Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
27 JULY 2010
Q140 Chair: Is that like the French
Professor Dunleavy: It is the
instant run-off version of a dual ballot. The difference is that
in a dual ballot you have a first round in week one and everybody
can look at all the votes and then you have the second round in
week two and you shrink the number of candidates in week two.
But obviously it would be very chancy to ask British voters to
come back a week later, so I think you would have to go for an
instant run-off version!
Professor Fisher: If you were
to go for something as alien as electing a chief executive ...
Q141 Chair: Alien to?
Professor Fisher: Alien to the
British political system.
Q142 Chair: Not to the rest of the
Western democratic system.
Professor Dunleavy: We do it in
Professor Fisher: It is an important
point. Different political cultures mean that different systems
work in different ways around the world. This is going back to
the point about international comparisons. If you were to go with
that, I agree with Patrick, SV would seem to be the most sensible
option. The two-round election, although it has the advantage
that people can be voting for a second time in the light of seeing
what has gone on previously, strikes me as being a slightly risky
system, as indeed happened in France in the early 2000s.
Q143 Chair: Le Pen?
Professor Fisher: Yes.
Q144 Mr Chope: Can I come back to
the question which is being put in this referendum if the Bill
goes through unamended? You are implying, in fact saying, that
the question is ambiguous because it is talking about the AV system.
How would you seek to have that question altered to refine and
clarify the choice available? Do you think there is any scope
in a referendum for having essentially a whole series of questions
so that people could express a preference as to which of the alternative
systems they would like, whether they would like London AV, STV,
first-past-the-post? So in a sense they could experience what
it would be like to engage in an AV system when they were putting
down their preferences for the voting system. What you are saying
at the moment is that you think any referendum based upon the
existing proposed question is going to be flawed because of the
ambiguity, and what I am inviting you to say is what would you
put in its place?
Professor Dunleavy: You cannot
put very much in the referendum question. There would certainly
need to be at least a footnote which explains what alternative
voting explicitly means. In the past, when we legislated for the
London Mayor for example, the legislation just said the supplementary
vote, but that was a special made-up label which designated one
system, whereas I think Alternative Vote designates a whole class
of systemssingle office holder, multiple preferences, instant
run-off. So you need to have a footnote possibly, or a clarificatory
memo or something of that kind, in the booklet which goes to voters
and possibly available in the polling booths for people to check
what exactly it is they are voting for.
Professor Fisher: I think having
the range of choices would be catastrophic. I think Patrick is
right to draw our attention to the variants but I think it is
the job of the House to decide which is the most appropriate one
before putting it to the voters.
Q145 Chair: If I can just switch
questions for a moment and ask how campaigning funding rules will
work in a referendum on AV. What is your take on how effective
that is going to be?
Professor Fisher: The rules in
terms of spending are laid out by PPERA, such that the Electoral
Commission needs to designate each side, the yes or no campaignwhich
is not without difficulty, as seen in the North East referendum,
where there can be competing sidesand each side is permitted
to spend £5 million. In addition to that, there are sums
available for political parties to spend provided that the political
party takes a unified stand. This strikes me as potentially problematic
because there is an interest for a party in taking one stand and
therefore allowing them to spend a certain amount of money, which
is determined by the share of the vote, they enjoyed at the previous
general election. So the Conservative Party will have an advantage
here as the only party which exceeded 30% in May. So there is
a potential issue, not an insurmountable but one which needs to
be borne in mind. Then other participants can register, they are
allowed to spend half a million pounds, and then if you do not
register up to £10,000. One of the key issues which was raised
in Professor Ewing and Dr Orr's paper is that there is a potential
anomaly in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act
in respect of third party campaigning, ie whether you are a registered
participant or not. Whilst in general election campaigns it explicitly
excludes the newspapers from these third party considerations,
in the part of the Act which deals with referendums it only explicitly
excludes the British Broadcasting Corporation and one in Wales.
