Lord McNally: General Election costs “broadly the same” under AV, no plans for counting machines

An exchange in the House of Lords this afternoon led Lord McNally, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice to exclaim, “Gosh, we are getting a lot of information today.” (contrast with David Cameron’s appearance this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme)

Phil Willis (Lord Willis of Knaresborough) asked Her Majesty’s Government “what they estimate will be the costs of a general election held under the alternative vote system”.

Lord McNally replied that the costs of a general election under AV would be broadly the same as under the existing system. Any extra costs incurred by the count would be due to the extra time the process could take, and there are no plans to introduce counting machines.

From Hansard, the full exchange:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the features and associated costs of holding a general election using the alternative vote system would broadly be the same as under the existing system. A notable exception to this is the count, which, depending on the extent of preferences expressed by voters, could take longer and lead to some additional costs.

Lord Willis of Knaresborough: I am grateful to my noble friend for that interesting Answer. There is undoubtedly a polarised debate about the future of our voting system. However, does my noble friend agree that it behoves politicians in both Houses of Parliament, particularly Ministers, when making statements to base them on facts and not simply make them up to further an argument? Will he state quite clearly today that there is no requirement in the legislation and no estimate in the Government’s plans for any additional costs for electronic voting or electronic counting? Can he bury that argument?

Lord McNally: My Lords, reading very carefully, I say that we have no current plans to introduce electronic counting for the Westminster parliamentary elections. The Government have made no estimate of the costs of electronic counting for them.

Lord Campbell-Savours: Will the Minister confirm that the Scottish Government have introduced an electronic counting system for local government elections in Scotland, at a cost of £5 million next year—the contract has gone to a firm called Logica, which will be counting votes under STV and AV in by-elections—and that there is an electronic counting system operating in the London mayoral  counting effectively inevitable in the end?

Lord McNally: My Lords, whether it is inevitable in the end I simply do not know. As to the other information that the noble Lord imparted to the House, I am sure that it will, as ever, be accurate.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, is not the Minister correct and the noble Lord opposite also correct? There are no current plans but it is inevitable.

Lord McNally: Nothing is inevitable, including the outcome of the AV referendum.

Lord Kinnock: Will the Minister confirm that in 90 years of using alternative voting in Australia, no one has ever proposed or used machines for voting or counting under such a system? Will he also confirm that if there were alternative voting in a general election in this country, there is no proposal from anyone, no provision and no finance allocated for the introduction of machine voting? Will he advise people on both sides of this argument that it is disreputable as well as misleading to the electorate to make repeated claims, as some have, that it is necessary and inevitable that machines are used in AV voting systems?

Lord McNally: Gosh, we are getting a lot of information today. This is all extremely useful for the electorate. In less than 48 hours, the power will pass to them. I have always been one of those politicians who trusts the people and I will wait to find out what they say. As to the earlier point on the Australian experience, the noble Lord is perfectly right.

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  • Unfortunatly the PM thinks there is.

  • Richard Church 3rd May '11 - 8:40pm

    And it is the conservative wing of the Labour party that is endorsing and promoting these lies.

  • David from Ealing 3rd May '11 - 9:51pm

    Which twin is the Tory now, then? Prescott, Cameron, Osborne, Reid??

  • Really quite amazing the level of ignorance amongst our noble Lords. STV is nothing like AV in terms of deciding the result, it is very complicated and does require electronic counting machines. One only needs to go the Electoral Commission’s site to discover how much more complex STV is but it has the advantage of being proportional.

  • With the latest poll showing a 32-point lead for “No,” all these arguments really are looking academic now…

  • To Roger

    STV does not require voting machines. They don’t use them in Ireland.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th May '11 - 9:32am

    The “first three past the post” system used in London borough elections and other local councils where there’s all-up elections for multi-member wards is far more complex to count than AV. Anyone who has attended a London Borough election count and been there until dawn watching them tally the many papers where the three votes aren’t given all to one party will know that.

  • “all-up elections for multi-member wards is far more complex to count than AV.”

    What! You mean “one person, three votes”? But that sounds like the end of British democracy. Surely the No campaign will be outraged when they hear about this?

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