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[Relevant documents: Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, Session 2007-08, HC 551-I and-II, and the Government response, Cm 7690. Tenth Report from the Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2007-08, on Constitutional Renewal: Draft Bill and White Paper, HC 499, and the Government response, Cm 7688. Fourth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2009-10, on Legislative Scrutiny: Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill; Video Recordings Bill, HC 249. The Scottish Parliament has passed a Legislative Consent Resolution in respect of this Bill. Copies of the Resolution are available in the Vote Office.]
(3) The question specified under subsection (2)(b) must ask voters whether they would prefer the alternative-vote system described in the Command Paper to be used for parliamentary elections instead of the existing voting system (commonly referred to as "first past the post").
(5) The reference in subsection (4)(d) to the candidate with the fewest votes, in a case where there are two or more candidates with fewer votes than the others but an equal number to each other, is a reference to the candidate eliminated in accordance with whatever provision is made for that case.
(6) The reference in subsection (4)(f) to the candidate with more votes than the other remaining candidates put together, in a case where there are only two remaining candidates and they have an equal number of votes, is a reference to the candidate elected in accordance with whatever provision is made for that case.
(7) A statutory instrument specifying the question to be asked in the referendum or fixing the date of the poll may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(8) Subsection (1) and sections [Entitlement to vote] to [Restriction on legal challenge to referendum result] do not apply (and no further duty arises under subsection (2)(b)) if either House of Parliament, on a motion to approve a draft laid under subsection (7), decides not to approve it (unless the Secretary of State decides to lay the draft again under subsection (7), or to lay a revised draft under that subsection, and the re-laid or revised draft is approved by a resolution of each House).'.- (Mr. Straw.)
(h) if in the second ballot it appears that there is an equality of votes between both candidates, the returning officer shall decide between them by lot and proceed as if the candidate on whom the lot then falls had received an additional vote.".
(3) If the result of the referendum is in favour of changing the electoral system for the House of Commons, the Secretary of State shall be under a duty to lay implementing measures before Parliament within three months of the date of the referendum.
"implementing measures" means measures designed to and likely to implement the result of the referendum before the general election next following the referendum, and includes bills and statutory instruments;
"preferential voting system" means a system of voting in which electors may express their support for individual candidates in order of preference and in which they are not restricted to expressing a fixed number of preferences.".
It might be convenient if I give the Committee notice-I have already given the Table Office and the official Opposition notice-in respect of new clause 98, in the names of the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) and several of her hon. Friends and my hon. Friends,
including my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith). It proposes that the counting of votes at the general election should take place within four hours of the close of the poll unless there are exceptional reasons. There was a discussion about that during Justice questions about an hour and a half ago, and I propose to attach my name to the new clause, so that it can be the subject of a vote.
I say to my hon. Friends that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip is proposing that there be a free vote on the Labour Benches. I would like to add a caveat. As is often the case, the wording of the new clause may need to be revised, but it was the view of the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) and myself that, rather than leaving the matter entirely open until Report, it would be better for there to be a clear text in the Bill that could be amended later if necessary, and that a clear message went out to electoral registration officers now about the intent on both sides of the House.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): May I congratulate the Lord Chancellor on his courage in adding his name and that of his right hon. Friend to our amendment? It has support on both sides of the House, and many people will be delighted at what he has done this afternoon. We accept entirely that the wording may have to be altered, and we will give him every support in doing so.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): If we are putting through new clauses without debate, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the programming for the next stage makes time to debate any necessary amendments to tidy up that new clause?
Mr. Straw: What I can undertake to do is ensure that my name is attached to any amendments, so that they would have to be the subject of a vote. What I cannot guarantee absolutely is how much time would be available. However, I should have said to the Committee that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will share the draft text of any proposed amendments with all the other main parties represented in the Committee in advance of their being tabled.
Mr. Pelling: And the House would be a great deal better off if Members were independent. On the point about overnight counting, I won by 75 votes when I stood as a Conservative candidate, and there were three recounts. Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that it is not right in a parliamentary democracy that the people who have to do the counting should do so when they are half awake? Surely whether counts take place in the morning or overnight is not such a great issue.
New clause 98 provides for the counts beginning within four hours of the close of the poll. Everybody accepts that, when there is a requirement for a recount, the counting can be suspended until the following day, as is often the case. However, concern has been expressed in all parts of the House about a growing
trend among returning officers to defer until the following day-for their own convenience and nobody else's-the counting of most of the constituencies which in the past have always been counted on the night of the election.
Mr. Straw: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to make some progress on the clauses before the Committee; I look forward to similar agreement across the Chamber in respect of those clauses.
That referendum will allow the British people to choose whether they wish to retain the present system of first past the post, or move to the alternative vote, which, as I think the Committee knows, is a system by which candidates are ranked in order of preference by voters. If on the first count no candidate has achieved 50 per cent. plus one of the votes cast, the candidates with the fewest first preferences are eliminated, with the second preferences counted, and so on. That is the same system, in conception, as eliminating ballots. However, I do not really need to spell that out to the Committee, because Members belonging to every party represented here will have direct experience of systems of eliminating ballots, whether they take place at a single moment or over an extended moment.
All the major parties represented here have at the heart of the election of their leaders an electoral system that involves the progressive elimination of candidates. Sometimes elimination rounds are used. The Conservative party conducts sequential votes when there are more than two candidates, until the final two candidates are put to the membership. The Liberal Democrats use the single transferable vote, which amounts to the alternative vote when there is only a single post to be filled. The Labour party has long used the alternative vote for the election of its leader and deputy leader. It used to have lengthy eliminating ballots for local selections, but has now generally moved to the alternative vote system.
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