The Constitution Unit


Independent Commission on Proportional Representation

March 2002 - July 2003

Principal Investigators: Robert Hazell and Oonagh Gay

This report is the most authoritative and expert evaluation of Britain's new voting systems, which should set the terms of debate for many many years to come.

Changed Voting Changed Politics: Lessons of Britain's Experience of PR since 1997 (March 2004)

Download the final report (PDF)

The Commission was established following Labour's manifesto commitment to review the experience of Britain's new voting systems before holding any referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. The Commission's report will now feed into the Government's own review. Lord Falconer has said this is to be open to outsiders, and not a purely internal exercise, so the Commission's report is likely to form the main body of external evidence. But the Commission's work will also feed into the surprise review announced by Alastair Darling on 9 February of the four different voting systems in Scotland; and into any similar review of the voting system for the National Assembly for Wales.

The PR Commission has been jointly chaired by Peter Riddell and David Butler, with Robert Hazell as vice-chair and Simon King as secretary. The Commission includes electoral experts and members from all parties, some supporting PR and some first-past-the-post, but with most being uncommitted in the debate over electoral systems.

The dominant theme in the Commission's report is the extent of change in British elections in recent years. First-past-the-post is no longer the sole, or even the predominant, system. Voters in London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are as likely to use PR systems in elections as first-past-the-post.

The PR Commission's report begins by explaining the five different electoral systems now used in the UK, and discusses their strengths and weaknesses, and it concludes with a long chapter summarising the implications for any change in the voting system at Westminster:

  • There is no ideal electoral system, but the experience of new voting systems in the UK helps to undermine some widely-held myths on both sides of the debate;
  • There is no evidence that PR is too complicated for voters, or that the resulting coalition Governments in Scotland and in Wales are necessarily weak or ineffective;
  • On the other hand, low turnout in all the PR elections held so far contradicts the claims of advocates that PR helps to increase turnout.