The Bill has not been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny and the timetable for parliamentary consideration has been subject to some criticism. Its Second Reading is due to take place one week after that of another constitutional bill: the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill 2010-11. The Constitution Committee in the House of Lords is conducting an inquiry into the Government’s proposals. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the House of Commons took evidence from the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, on constitutional issues including fixed-term parliaments, and is to take evidence from the Clerk of the House on 7 September 2010.
There have been some concerns expressed that the Bill has been drafted in a short time scale, particularly as if enacted the legislation will have a major impact on the UK constitution. Professor of Constitutional Law at Kings College London, Robert Blackburn, has said that:
This particular bill is something that needs very careful thought because it can have a huge impact on general elections. Let us not forget, of course, that a general election really is the main political event in our democracy. We are determining not just the life and the composition of the House of Commons but also of the Executive, so it is a very important subject which should not really be rushed.
The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee published a short report expressing concerns about the timetable for the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill 2010-11.15 The Second Reading of that Bill, also introduced on 22 July, is scheduled to take place one week before that of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. The report included a letter from the Chair of the Committee, Graham Allen, to the Deputy Prime Minister which also criticised the timetable for the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill 2010-11. Graham Allen wrote:
When the House agreed to establish the committee, it did so, in the words of the Deputy Leader of the House, “to ensure that the House is able to scrutinise the work of the Deputy Prime Minister”. In the case of these two bills you have denied us any adequate opportunity to conduct this scrutiny.
The Committee has announced that the Clerk of the House of Commons is to give evidence on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill 2010-11 on 7 September 2010.
The other great constitutional reform bill mentioned is that to permit the referendum on the AV system of voting - the Bill is here. The Bill also contains the amendments to voting legislation which will be enacted if the referendum is carried in favour of AV. I was expecting reams of legislative amendments to enact the AV system - however the changes are very short and sweet - this is the key provision: