AV referendum question is issued

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Indy Politics

Details of the referendum on introducing the alternative vote (AV) electoral system were revealed by the Government today.

The public will be asked: "Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the 'alternative vote' system instead of the current 'first past the post' system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?"

The poll, demanded by the Liberal Democrats as part of the coalition deal with the Tories, is due to take place on May 5 next year.

The wording was disclosed for the first time in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which was laid before parliament today.

The question will also be made available in Welsh.

The controversial legislation would also reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, and establish boundary reviews to create more equal sized constituencies.

Meanwhile, another Bill introduced today, the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, paves the way for general elections to occur every five years on the first Thursday in May, rather than at the discretion of the Prime Minister.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the legislation showed that "fundamental reform of our politics is finally on the way".

"The coalition Government is determined to put power where it belongs - with people. You will decide how you want to elect your MPs," he said.

"By making constituencies more equal in size, the value of your vote will no longer depend on where you live, and with fewer MPs the cost of politics will be cut.

"And, by setting the date that parliament will dissolve, our Prime Minister is giving up the right to pick and choose the date of the next general election - that's a true first in British politics."

The Electoral Commission will now conduct an assessment to ensure the question is "intelligible to voters", a process expected to take 10 weeks.

The watchdog's chair, Jenny Watson, warned that there were "risks" in holding the referendum on the same day as local and devolved institution elections, such as voter confusion.

"Our priority is making sure that everyone who goes to the polls on May 5 can cast their vote safely and easily whether it's in an election, a referendum or both," she said.

"It is possible to successfully deliver these different polls on May 5, but only if the risks associated with doing so are properly managed.

"We've set out what we think these risks are and will make it clear during the passage of the Bill if we do not feel they have been adequately addressed."

Shadow justice secretary Jack Straw said: "This Bill will create new constituencies by central diktat, and explicitly bans any kind of public inquiry into the process.

"This is even though the ability for local communities to have their say has been welcomed by the Boundary Commissions as helping them to improve their proposals.

"For decades Britain has enjoyed a transparent, respected and non-partisan system for setting boundaries. This will now be abolished. This is the reverse of David Cameron's Big Society and Nick Clegg's 'new localism'.

"To compound matters Mr Clegg proposes wholly to ignore from his boundary review at least 3.5 million eligible voters who he admits are currently missing from the electoral register."