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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT COMMISSION ON THE VOTING SYSTEM

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I have today presented to parliament and published the report of the ...
I have today presented to parliament and published the report of the

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

the time limit set.

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

geographical constituencies.

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

constituency elections.

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

account.

First, primary legislation is required to enable the referendum to be

held.

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.

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