24 October 2010

The amendments to the parliamentary voting system and constituencies bill which proposed to keep constituencies wholly in Cornwall and ruled out a cross-county constituency were not reached by the Commons (nor were similar amendments about other places). They were not voted on and thus are not, presently at any rate, part of the bill.

They fell because the Commons ran out of time to debate them and much else. Why was that?

I think the bill had a deliberately rushed and curtailed timetable, undesirable for a significant constitutional measure. The Tory Libdem government wished to see the bill enacted speedily so that they met their external timetable: the Electoral Commission has said that for a May 2011 referendum the rules need to be in place by November this year.

The Tory Libdem government haste was clear. First, there was very inadequate time for pre-legislative scrutiny before second reading (Hansard 6 September 2010 column 62-63). Then the government imposed a severe timetable for the debate in committee; it’s called a program motion (there were three of them for this bill). The timetable gave only five days to the bill in committee.

The six Tory Libdem MPs for Cornwall supported the timetable for debating the bill and amendments. Labour voted against the program motions; it opposes what it sees as the partisan doing-down-Labour aspects of the bill; I think any snailing as the bill went through committee could probably have been foreseen.

The bill, after a fifth day in committee on Monday 25 October, moves to its report stage on 1 November and third (final) reading on 2 November, then to the Lords. Will the MPs try with their Cornwall amendments again at the report stage? If the Cornwall amendments are not incorporated in the bill, what will they do at third reading?

I think it would have been a better approach by the government to reform if time had been taken to look at how far and in what way conflicting principles could be reconciled or should be prioritised. For example, in terms of constituencies that conflict includes rough equality in constituency electorates or populations (they differ), constituencies reflecting perceived natural areas, constituencies matching principal local authority areas, constituencies reflecting population shifts, and constituency boundary stability.

Constitutional select committee report

Electoral commission (notice required before May 2011 referendum)