Liberal Democrat Constitutional Affairs Spokesman, Lord Tyler, today (Wednesday) challenged Ministers to fulfil their 1997 commitment to a referendum on a proportional Electoral system.

In a mini House of Lords debate, the former Shadow Leader of the Commons asked when the promise would be kept and why Gordon Brown had refused to make progress for want of ‘consensus’ with the Conservatives. Speaking for the Government, Lord Tunnicliffe said Labour would offer people a referendum to choose between First Past the Post and the Alternative Vote.

He went on to admit that the Government had U-turned and had effectively broken its promise. “The 1997 manifesto had a commitment to put a proportional alternative in a referendum,” he said. “During that Government there was…the Jenkins report, new voting systems were tried, and a great deal of learning took place. Neither the 2001 nor the 2005 manifestos had any reference to proportionality, which requires multi-Member constituencies or two classes of MPs. That would destroy the clear central theme of the House of Commons and the link between the single Members, all of whom are a common class with their constituencies.”

Commenting afterwards, Lord Tyler said:

“The Government’s own review of electoral systems published in January 2008 – after seven years of dithering – refutes the very arguments the Minister made this morning. He should read it.

“Labour’s last-ditch commitment to a referendum on AV does not fulfil the 1997 promise, and it seems the Government is now prepared to concede it has flagrantly broken its word.

“The question now is whether even their deathbed conversion to the cause of the Alternative Vote is remotely serious. “Gordon Brown told the Liaison Committee last week that they hadn’t pursued Lord Jenkins’ proposals because they couldn’t command ‘consensus’, presumably with the Conservative Party.

“He certainly has no consensus with the Tories over giving the public their say. How ironic for the Tories not now to take Churchill’s advice to ‘Trust the People’. “If Brown is to succeed, he will have to show some real leadership.

“Liberal Democrat MPs have given their support to using AV as a stepping stone to real proportionality under STV, so Brown has more than enough backing to get this through. “It’s up to him, now, to prove that he wants to.”


Notes to Editors:

  1. The full exchange is available in House of Lords Hansard for 10th February 2010 – here http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200910/ldhansrd/text/100210-0001.htm#10021067000647
  2. The Prime Minister’s exchange in the Liaison Committee on 3rd February 2010 is available at Q46 here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmliaisn/uc346-i/uc34602.htm

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