Voting System. The commission, which is chaired by Lord Jenkins of
Hilihead, has recommended the best alternative system for Britain to
'First Past The Post' (FPTP) that meets the commission's terms of
voter choice, delivered stable government, maintained the link
between MPs and their constituencies and yielded broad
Lord Jenkins's report says:
'Our proposition for this country stems essentially from the British
constituency tradition and proceeds by a limited modification to
render it less haphazard, less unfair to minority parties, and less
divisive in the sense of avoiding large areas of electoral desert for
each of the two parties.'
The Independent Commission on the Voting System was set up on 1
December 1997 and asked to report with a year. Following its work,
the government promised to put the matter to a referendum.
The maim recemmendations of the commission are:
- The majority of MPs - 80 to 85 percent - would continue to be
elected on a constituency basis, with the remainder elected on a
corrective top-up basis which would significantly reduce the
disproportionality the geographical divisiveness which are inherent
in FPTP. Counties and equivalently sized metropolitan districts in
England would be the areas for which these top up members are elected
providing both local accountability and a broad constituency link for
top-up members. In Scotland and Wales top-up members will represent
existing Euroconstituencies while Northern Ireland should have two
top-up areas, each returning two members.
- The proportion of top-up members should be between 15 and 20 per
cent (between 98 and 132 members) to deliver broad proportionality,
while avoiding the imposition of perpetual coalition on the country.
- As far as is practicable, the ratio of constituency to top-up
members should be equal in the four constituent nations of the United
Kingdom and constituency and top-up members should have equal status
- The constituency members should be elected by the Alternative Vote
(AV). With the corrective top-up an place, this will increase voter
choice and ensure that all constituency members have majority support
in their own constituencies, which is not now the case with over 40
per cent of members. Lord Alexander would prefer to retain FPTP for
constituency elections for the reasons outlined in his note of
- The second vote determining the allocation of top-up members
should allow the voter the choice of either a vote for a party or for
an individual candidate from the lists put forward by parties -
'open' rather than 'closed' lists.
- To help reduce the present anti-Conservative bias in
the electoral system, the present over-representation of Scotland and
Wales in the House of Commons should end, and theBoundary Commission
should be given a statutory power to take account of likely future
The commission's secondary recommendations include:
- A new independent Electoral Commission to oversee electoral
administration and referendums.
- A publicly funded neutral education programme to prepare
voters for the decision they will be required to make in the
forthcoming referendum. This should be overseen by the Electoral
Commission, so long as it is in place by the time the referendum is
called; if not, by a special independent body.
- Any new system should be reviewed after two general elections.
- That there should be no further substantial changes to the voting
system without a further referendum.
The chairman of the commission, Lord Jenkins,
speaking at the launch of the report in London yesterday said:
'The system we propose would give voters more choice, it would be
more democratic in the constituencies and it would lead to a fairer
result nationally. It will also give every elector some realistic
opportunity of influencing a result, whereas today many voters can
pass a lifetime of never having a chance of voting for a winning
'It would mostly deliver majority governments but there would be no
landslide majorities unless there were a landslide majority of votes
in the country.
'Geographical divisiveness, and gross disproportionlity would no longer be distorting features of our political landscape. Electoral deserts, such as those for the Conservatives in Wales and Scotland and
the great provincial cities of England today and for Labour in
southern constituencies in the 1980's would be a thing of the past
and everyone's vote would count.'
Key quotes from the report
- 'The essence of the system is that the elector would have the
opportunity to cast two votes, the first for his choice of
constituency MP, the second for an 'additional member' who would be
elected for the specific and primary purpose of correcting the
disproportionality left by the constituency outcomes...'
- 'None of us are electoral absolutists. We all of us believe that
any system has defects as well as virtues. Some systems are
nonetheless much better than others, and we have endeavoured to seek
relative virtue in an imperfect world.'
- 'A principal advantage of such a mixed system is its
flexibility....This flexibility has enabled the Commission to steer
to a point closest to fulfilling all four of our terms of
- 'We...do not recoil with horror from the very idea of coalitions,
regarding them, on the basis both of British of some foreign
experience, as capable of providing effective and decisive
governments...This does not mean that permanent coalition is
desirable...We would prefer...that when there is a strong surge in
one political direction or the other, single-party governments, even
if with somewhat under 50% of the vote, should stand out like
mountainous land masses rising about the surface of the ocean.'
- Full Membership and terms of reference of the commission:
Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
Lord Alexander of Weedon
Baroness Gould of Potternewton
The Independent Commission on the Voting System was established by
the government in December 1997 with the remit to report within 12
months. The commission started its work in January of this year with
the following terms of reference:
- 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
There were 20 formal commission meetings at all of which every member
of the commission was present.
- The full text of the Command Paper and the Supplementary Volume of
the debate (on CD-ROM) are available from The Stationery Office
Parliamentary hotline Lo-call 0345 02 34 74. Items of key evidence
received by the commission are also available on the Internet. The
website number is http://www.official-
- The commission took written evidence following a series of
advertisements in the national and regional press. They held nine
public meetings at national and regional capitals across the UK
between March and July 1998. NOP undertook a number of focus groups
on behalf of the commission. The commission also took the views of
academic political scientists and members of parliament. It also
examined electoral systems overseas. The overall cost of the
Commission's work is expected to run to around£250,000.