
system. The other 15-20% members of the house of commons would be
elected by areas on a top up basis to mitigate the perceived
disproportionality in the constituency results. Voters would be able
to vote for a party list or an individual candidate on the list and
in each area seats would be allocated to parties in a way which took
account of the number of constituency seats that parties had won in
that area. There would be 80 top-up areas across the UK. Lord
Alexander of Weedon has entered a note of dissent in respect of the
alternative vote, and instead proposes first past the post for the
The government wants to study the report in detail. It is also keen
to encourage a wide debate in parliament, in political parties and
across the country as a whole.
No decisions have been taken as to the timing of a referendum on this
issue. The commission's report makes clear that the system
recommended could not be introduced until the election after next.
There are a number of practical measures which need to be taken into
First, primary legislation is required to enable the referendum to be
Second, if people were to vote in favour of change, parliamentary
boundaries would need completely to be redrawn to convert the
existing 659 constituencies into between 530 and 560. In paragraph
153 of its report, the commission accepts that 'we cannot
realistically expect our recommendations to be in operation at a
general election in much less than eight years.'
Third, the impact of the recent report on the Funding of Political
Parties by the Committee on Standards on Public Life needs to be
properly considered. The government has strongly welcomed this
report and is studying the details of its 100 recommendations. The
recommendations on the conduct of referendums are particularly
relevant to this issue.
Fourth, the government will want to take account of the radical and
ambitious programme of constitutional reform that is taking place,
particularly the reform of the house of lords. It will want to
consider how the new systems of election soon to be in operation in
Scotland, Wales and for the European parliament settle down. The
constitutional reform programme should be looked at as a whole prior
to any decision being made on this issue.