Lord McNally, the Justice Minister, yesterday repeated the statement – made in the Commons by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – on constitutional reform. Rather like Nick Clegg, he attracted some critical questions. This is hardly surprising given the scope of what is proposed. There will be one Bill covering the equalisation of constituency boundaries, the reduction in the number of MPs, the provision for fixed-term Parliaments, and the holding of a referendum on the Alternative Vote.
The provisions relating to dissolution changed from the original announcement. The current convention governing a vote of confidence will be enshrined in statute. If a goverment loses a vote of confidence, and a new government cannot be formed within fourteen days, there will be a dissolution; otherwise, an early dissolution is only possible if the House of Commons votes for it by a two-thirds majority. This is in line with most other legislatures that imposes an extraordinary majority and is in place of the original proposal for a 55 per cent majority.
Labour members appeared most exercised about the provisions relating to boundaries. Conservative concern is directed more towards the referendum. The timing of the referendum is an issue, as is whether or not there will be a threshhold requirement (either in terms of turnout or majority). Given the significance and size of the Bill – the Government hope to introduce it before the summer recess – it is likely to be subject to intense parliamentary examination. Watch this space.