Wording of alternative vote referendum published

LONDON (Reuters) - The coalition government on Thursday published the wording of a referendum due next May on changing procedures for voting in general elections.

A video grab shows Britain's deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg (2nd L), addressing the House of Commons during Prime Ministers Questions in London July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Parbul TV VIA Reuters TV

Voters 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 question is included in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill which will also cut the size of the House of Commons to 600 from 650 members.

The bill will in addition establish boundary reviews to create more equally sized constituencies.

A separate bill, also published on Thursday, will fix the terms of parliaments to five years. It will mean prime ministers no longer have the power to call for a dissolution of a parliament before the end of its maximum five-year term.

Critics have long argued that this power gave incumbent governments an unfair advantage over the opposition as they could pick a convenient moment.

“With the introduction of these bills, fundamental reform of our politics is finally on the way,” said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

The proposal to change to the alternative vote was promised by the ousted Labour government and supported by Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, who have persistently campaigned for electoral reform.

The Conservatives, now in government with Clegg’s party, oppose the change but agreed to a referendum as part of their coalition agreement.

The referendum on May 5, 2011 will coincide with national elections for the Scottish government, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as for several local authority elections across the United Kingdom.

Under the current first-past-the-post system, which favours the Conservative and Labour parties, the candidate who gets most votes in a constituency wins even if he or she falls short of a 50-percent majority.

With the alternative vote (AV) system, if no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, the second preferences of voters who picked last-placed candidates are redistributed until someone reaches the 50-percent mark.

The Liberal Democrats, who have been marginalised by the existing system, hope AV will improve their prospects.

Editing by Steve Addison