Skip to main content

Political and Constitutional Reform

Volume 551: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Government have already introduced fixed-term Parliaments, a significant constitutional change, and given people a say on the voting system for this House. We have established cross-party talks on party funding and work on individual electoral registration, recall and lobbying reform is ongoing. We have radical measures in train to shift power from the centre to local decision makers, whether that takes place through the reforms in the Localism Act 2011, the Local Government Finance Bill or the introduction of local enterprise partnerships and city deals. Although I imagine some people will say that withdrawal of the House of Lords Reform Bill marks the end of the Government’s constitutional reform agenda, it is clear that that is not the case.

The Deputy Prime Minister originally said that his reforms would be ranked with those of the 1832 Great Reform Act, but given that the only legislation that is either through or nearly through—fixed-term Parliaments, the reduction in the number of MPs and individual voter registration—arguably demonstrates a lessening in democratic accountability, would not a better title be the “Great Reactionary” rather than the “Great Reformer”?

If the hon. Lady is such an ardent reformer, why did she not get her party to push for House of Lords reform? That was something her party used to believe in, but it was not prepared to will the means to meet the ends.

Given the right hon. Gentleman’s European credentials, will he find the time to bring the UK into line with many European states and ensure that the perpetual right to vote for expat UK citizens is enshrined in law?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a time limit of 15 years. Various member states and other countries around the world have time limits on how long expatriates can vote in the nation they come from, whereas others do not. So far, although we keep the rules under review, we have not come to the conclusion that we will seek to change them in any significant way.

Given the public response to electoral reform and the right hon. Gentleman’s disappointment over Lords reform, and given that the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland today published its revised proposals for further consultation, can he confirm the Government’s stated position on reducing the number of parliamentary seats?

As the hon. Lady knows, yes, the boundary commissions have published their latest revisions. Equally, I have made it clear that because of a failure to deliver the wider package of reforms that we had agreed within the coalition Government, including House of Lords reform, when it comes to a vote the Liberal Democrats will not support these changes ahead of the election in 2015.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm the progress on individual voter registration so that we can not only get an accurate register, but combat electoral fraud?

We are now in the latter stages of the legislation. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that the central purpose of individual voter registration is to bear down on fraud. That is something with which I should have thought all Members would agree. The Labour Government had plans to introduce individual voter registration, to come into effect on a slightly slower timetable than the one that we are introducing, yet for some reason the Labour party has now decided that it is against this anti-fraud measure from first principles—a very curious change of mind.

I note that the Government are happy for the Scottish Parliament to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the Scottish referendum, but surely to be consistent the Government should extend the franchise to all 16 and 17-year-olds throughout the United Kingdom. If the Government are prepared to do that, we on the Labour Benches will support them. Will they accept our offer?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I personally am sympathetic to the principle of giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote, but it is not something that we are going to proceed with as a Government because it is not agreed within the coalition. He should be precise about the powers that we have given to the Scottish Administration. We have given them a degree of discretion over the franchise that applies to referendums, which applies to all referendums because the franchise needs to be decided on a referendum-by-referendum basis. To that extent, the powers that we have granted to the Scottish Government are nothing exceptional to the decisions made on the franchise for each referendum, wherever that might take place.