Back to Westminster

I will be getting the train back to Westminster in the morning.  Parliament normally has summer recess from the end of July to the second week of October. Every year this leads to lots of criticism about MPs’ having long summer holidays.   But actually the British House of Commons  has more sitting days than every other world legislature, though sometimes the US Senate sits for longer.

 

The new govt decided that we should all return in September…but only for two weeks before stopping again to allow the three main party conferences to take place.  Will be interesting to see whether this innovation lasts into next year.  It will restrict MPs’ ability to meet constituents – I’ve often done lots of school visits in September as it is one of the few times of the year when school breaks don’t coincide with Parliament’s recesses.

The main business on Monday is the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.   The Bill is quite a short one – just 17 clauses and 7 schedules.   But it could change the face of British politics.

I’ve already done quite lot of work on this Bill as a member of the new Commons Select Committee on Political & Constitutional Reform.  In July the committee had DPM Nick Clegg as our first witness.  We’ve also had evidence sessions with a variety of academics, including Ron Johnston of Bristol University.

The Bill has three purposes.  Firstly, to allow a referendum on changing the voting system for the House of Commons to the Alternative Vote.  Second, to initiate a boundary review of constituencies to make them broadly the same size.  Finally, to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

I agree with the referendum and if the Bill is passed will be arguing for a YES vote in the referendum in May next year.  I hope this will be a cross party and non party campaign here in Bristol.  Whether the referendum is won will depend to some extent on whether Labour stick to their 2010 manifesto pledge on AV…or see a NO vote as a wedge to divide the coalition.

I also agree with moves to equalise constituency electorates.  Take Bristol as an example.   I represent one of the largest seats in the country (19th out of 650) with 82,728 electors in this years election.  My neighbour Kerry McCarthy represents 69,448 in Bristol East.  This is not a party point – my friend and colleague Don Foster has just 66,686 electors in Bath.   There really is no good reason for such massive anomalies in urban areas.

I disagree with the third purpose of the Bill.  I can see no good constitutional reason for shrinking the number of elected MPs.  If there was a major shift of tax raising and decision making powers to city regions and counties then I can see the case….but such a radical shift from Westminster to local govt is not on the cards just yet.  I wish it was.

Anyway – once Parliament is sitting I will be posting regularly!