Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011
|Long title||An Act to make provision for a referendum on the voting system for parliamentary elections and to provide for parliamentary elections to be held under the alternative vote system if a majority of those voting in the referendum are in favour of that; to make provision about the number and size of parliamentary constituencies; and for connected purposes.|
|Introduced by||Nick Clegg|
|Relates to||Representation of the People Act 1983, Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000|
Status: Current legislation
|History of passage through Parliament|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Text of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk|
The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 (c. 1) is an Act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Bill for the Act was introduced to the House of Commons on 22 July 2010 and passed third reading on 2 November by 321 votes to 264. The House of Lords passed the Bill, with amendments, on 14 February 2011, and after some compromises between the two Houses on amendments, it received Royal Assent on 16 February.
The Act brought together two different constitutional aims of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition:
- The Liberal Democrats had long promoted an alternative to first-past-the-post elections: the Act resulted in the United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum in 2011 on introducing the Alternative Vote system for the UK Parliament.
- Prior to the election, the manifestos of both coalition parties stated that they wished to reduce the number of Members of Parliament from 650: the Conservatives' target figure was 585; the Liberal Democrats' target was 500; the Act set the future number of constituencies as 600. The Act also aimed to fulfill a Conservative aim to reduce the over-representation of Scotland and Wales, relative to the remaining English constituencies. The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 later delayed implementation of the changes to the number of constituencies until at least 2018.
Summary of Act
Part 1 – Voting Systems for Parliamentary Elections
Part 1 of the Act comprises sections 1 to 9. Section 1 sets out the question to be put to voters, in English and Welsh. Section 4 sets out provisions associated with the date of the Referendum, whereby the date for the poll and one or more United Kingdom local elections, 2011, Scottish Parliament election, 2011, Welsh Assembly election, 2011 or Northern Ireland Assembly election, 2011 will be taken on the same day. Section 9 set out amendments to the Representation of the People Act 1983 if the vote was "Yes".
Part 2 – Parliamentary Constituencies
Part 2, comprising sections 10 to 13, amends the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 including replacing Schedule 2 to introduce changes to the boundaries and number of UK constituencies, and the processes for their review. The changes for constituencies include:
- Reducing the number of constituencies in the House of Commons from 650 to 600.
- Specifying that each constituency will be wholly within one of England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. (All existing constituencies already fulfil this requirement.)
- Requiring the electorate of almost all constituencies to be within 5 percent of the national average.
- This electorate requirement overrides considerations of local geographical and political boundaries, with only a few exceptions:
- The island constituencies of Orkney and Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles) are explicitly preserved.
- Two constituencies for the Isle of Wight. (This is an increase from the single constituency that exists at present.)
- Constituencies covering more than 12,000 km2 may be lower in electorate than 5 percent below the national average. (Of the current constituencies, this would apply only to the Highland constituency of Ross, Skye and Lochaber.)
- No constituency may be larger than 13,000 km2 .
- The four boundary commissions of the United Kingdom are to conduct constituency reviews before 1 October 2013 and before 1 October of every subsequent fifth year.
- The Boundary Commission for England may consider the boundaries of the regions used for elections to the European Parliament in its processes.
- The link between Westminster and Welsh Assembly constituencies is removed. The government is intending to propose future arrangements for Welsh Assembly constituencies in time for the 2015 Assembly elections.
- "Public Hearings" to hear views about the boundary commissions' proposals, in place of the previous "Local Inquiries".
- The consultation period for the public to submit their views in writing is extended to twelve weeks from four weeks.
Passage of the section through Parliament
The bill instructed the boundary commissions to undertake the Sixth Periodic Review of Westminster constituencies before 2014, which would have involved a significant redistribution of seats between the four parts of the UK and the near-equalisation of constituency sizes by registered electorate. In accordance with this, the Boundary Commissions began a full revision of constituency boundaries with an instruction to reduce the number of constituencies to 600 and to recommend constituencies which are no more than 5% above or below the standard size. However, in August 2012, Liberal Democrats party leader Nick Clegg announced that his party would oppose the implementation of the new constituency boundaries as a reaction to the failure of the government to enact House of Lords reform. In January 2013, the Government lost a vote on this timetable, which effectively ended the entire process. The boundary commissions were required to produce their reports by 1 October 2013 but they announced the cancellation of the reviews on 31 January 2013.
- Schedule 1 deals with the referendum. This section includes information and instruction relating to the role and responsibilities of Returning Officers, Counting Officers, the Electoral Commission, and the declaration of the referendum result.
- Schedule 2 outlines the administrative and logistical rules behind the referendum, including ballot paper design, polling station provision, the nature of the counting of the votes and the ballot box design.
- Schedule 3 amends the rules on proxy and absent voting.
- Schedule 4 amends or appeals existing Representation of the People Acts and Electoral Administration laws with relation to all aspects of the referendum campaign and polling day.
- Schedules 5 to 8 set out how the referendum and local/devolved assembly elections will be combined.
