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Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill returns to the Commons

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment

So the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (always fun to type that, so I shall all it PVSC) returns to the Commons today.

MPs will debate the amendments made in the House of Lords. These include a 40% turnout threshold so that if less than 4 in 10 people vote, the result will not be binding.

In the second part of PVSC, which relates to the redrawing of constituency boundaries, the Lords want to change the margins that constituency size can vary by. The Government wanted this to be 5% either way—so that the Boundary Commission can create constituencies within 95% and 105% of the electoral quota. The Lords want to increase this to 15% (7.5% either way).

The Amendments to be put forward today—click here for a full list—indicate that the Government will oppose both of these.

Interestingly, the amendment paper shows that there will be a Government move to introduce two constituencies “in the Isle of Wight”. Original proposals had two constituencies for the Isle of Wight, but with one split between the island and the mainland. This was—rightly in my view—met with some opposition and the Lords wanted to maintain the current arrangements of having one, exceedingly large, constituency.

I suspect that this amendment will have support one side of the house. It will, in effect, create two Tory constituencies. Chris Bryant summed up the general feeling:

The Govt amendment on the isle of wight is pure gerrymandering, creating 2 small Tory seats. If geography matters there, why not everywhere?

In general, expect dissent from both backbenches.

Labour will oppose the plans to reduce the number of MPs and there are bound to be arguments about whether it is right to draw constituencies based on the number of registered voters. This is a crucial point as the numbers can change and MPs are not just the representatives of those people who are registered to vote.

Both sides are also likely to be displeased with the programme motion that will take place before the debate. This will limit discussion of the Lords Amendments to just four hours.

But with the Government needing to get the PVSC passed before the close of play tomorrow, time is at a premium.

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Is Gerry Adams still an MP?

January 26, 2011 2 comments

Did Gerry Adams know just how much of a fuss it was going to cause when he decided to run for the Irish Parliament?

Adams, as the leader of Sinn Féin, has of course never sat in the Commons, despite being an elected Member, as he refuses to swear the Oath of Allegience to the Queen.

Adams could, if he chose to, remain an elected MP and serve in the Irish Parliament, but has expressed his reluctance to do so.

He wants to resign.

The problem is, MPs cannot resign.

Erskine May, the Parliamentary bible, sets out this long-standing rule:

“It is a settled principle of parliamentary law that a Member, after he is duly chosen, cannot relinquish his sit”

There are a few ways around this. Firstly, Adams could take the office of steward or bailiff of Her Majesty’s three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, or of the Manor of Northstead. These roles are purely nominal and can be given to any Member who applies to the Chancellor for them. Upon appointment, the Chancellor can then take away any Parliamentary privileges.

During Prime Minister’s Questions today, David Cameron seemed to suggest that Adams had taken on one of these rolls. However, Sinn Féin press releases countered this and when Nigel Dodds, leader of the DUP, asked a point of order for clarification, the deputy Speaker was unable to give a straight answer.

Applying for these positions would be an odd step for Adams, as he would have a position bequeathed to him by the British Government.

The other options are that he could be appointed to the House of Lords – which of course is highly unlikely.

The more entertaining option is that Adams could turn up at Parliament and try to vote. As he has not sworn the Oath, he would be ejected from the Commons and have his membership revoked (he would be treated as if he were dead).

This could create some great pictures.

Adams will undoubtably want to solve this problem before the Irish General Election, whenever that may be. But for now, it seems that he remains a Member of Parliament – list of MPs.