Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011

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.
Citation c. 1
Introduced by Nick Clegg
Other legislation
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Text of statute as originally enacted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

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.[1] The House of Lords passed the Bill, with amendments, on 14 February 2011,[2] 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:

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:

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.[7] In January 2013, the Government lost a vote on this timetable, which effectively ended the entire process.[8] 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.[9][10][11][12]


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.[13]


The initial timeline for consideration of the Bill was set out at the beginning of the process.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16] The Prime Minister dismissed requests that the two elements of the Bill should be split.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]

On 17 January, consideration of the Bill in Committee began at 3:10 PM.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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,[24] 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.[25] 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."[26] 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.[27]

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.[28][29][30][31][32]

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".[33]

In October 2010, the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee reported on the bill.[34]


  1. "MPs back voting change referendum". BBC News Online. 2 November 2010.
  2. Lords Hansard
  3. "The Liberal Democrats on Political Reform". Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  4. "The Conservative Party | Policy | Where we stand | Cleaning Up Politics". Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  5. In Depth: The Conservatives will suffer electorally from the Liberal Democrats’ revenge over failure to support House of Lords reform - British Politics and Policy at LSE - 1 March 2013
  6. "Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Population Density Tables, 1981 to 2010 - (PARTIALLY SUPERSEDED) - ONS".
  7. Jowit, Juliette (6 August 2012). "Nick Clegg blocks boundary changes after Lords reform retreat". The Guardian.
  8. "MPs vote on boundary changes: Politics live blog". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
  9. "Closure of 2013 review". Boundary Commission for England. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
  10. "Sixth Periodic Review - Index". Bcomm-Scotland. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
  11. "The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland". The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
  12. "Statement Regarding the 2013 Review of Parliamentary Constituencies". Boundary Commission for Wales. 31 January 2013. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
  13. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 (Repeal of Alternative Vote Provisions) Order 2011 SI 2011/1702
  14. Bill Stages
  15. Government defeated on AV referendum date BBC News
  16. "BBC - Democracy Live - Q&A: Parliamentary Voting Bill".
  17. [AV referendum bill delayed by Labour lords Public
  18. "Ministers are determined to push through voting reform bill", Western Morning News, 14 January 2011, p. 15.
  19. Wintour, Patrick (14 January 2011). "Peer pressure as Labour threatens to derail alternative vote bill". The Guardian.
  20. Hansard, HL 5ser vol 724 col 12.
  21. Hansard HL 5ser vol 724 col 138.
  22. Hansard HL 5ser vol 724 col 324.
  23. Allegra Stratton, "Peers bed down for marathon session to pass reform bill", The Guardian, 18 January 2011, p. 9.
  24. Toby Helm, "'Mass revolt' by peers if Tories try to guillotine bill on voting reform", The Observer, 30 January 2011, p. 7.
  25. "Lords deadlock over vote reform is broken", The Independent, 1 February 2011, p. 8.
  26. "AV referendum question published". BBC News Online. 22 July 2010.
  27. "Cameron: Labour 'opportunistic' in opposing AV vote". BBC News Online. 28 July 2010.
  28. "HUNDREDS of people gathered on the Cornish banks of the River Tamar at the weekend to campaign against plans to create a parliamentary constituency which straddles the Cornwall and Devon border". Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  29. "It may not be "the Amazon for heaven's sake" but if David Cameron had been on the wrong side of the Tamar at the weekend he would have been under no illusion as to what "Cornish lads (and maids) can do"". Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  30. "Chief Reporter". Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  31. "BBC News - Rally over joint Devon and Cornwall constituency plan". 2010-10-10. Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  32. "A campaigner says he is prepared to go on hunger strike if calls to scrap a planned merger of Parliamentary constituencies from either side of the River Tamar fall on deaf ears". Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  33. "Referendum bill will restore faith in politics – Clegg". BBC News Online. 6 September 2010.
  34. Third Report of the 2010–11 Session: Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill, House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.

External links

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