Washminster

Washminster
Washminster

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Second Reading

One way of getting a better understanding of the legislative process is to analyse the speeches during the different stages of a bill's progress.

On September 6th the House of Commons gave a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.  You can follow the debate in Hansard here - the column numbers appear in the text.

The Deputy Prime Minister begins - "I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time".

As is the usual practice in the 2nd Reading speech for the Minister - he begins by setting out the problems that the Bill is a response to.

He says (col 35) "There are two major issues that we have to face. The first [1] is the big difference between the sizes of many parliamentary constituencies, which has the effect of making some people's votes count more than others, depending on where they live. The second [2] is the widespread concern about first past the post as the means by which MPs are elected. " He expands upon these two major problems by outlining subsidiary issues -
(1) the degree of variance in sizes of constitutencies
(2) the fact that the information used in deciding the makeup of constituencies is long out of date, even before the boundary revisions come into force
(3) there are too mant constituencies
(4) the process by which boundaries are drawn is cumbersome. (Cols 36-37) 
(5) the First Past the Post electoral system no longer enjoys the confidence of many voters and this is undermining the legitimacy of elections (Col 40)

The speech deals with how the proposed legislation addresses these problems.
[1] is dealt with in col 37 - "The Bill seeks to address each of these problems....."
[2] is dealt with from col 40 "I now turn to the referendum on the alternative vote...."

Towards the end of the speech he gives a brief description of the substantive clauses (Col 43) "I would now like to outline briefly the effect of the substantive clauses. I know that many Members want to speak in the debate so I do not intend to describe the Bill clause by clause; there will be plenty of opportunity for that in Committee. For the moment I hope it will suffice to say that there are three main parts to the Bill: provisions for a referendum to be held, in clauses 1 to 5 and schedules 1 to 5; provisions for implementation of the alternative vote system in the event of a yes vote in the referendum, in clause 7 and schedule 6; and provisions to reform the setting of parliamentary boundaries, in clauses 8 to 11.

This basic three part structure can be seen in other 2nd Reading speeches by the person who is responsible for the Bill.

The Opposition spokesperson then moves an amendment. Note how the amendment process works

[1] The original motion is "That the Bill be now read a Second time"

[2] The amendment reads "to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and add:


"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."

If successful (and Governments VERY rarely lose on 2nd reading) the new motion would be

[3] "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 debate continued - some speeches are reasoned statements of why the amendment is supported, or why the original motion hasm the support of the person speaking. Some speeches and interventions highlight specific concerns that attention is drawn to.

At the 'moment of interruption' the question was put "That the amendment be made". This was lost by 347-254 votes. Then the unamended motion "that the Bill be now read a Second time" was put. This was carried by 328 to 269 votes. The change in the voting numbers reflects that fact that some members of the Government parties either voted against the motion or abstained. There were further votes on the Programme Motion (which limits the time for further stages) and the Money Resolution.

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