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Mr. Edward Davey: I hope that the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) will not take offence if I say that, although some hon. Members have spoken about election system anoraks, he has proved that people who know about election systems can be quite entertaining. I congratulate him on his contribution. I was especially taken by his points about Papua New Guinea choosing first past the post. As I recall, Papua New Guinea was the only country that also opted for the poll tax while it had the first-past-the-post system. That again shows the demerits of that system.

An issue that has not been examined in enough detail is the type of post that we are electing. It is a new post. We have not had a mayor or a mayoral system before,

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which means that the way that we have thought about politics and elections probably needs to be reconsidered. The Government have gone some way towards that, but they have not opened their mind sufficiently to the implications of a mayoral system; nor do I detect that the Conservatives have applied their minds to the matter.

We are voting for one person, and the whole executive will be in that person's hands. The mayor will form a cabinet, but does not have to form one based on his or her support in the legislature. It is totally separate. The election of the mayor is about just one person, not that person's relationships with another party. That is why I believe that independents will stand.

If the process is about electing just one person, we need the electoral system to give as much legitimacy to that person as possible. That is where first past the post fails completely. The hon. Member for Battersea referred to a former Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, Lord Russell-Johnston, who was elected on just 26 per cent. of the vote in 1992. That shows how the winning candidate from four or five candidates under first past the post would have very little legitimacy. On anyone's analysis, 26 per cent. of the vote cannot be considered full legitimacy.

The strength that is normally acknowledged of first past the post in general elections is that it gives a clear result, with no need for coalitions. I do not accept that argument for general elections, but, in elections for a mayor, it does not apply at all, because they involve the election of only one person. There is no question of forming a coalition--at least I do not think that one can form a coalition with oneself, unless one is schizophrenic. We would not suggest that Londoners would elect such a person. Therefore, first past the post is not appropriate for mayoral elections.

The Liberal Democrats have tabled amendments supporting the alternative vote primarily because it is the most suited to this type of election. The alternative vote will ensure that, whoever is elected, every Londoner's vote will count. Whoever wins, more than 50 per cent. of the people of London will have expressed some preference for them. That would surely enable them to govern London with much greater legitimacy than other options open to us.

Mr. Wilkinson: If the hon. Gentleman sets such store by the winner receiving the majority of the votes cast, would not a simpler and much more intelligible method be to stage a re-run, eliminating--perhaps--all but two candidates, rather like in French elections?

Mr. Davey: I think that I am beginning to win some support. The alternative vote achieves that automatically because it allows people to express their preferences. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned, as I am, about ensuring that the winning candidate has a majority, he must vote for our amendment. I invite him to join us in the Lobby.

During this sitting, we have heard some news that has affected my party particularly. I should like to draw to the Committee's attention the fact that not only do we table amendments in support of the alternative vote system for the election of one post, we employ the practice in our internal elections. The Liberal Democrat leader will be elected under the alternative vote system. That shows that we have faith in it--not because it happens to be in our

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interests in the London elections, but because we believe that it is the fairest and most democratic system. We practise what we preach.

I know that the Labour party--I am not so sure that this applies to the Conservative party--employs the alternative vote system in its internal elections because it believes that that gives more legitimacy to the people whom its party members are electing. The Labour party does not have much faith in the supplementary vote system for its internal elections--nobody has ever told me that it uses such a system--so it is amazing that it has dreamt one up for London. Labour certainly does not practise what it preaches, although I suppose that we are used to that.

One argument against the alternative vote system--that, somehow it would be complex--must be tackled. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said that the first-past-the-post system had the merits of simplicity. He is insulting the people of London if he believes that they cannot decide first, second third fourth and fifth preferences. Is it really that difficult?

Labour Members suggested that such a system would confuse the electorate because people would be voting in a different way for assembly members. I find that insulting to the people of London, too. It is not difficult for people to put the numbers one to six into six boxes. That is one of the most simple things to do. The complexity is in the counting of votes. Although we would not deny that the system can be complex, computers and trained electoral adjudicators could ensure that there would be no problem. The key point is that the system would not pose any difficulty for the elector.

The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) defended the supplementary vote system. I am not sure whether he will be known in future as Mr. Lottery or Mr. something else, following the suggestion by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). In his so-called defence of SV, the hon. Member for Harrow, East gave no reasons. He did not answer the question why it would be the best choice for the election of mayor. Perhaps he will give his reasons during the clause stand part debate; we certainly hope so. We were unconvinced by his arguments, and remain convinced that our arguments for the alternative vote system are far superior.

6.45 pm

Mr. Brooke: I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) because I shall make one or two remarks about Liberal Democrat contributions to this debate.

I was taught by the late Alan Whitehorn, the father of Miss Katherine Whitehorn, the journalist. He would require us to translate Tennyson, psalms, hymns or Shakespeare into Latin or Greek verse. In prose, he would periodically ask us to translate something like our driving licences, in order to test whether we could embrace technical language as well. Speeches by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) on the subject of proportional representation would have been quite a good candidate for the process that I have described. Although one must be uncertain about the outcome, the one thing of which one could be certain is that they would be neither Ciceronian nor Demosthenic.

I give the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam one piece of credit. He demonstrated that he could read out word for word a brief provided by the Electoral

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Reform Society. That same briefing was deployed last night by the Liberal Democrats in debates on the single transferable vote. I was struck on that occasion by the speech of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton), who has also spoken in this debate, who drew attention to the totally practical disadvantages of STV in Irish elections, to which the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) has alluded today. Those practical disadvantages did not, at least to my eye, appear in the Electoral Reform Society briefing. I do not remember it drawing our attention to the fact that the system did not work too well in Ireland.

Mr. Linton: The right hon. Gentleman might care to know that the Electoral Reform Society is precluded by its constitution from supporting any system other than the single transferable vote.

Mr. Brooke: The great thing about remaining in this House for a long time is that one learns something every day. Although I like to feel that there are one or two other advantages, that is certainly a prime one. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remark. To some extent, he has elided my next point: the arguments deployed seemed to be primarily academic and technical rather than practical.

I think that our electorate is the most mature in the world, and as a Londoner, a fortiori, I think that our electorate in London is the most mature in this country. Their virtue, and what gives them their maturity, is that their attitude to what we are about is essentially practical.

I confess that, in my salad days in this House, I once voted for proportional representation on one measure--an arcane fact that at least one political journalist has uncovered and revealed to me that he has done so and would, if necessary, hold it in evidence against me. In those days, I was of the view that, if PR was to have a future in this country, it needed to be tried out on the electoral foothills before anybody made an assault on the south col. Almost 22 years of sharing this Chamber with first Liberals and then Liberal Democrats has cured me of any enthusiasm for PR. If I were an adviser to the Liberal Democrat party, I would, in the sere and yellow of advancing age, give it the same advice that I cited a moment ago. I would also urge it, for the practical reasons that I gave a moment ago, too, that it should make its system as simple as possible. The speech that we had from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, in all its Sri Lankan and Alabaman complexity, demonstrated that, in terms of simplicity, the Liberals have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.

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