Compromise PR system urged by Lib-Dems

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A compromise form of proportional representation for Westminster elections is suggested by a senior Liberal Democrat in today's Independent.

The deal offered by Robert Maclennan, the party's President, could bring a solution to a seemingly intractable dispute between the party and the Government over how the voting system could be changed.

With the announcement of an Electoral Commission - possibly chaired by the Liberal Democrat Lord Jenkins - imminent, senior figures in both parties have been looking for a way forward.

Although the two parties agreed before the general election to set up a commission on voting reforms for Westminster, they have not been able to agree on what type of reforms there could be.

While the Liberal Democrats have insisted on a proportional, single transferable vote system, senior members of the Government, including the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, have not been convinced. They have suggested they would prefer an alternative vote system, which is not proportional and which might in fact give Labour more seats despite the fact that it is already over-represented in Westminster.

Now, Mr Maclennan has suggested a compromise which could combine elements of the two systems.

The STV system is used in Ireland, and allows MPs to be selected proportionally in large constituencies with several members. Under AV, which is used in Australia, there is still one MP per constituency, but voters list candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference. The losers can then have their votes redistributed until someone has more than 50 per cent of the vote.

"It is the principles behind our preferred system to which we are ultimately attached: a proportional national out-turn, wider voter choice and, preferably, the attachment of elected members to geographical constituencies," Mr Maclennan writes. The scheme was backed in a recent television interview by Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader.

The joint commission, chaired by Mr Maclennan with Robin Cook before the election, agreed that a commission would consider alternatives to the first-past-the-post system.