- Schedule 9 builds regulations relating to funding, loans and permitted financial transactions during the referendum campaign.
- Schedule 10 amends regulations relating to the conduct of polling day in the event of the United Kingdom adopting the alternative vote.
- Schedule 11 outlines consequential amendments and repeals.
The Act does not alter the structure and independence of the various boundary commissions that are responsible for carrying out reviews of constituencies.
As per section 19, the majority of the provisions of the Act came into force upon Royal Assent. However, under section 8, the alternative vote provisions could have come into force only if more votes were cast in the referendum in favour of the answer "Yes" than in favour of the answer "No"; and the Order in Council giving effect to the new boundaries had been made. In any case, the referendum was resoundingly defeated, and so the alternative vote provisions were repealed on 8 July 2011.
- 6 September 2010. Commons: Second Reading
- 12–25 October 2010. Commons: Committee Stage (line-by-line discussion, amendment and alteration of the bill by a Committee of the whole House)
- 1–2 November 2010. Commons: Report Stage
- 2 November 2010. Commons: Third Reading
- 15–16 November 2010. Lords: Second Reading
- 30 November 2010. Lords: Committee Stage
- February 2011. Conclusion of Lords stages and Royal Assent
The Bill passed through the House of Commons on schedule. The committee stage in the House of Lords began on 30 November 2010, and on the second day of Committee stage debate the Government were defeated when an amendment moved by Lord Rooker allowing the date of the AV referendum to be varied from 4 May 2011 was carried by 199 to 195.
Labour Parliamentarians opposed the sections of the Bill relating to constituencies, asserting that it amounted to a 'gerrymander', and urged the Government to divide the Bill into two so that the section relating to the referendum on voting systems could be passed swiftly. The Prime Minister dismissed requests that the two elements of the Bill should be split.
By the middle of January, with the Bill having had eight days of consideration in Committee in the House of Lords, the Government voiced concern about the length of time being taken for a Bill which needed to be enacted by 16 February in order to allow the planned referendum to take place in May. Three of the Lords' four sitting days in the following week were set aside for the Bill and the Prime Minister's spokesman commented that some could be long days, with the House possibly sitting all night. The Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde, complained that "the Labour peers are on a go-slow" and filibustering the Bill. He was reported to be considering introducing a guillotine motion to the debate, which would have been an unprecedented move for the House of Lords.
On 17 January, consideration of the Bill in Committee began at 3:10 PM. After a dinner break for an hour in the evening, at 11:38 PM the House had completed debate on only one amendment. Lord Trefgarne moved a rare closure motion "that the question be now put" which was carried, bringing an end to debate on a second amendment. After fending off Labour attempts to adjourn the House at 12:14 AM, 3:31 AM, and 9:01 AM, the sitting continued until 12:52 PM on 18 January. In order to keep Peers present during the all night sitting, the Coalition provided refreshment and arranged for celebrity Peers such as Julian Fellowes and Sebastian Coe to give talks. Parliamentary officials turned two committee rooms into makeshift dormitories for male and female Peers. During the whole sitting, only eight amendments were debated.
The convenor of the Crossbench Peers, Baroness D'Souza, made it clear that she would strongly oppose any attempt to guillotine debate, and at the end of January Strathclyde announced that (after discussion with Labour through the 'usual channels') the Government would bring forward a "package of concessions" in order to break the deadlock. The Committee stage concluded on 2 February after 17 days of debate.
Report stage of the Bill in the House of Lords took place on 7, 8 and 9 February 2011, and the Bill was given a Third Reading and passed back to the Commons with amendments on 14 February.
Reaction and analysis
Upon launching the bill, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that "by making constituencies more equal in size, the value of your vote will no longer depend on where you live, and with fewer MPs the cost of politics will be cut." While Labour promised a referendum for AV in their election manifesto, they announced that they would nevertheless oppose the Bill, saying that the constituency boundary changes would help the Conservatives.
There was strong cross-party opposition to the bill in Cornwall as the boundary of Cornwall will not be respected when constituency boundaries are drawn up. Commenting on this, Prime Minister David Cameron said "It's the Tamar, not the Amazon, for Heaven's sake." Around 500 people gathered at a rally in Saltash organised by its mayor, Adam Killeya. Guest speakers included Conservative MP Sheryll Murray, Liberal Democrat MP Steve Gilbert, and Mebyon Kernow councillor and deputy leader Andrew Long. Speaking to the crowds, Steve Gilbert said that "This is Cornwall and over there, that's England. When David Cameron said this is not the Amazon he was right... it's much more important." On the same day the Cornish and Celtic campaigner Michael Chappell announced that he would be going on hunger strike over the boundary issue.
During the bill's second reading in the House of Commons, Nick Clegg said that the bill would help "restore people's faith in the way they elect their MPs" while Shadow Deputy Prime Minister Jack Straw called it "deeply flawed and partisan".
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