Professor Ewing and Dr Orr's paper suggests there potentially
could be a case whereby newspapers would have to register as participants
in order to take a position on the referendum. This strikes me
as almost certainly an oversight in the Bill. Mistakes happen
but in the passage of this legislation there ought to be some
amendment, otherwise you could find yourself in a position where
the newspapers would be hamstrung from taking a particular view.
Chair: We are collecting quite a few
amendments as a Committee as we go along. I was going to ask questions
about pre-legislative scrutiny and pretty much you are it. We
have been allowed three sessions, which is wholly inadequate,
and of course one of those sessions is taking place now today,
at the very same time as most of us would want to be on the floor
asking the Deputy Prime Minister questions. That is just by way
of a comment to underline, hopefully on behalf of all colleagues,
there are some fundamental flaws in this process which we feel
need to be addressed pretty quickly. Eleanor and then Simon?
Mrs Laing: I am seeking to clarify exactly
the way in which AV works. It might be that people in this room
understand it, because we pay attention to these matters, I would
suggest it is important that the majority of people not in this
room should understand it. You have referred, Professor Dunleavy,
to the London AV system and then you have both referred to the
differences between AV and STV and to the Australian system, et
cetera. Having examined what is in the actual Bill and the way
it is set out in the Bill, how does the system in the Bill differ
from those other systems that you have described?
Q146 Simon Hart: Just on the subject
of explanation, you were talking about the role of the media in
explaining what all of this means as we run up to the great date.
Bearing in mind that it will coincide with a very party political
election in somewhere like the Welsh Assembly, how can the broadcasters
on the one hand act as a public service explaining what people
should do but stop short of falling into the trap of inadvertently
supporting one party or another? To be able to square that circle
strikes me as being quite difficult for the broadcasters.
Professor Dunleavy: I think the
Bill, as far as I understand it, is offering voters the choice
of the Australian version of AV, what is called the Australian
version. That means that voters can express as many preferences
as they like by numbering, if nobody has an outright majority
on first preferences we begin to eliminate candidates from the
bottom and we inspect their second preferences and transfer them
to the candidates who are still in the race. We carry on doing
that elimination of candidates from the bottom until somebody
has majority support or has more than half of the votes and there
are only two candidates remaining.
Q147 Mrs Laing: So the candidate
who comes sixth has his or her votes redistributed?
Professor Dunleavy: Yes, to candidates
still in the race.
Q148 Mrs Laing: To any candidate
still in the race not just the top two, but the candidate who
comes fifth does not have his or her votes redistributed? I understand
it, I am just trying to get this point straight. So for the people
who supported the candidate who comes sixth, their votes count
twice, but for those who supported the candidate who came fourth
or fifth their votes do not count twice, if, after one distribution,
51% appears50% plus one?
Professor Dunleavy: That does
get to a really acute point, that in many, many constituencies
whichever is the third or fourth party, it is quite likely that
you may never count their second preferences under the Australian
version of AV. In a way that is very limiting for MPs because
the winning MP will no doubt have had a convincing majority. If
you look at the London system, it will tell you that Ken Livingstone
or Boris Johnson both won 58 or 60% of the vote, so they have
strong legitimacy as the voice of London because we have counted
all the second preferences and we know where those second preferences
went. But in the Australian AV system, it is very likely you will
never count up Liberal Democrat votes across the country. If a
Conservative or Labour person gets to 50% plus one, you will stop
Professor Fisher: There is no
easy answer, we are in completely new territory holding a national
referendum under this piece of legislation. The Electoral Commission
is charged with producing information which is deemed to be neutral,
and outside of the 28 day period before the referendumI
believe this is correctthe Government can also issue some
guidelines. But given the Government itself presumably does not
have a position in this particular case
Q149 Simon Hart: It has two positions
Professor Fisher: Quite! It is
inevitably problematic and we will have to see how it plays out.
To go back to the point made at the outset, this is completely
new ground because no referendum of any size in this country has
been fought under the regulations introduced at the beginning
Chair: Professor Fisher, Professor Dunleavy,
thank you very much indeed for your time this morning and for
your contributions. It has been fascinating.