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Mr. Gummer: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth: I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but then I must make progress.

Mr. Gummer: How many people have come to the hon. Gentleman's surgery in the past year asking for electoral reform?

Mr. Howarth: I shall give the right hon. Gentleman a direct answer: none. However, the people of Blackburn have an enormous influence on my right hon. Friend, and he tells me that he is regularly asked about it by his constituents. There we have it: the people of Blackburn speak, and my right hon. Friend acts. That is yet another example of the importance of the constituency link. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman asked a question and I gave him an answer. I do not see what is so amusing about that.

The hon. Member for Woodspring and the right hon. Member for Huntingdon argued that Governments under any system must make unpopular decisions. That is a fair point. The Government have realised that on occasions it is necessary to make tough choices. No one would argue that they should slavishly follow the findings of every opinion poll. I am not arguing for a change to our electoral system; I am simply saying that we should not design a system on that principle alone. Electoral systems that lead to the creation of Governments must accommodate that process, but it does not necessarily follow that the system must give Governments carte blanche.

The right hon. Member for Huntingdon has apologised for not being present for the winding-up speeches because he had to attend an important charity function. I know that no discourtesy was intended. He talked about the need for strong government, consistency and stability. I do not want to be discourteous to the right hon. Gentleman: he is not present, and, although he may have become unpopular before the last election, he is respected in the House. It is a different matter for him to argue with any conviction that the Government of which he was Prime Minister was stable, however. They did not enjoy enormous popular support while he was Prime Minister. Former Chancellor

2 Jun 1998 : Column 264

Norman Lamont once declared that, although they were in power, they did not seem to be in control. [Interruption.] The previous Government had problems under first past the post. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Right hon. and hon. Members on the Front Benches must be quiet. I am listening to the Minister. If they do not want to listen to him, they can leave.

Mr. Howarth: The former Chancellor said that the previous Government were in office but not in power. That was a fair point. The problem was created by the electoral arithmetic and by the divisions in the Conservative party over Europe. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon cannot argue that the Government of whom he was Prime Minister were a strong Government.

Let me mention particularly the speeches of the right hon. Members for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor), for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd) and for Penrith and The Border, who asked about the arrangements that would arise from the referendum. I cannot go a great deal beyond what was said by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary until the commission has reported to the Cabinet and it has had a proper opportunity to consider its report, but funding, and how the campaign will be conducted, are important questions.

We recognise the need for a system that will enable the electorate to make an informed decision about the best way forward, and how it should be handled. Parliament will have an opportunity to debate the report following its publication, and, subsequently, an opportunity to discuss how the referendum should be conducted.

Dr. Fox: Will the Minister confirm his belief that, in the event of a referendum, Ministers should be able to campaign on both sides?

Mr. Howarth: That decision will be made by the Cabinet at the time. It is not realistically possible to give any assurance before we know exactly what the recommendations will be, but of course that option will have to be taken into account.

This has been a useful debate. The Liberal Democrat spokesman--the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan)--made an elegant speech; indeed, he had some interesting comments to make, in his customary courteous manner. I can tell him, and the House, that as regards Westminster elections--understandably, that is the subject that has basically concerned hon. Members today--the arrangements will not be changed without the electorate being given a say first, by means of a referendum.

The question facing the Opposition--who tabled the motion and chose the subject--is not whether the public are willing to trust them. That decision is not in prospect for some years. In the first instance, the Opposition should wait and see what the commission has to say. The wording of their motion fails to take account of the fact that, whatever proposal the commission accepts, it will ultimately be for the electorate to decide. The real question that the Opposition must ask themselves is whether they are willing to trust the electorate.

That is the difference between the Opposition and us. Whatever views we may hold as individuals--whatever view I may hold, and whatever view my right hon. Friend

2 Jun 1998 : Column 265

the Home Secretary may hold--we are clear about the fact that, ultimately, the electorate are the only group that should have the power to say aye or no to any change in the electoral system. In marked contrast, the Conservative party said in its submission to the Jenkins commission that the Government's four criteria were broad proportionality, voter choice, the need for stable government and the constituency link. It had argued, it said, that the British system met those criteria much better than the alternatives on offer; consequently, no referendum should be held on the electoral system.

That is the Conservatives' view: it is a matter for them to decide, and the electorate should have no say in it, because there should be no referendum. That is entirely wrong. It is wrong in principle for the House to have the power to change the electoral system--or, for that matter, to retain the present system--without consulting the electorate; but it would appear that that is what the Conservative party wants.

The Conservatives still show the contempt for the electorate that got them thrown out last year, and I do not think that tonight they have demonstrated their fitness to convince the electorate that anything has changed. I urge the House to put its trust in the electorate, and not to accept any motion tabled by the Opposition. They have shown that they do yet not even understand what they have done wrong.

Question put:--

The House divided: Ayes 137, Noes 339.

Division No. 290
[9.58 pm


AYES


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baldry, Tony
Beggs, Roy
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Burns, Simon
Butterfill, John
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cran, James
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Day, Stephen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hayes, John
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
MacKay, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mates, Michael
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Pickles, Eric
Prior, David
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Ruffley, David
St Aubyn, Nick
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Soames, Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Townend, John
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Wardle, Charles
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Woodward, Shaun
Yeo, Tim

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mrs. Caroline Spelman and
Mr. Oliver Heald.


NOES


Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Armstrong, Ms Hilary
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Ashton, Joe
Austin, John
Ballard, Jackie
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bennett, Andrew F
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Boateng, Paul
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brake, Tom
Brand, Dr Peter
Breed, Colin
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnett, John
Burstow, Paul
Butler, Mrs Christine
Byers, Stephen
Cable, Dr Vincent
Caborn, Richard
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Canavan, Dennis
Casale, Roger
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Chidgey, David
Chisholm, Malcolm
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Coleman, Iain
Connarty, Michael
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cummings, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
(Copeland)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Cunningham, Ms Roseanna
(Perth)
Dafis, Cynog
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Fatchett, Derek
Fisher, Mark
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Foulkes, George
Galbraith, Sam
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Gorrie, Donald
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Gunnell, John
Hain, Peter
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Harris, Dr Evan
Harvey, Nick
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Kate
Home Robertson, John
Hoon, Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mon)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jowell, Ms Tessa
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kingham, Ms Tess
Kirkwood, Archy
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Liddell, Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Livingstone, Ken
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAllion, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
McDonnell, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
Mackinlay, Andrew
McLeish, Henry
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
McNulty, Tony
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, Peter
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Alun
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Milburn, Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moore, Michael
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Norris, Dan
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Ms Joyce
Radice, Giles
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Rendel, David
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rogers, Allan
Rooker, Jeff
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruddock, Ms Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stott, Roger
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Swinney, John
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
(Dewsbury)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tyler, Paul
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr Rudi
Wallace, James
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Welsh, Andrew
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Willis, Phil
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Phil
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. David Clelland and
Mr. John McFall.

Question accordingly negatived.

2 Jun 1998 : Column 268

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,



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