Tuesday, 7 September 2010
TOO FAST! TOO FAST! WHERE ARE THE BRAKES?
An excellent Parliamentary research paper on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill says this: (emphasis added by me)
Scrutiny of the Bill
The Bill was introduced on 22 July and is due for its Second Reading on 6 September 2010. A programme motion has been published which allows for five days in Committee of the Whole House and two days for Report and Third Reading.
There has been concern at the pace at which the legislation is designed to pass through Parliament, especially as another important constitutional bill, the Fixed- term Parliaments Bill, is also due for a second reading on 13 September. The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee issued a report on 2 August which complained about the lack of time available for scrutiny. The Committee hoped to take further evidence in September and report substantively on the Bill before its Committee stage.
In a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister, the Committee Chair, Graham Allen said:
Your legislative timetable has put me and my committee in an extremely difficult position. 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.
Professor Hazell has argued that both bills were introduced without any formal consultation in the form of green or white papers, and that they raise important constitutional issues demanding proper scrutiny. Witnesses to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee and to the Lords Constitution Committee have suggested that more thought needs to be given to the type of proportional representation put before voters and the rules under which the referendum will be fought, as well as greater consideration about the changes in the Rules for the Redistribution of Seats.
The Opposition have tabled a reasoned amendment as follows:
That this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be a referendum on moving to the Alternative Vote system for elections to the House of Commons, declines to give a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill because it combines that objective with entirely unrelated provisions designed to gerrymander constituencies by imposing a top-down, hasty and undemocratic review of boundaries, the effect of which would be to exclude millions of eligible but unregistered voters from the calculation of the electoral average and to deprive local communities of their long-established right to trigger open and transparent public inquiries into the recommendations of a Boundary Commission, thereby destroying a bi-partisan system of drawing boundaries which has been the envy of countries across the world; and is strongly of the opinion that the publication of such a Bill should have been preceded by a full process of pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill.
The SNP and Plaid Cymru have also put down a reasoned amendment:
That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill because it plans to reduce the number of Members of Parliament in a way that could disproportionately disadvantage Wales and Scotland, does not seek the consent of devolved administrations regarding the date of the referendum, fails to take into account the recommendations of the Gould Report into the 2007 Scottish elections by placing the referendum vote on 5 May 2011, the same day as devolved government elections, requiring multiple ballot papers which will further obfuscate the elections of those regions, resulting in possible chaos at polling stations, and provides for a referendum on UK-wide voting systems which would dilute interest in the elections of the devolved governments, and fails to include an option to choose a proportionate electoral system.
The form of the Bill has been affected by the timetable for the referendum. It contains detailed changes to the electoral rules which are more commonly found in a referendum order which is issued once the primary legislation has achieved royal assent. The Bill also includes the necessary changes to electoral legislation to implement AV, without the need for further primary legislation, should the referendum result in a Yes vote.