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Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): The hon. Gentleman is arguing the case for AV. Will he confirm that under that system a candidate placed third on the first count could win the election?

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Mr. Burstow: I am happy to confirm that that is a potential outcome of the system, which would enable Londoners' preferences to be properly reflected. This is clearly another debate in which we shall have the unusual spectacle--perhaps not today, but on Report--of large numbers of hon. Members voting together in an unholy alliance to preserve their interests. In an earlier debate it was said that voting systems were all about vested interests. We all have vested interests in the way in which voting systems work.

Mr. Forth: In the current circumstances, how can the hon. Gentleman claim that the Conservative party's support for first past the post is in its immediate interests?

Mr. Burstow: Perhaps the Conservative party should reflect on that. As we said yesterday, we want a voting system that allows the electorate to choose the people whom they want to represent them and allows those wishes to be properly reflected in the assembly. The current first-past-the-post system often denies the electorate the opportunity for their wishes to be truly reflected in their assemblies. That defect needs to be corrected. The alternative vote would go a long way towards dealing with that.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to reflect on the other side of the question that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) properly asked. What is the difference between the election of a candidate who comes second in the first round and the election of the candidate who comes third--perhaps only 1 per cent. behind the second placed candidate? We either have a system in which a candidate wins on the first ballot--the first-past-the-post system, which everyone understands--or we have a system in which the person who comes first the first time may not win because someone else could come through.

Mr. Burstow: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Yesterday he rightly identified himself as not being an electoral reform anorak. I do not wish to wear such an anorak either, but these are important issues.

The Green Paper "New Leadership for London" did not mention the supplementary vote system as one of the possible methods for electing the mayor. It advanced three options: first past the post, which is the Conservative party's preferred option; the second ballot method, which is used for French presidential elections; and the alternative vote. In the White Paper--

Mr. Raynsford: I should like the hon. Gentleman to clarify a simple point. Does he recognise that the effect of the supplementary vote is the same as the effect of the French system, but the ballot is carried out on one day rather than on two?

Mr. Burstow: The procedures are not the same, because having a second ballot removes the tactical and guesswork voting that results from it all happening on one day. That is our criticism of the supplementary vote. We made our criticisms of the second ballot clear in our response to the Green Paper.

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The White Paper described the supplementary vote as a simplified form of AV. Whom are we simplifying it for? It is patronising to say that the electorate cannot cope with marking "1", "2", "3" and "4" on a ballot paper to express their preferences.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: The electorate wants the system because it is simple. Focus groups have said that supplementary vote is the system that they want.

Mr. Burstow: Some hon. Members sometimes feel that the Government are led too much by focus groups. Reliance is being placed on one focus group to support the contention that SV is the preferred system. When the issues are explained in more detail, there will be greater support for the system that we and many others outside the House propose.

The House debated the issue in 1931. I am sure that some hon. Members will now scurry off to the Library to check Hansard on that. A Bill was introduced to bring in the supplementary vote. After deliberation, the House decided that the alternative vote should be introduced instead. The Bill fell because of the undemocratic institution at the other end of this building, whose Members decided that they did not agree with it. That is another reason why the statement earlier today is welcome.

The supplementary vote is used only in Sri Lanka, for the election of the president. It was briefly used in Alabama in the early part of this century. Alabama abandoned the system because of a result in 1926, when the winning candidate secured only 29 per cent. of the first and second preferences. That is why the supplementary vote is not an appropriate way to elect a strong and effective mayor in the terms that the Government are proposing.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I must correct the hon. Gentleman again. The supplementary vote is not used in Alabama or Sri Lanka. That system is a variation, in which three preferences are recorded on the first ballot. Under the supplementary vote, the first and second preferences are recorded.

6 pm

Mr. Burstow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and happy to stand corrected on that point. We would have to call that supplementary vote plus--an innovation that takes us in the right direction, towards the alternative vote, the use of which we advocate. In Alabama, the supplementary vote system no longer operates, but my point is that it was used at the beginning of the century. The Institute for Public Policy and Research recommended the alternative vote for electing the mayor of London, saying:

Amendment No. 48 provides for the possible outcome of using the supplementary vote of a result tied between two candidates. It addresses the question of whether a tie should be resolved by drawing lots--that is, by chance--or by giving the assembly a role in making a decision. We contend that the assembly should have the right to

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make a decision in cases where the election has not produced a conclusive result and two candidates emerge from the supplementary vote system with equal votes.

The amendments would increase voter choice and ensure that the mayor will start with a strong and clear mandate. That is why we have tabled them and we look forward to getting as much support in the Lobby as we can possibly secure.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East): I have already enjoyed one debate on clause 4, so it will be useful to me to participate in another one tonight, even if the outcome will be the same.

In the light of the news breaking as we speak, I wish the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) well, as probably the only London candidate in the forthcoming election. I know of no Member of Parliament who deserves more than he to have what is quintessentially a dead-end job going nowhere--surely it must be preferable to come a miserable third in the mayoral election.

Tonight, in respect of the amendments to clause 4, we have heard again many of the words that were blithely thrown around yesterday in respect of clause 2. Yesterday, it was the PR anoraks who were doing the throwing, but tonight they have been joined by the first-past-the-post anoraks on the Conservative Front Bench. Tonight, we have heard two perorations on alternative systems to the one proposed in the Bill. Lots of little words have been thrown around, but no significant justification has been offered as to why either first past the post or the alternative vote system are preferable to the supplementary vote system for use in the mayoral election. Neither argument has been rooted in what the office of mayor is all about or how it fits in with the overall structure; nor have the speakers, having established what the mayor is supposed to do for London, justified their choice of electoral system.

That is why, last night, my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction was entirely right to dismiss the PR and first-past-the-post lobbies as anoraks. They start from some notion of purity in electoral systems, but fail to work out how their chosen system will fit in, even though they claim to have done so. Instead, they use a blithe little lexicon that assumes that they have discussed the merits of both the role of the mayor and the electoral system.

The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) says that the system she prefers is better because it is more transparent. If pressed to explain why it is more transparent, she simply restates that it is more transparent. It is sub-intellectual and febrile to believe that if something is said often enough, it becomes true: an election system is transparent because it is transparent because it is transparent. We get the same sort of argument from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), whose personal dynamism leads us to hope that he will not be the election agent for the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey.

The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk must recognise that, rather than three different electoral systems for different bodies being a flaw in the Bill, they are in fact the Bill's glory and strength. We need the 14 directly

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elected members to take the authority some, albeit not all, of the way towards parochialism, thus giving it some local basis, albeit in super-constituencies. However, to reflect both the diversity of London's communities and the relative strengths of the political parties in London, we also need a degree of proportionality. That there are to be directly elected members as well as supplementary or additional members is not a flaw, nor is the fact that there is to be an entirely different system for electing the mayor. Anoraks apart, people recognise that the institution should determine what electoral system--or systems--is appropriate to fill it, not the other way around.

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