Former Liberal Democrat Campaigns Guru Chris Rennard writes today for Liberal Democrat Voice about the Labour shenanigans in the House of Lords over the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. In a nutshell, this Bill has to get through Parliament quickly in order for the fairer votes referendum on 5th May.
His article makes fascinating reading. I particularly liked the anecdote about Labour Peer Tommy McAvoy – Chris found out that he’d only spoken 4 words in the entire 4 years of his time in the Commons, yet on this Bill alone has spoken 77 times.
It just shows up how Labour old timers are doing their best to derail one of the most significant constitutional changes and deny people their say – and Chris shows that their tactics have the blessing of their leaders in the Lords. What’s completely bizarre is that the AV referendum was actually in Labour’s manifesto.
Party President Tim Farron weighed in on this a couple of weeks ago, saying:
“Labour peers are holding the democratic process hostage by blocking any progress of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.
“Ed Miliband has spoken of a new way of doing politics but the tricks employed by Labour peers are the worst example of petty party politics.
“Their claims of scrutiny are completely undermined by their own pantomime performance in the House.
“It is time Ed Miliband showed some leadership and took control of his party. the people should be allowed to have a say on their voting system and this blockade by unelected Labour has-beens of the referendum Labour committed itself to in its manifesto must end.”
For once it wasn’t Tim’s words that was the most exciting thing about that article. It was the list of the sorts of amendments Labour had tabled on the Bill. It kind of reminded me of the “delete all and replace with bollocks in big red pen”, or deleting every second letter in a motion so that you ended up with a sentence calling for the Chair to be sent to Manchester that you used to get at LDYS Conferences, although with less maturity. This is it here:
1. Labour peers are filling time in the debate with rambling and off-topic interventions, e.g. Lord Harris of Haringey last night who said “So what were the reasons for choosing 600 [MPs] as opposed to 650, 630, 575 or 585? I was tempted to say that there was some sort of arcane numerology about this. Noble Lords will be aware that 650 is the product of three prime numbers: two, five squared and 13; 630 is of course the product of four prime numbers: two, three squared, five and seven. I defy anyone to find a similar formulation or number that involves five prime numbers. Maybe my noble friend Lord Winston, or some such person could come up with something.”
2. A large number of amendments have been tabled to be able to stretch the debate as much as possible, often being withdrawn after lengthy debate.
i. Amendment 31 provides for the question to be translated into Scottish Gaelic even though no other election or referendum ever does so.
ii. Amendment 36A allows citizens of EU countries resident in the UK vote in the referendum even though they do not have the right to vote in a general election.
iii. Amendment 39AB bans talking about the referendum on the alternative vote nor about the merits of different electoral systems in party election broadcasts during the referendum campaign.
iv. Amendment 48 would see the result of the referendum reported to Parliament the first day Parliament sits 14 days after the certification of the result. This happens in no other election or referendum.
v. Amendment 63YB would prevent the Act coming into force until the House of Commons has become larger than the House of Lords.
vi. Amendments 73 and 74 as well as 76 and 77 are the same bar a change of verb.
vii. Amendment 78 states the Boundary Commission must speculate on how many people might be living in a constituency at the time of a general election before changing the boundaries.
viii. Amendment 124 would place the list of candidates on a ballot paper in reverse alphabetical order rather than the customary alphabetical order.
ix. An amendment to clause 11 would see the wealth of a constituency taken into account in boundary revisions.
x. There were nine amendments to change the date of the referendum (numbers 5 – 13)
xi. There were nine amendments to change the question (number 16 – 27)
xii. Amendment 28 and 29 added questions which bore no relation to the voting system, asking if people would like to vote on Saturday and whether there should be compulsory voting.
xiii. Amendment 35 provides for prisoners serving sentences of less than four years to be able to vote in the referendum, even though they do not yet have any such rights.
xiv. Amendment 37 will not allow anyone to vote in the referendum unless peers are given the right to vote in parliamentary elections, even though they have never been allowed to do so.
xv. Amendment 44 names the geographical areas of the UK in which people would be voting.
xvi. Amendment 45ZA state the Electoral Commission need to certify every electoral register for accuracy before the changes to the voting system can be made after a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum.
xvii. Amendment 53 substitutes ‘make publicly available’ with ‘publicly announce’, which in practice would have the same effect.
xviii. Amendment 58ZZF will not allow the Boundary Commissions to review the new constituency borders until House of Lords reform has been completed.
xix. Amendments 112 and 113 uniquely changes the time of polling, e.g. a closing time of 23:00.
xx. Amendment 122 would have the presiding officer of a polling station show the empty ballot box to the first voter rather than the customary “anyone present”.
Mark Pack wrote the other day that crossbenchers were becoming irritated by Labour’s games, which seem particularly puerile in the face of Government attempts to move this forward by listening to genuine concerns.
It would be an outrage if unelected Labour old timers were able to prevent people having their say on how MPs are elected. If they carry on like this, they not only show themselves up, but they may well find, as Chris Rennard says, that procedures in the Lords will change, to prevent members behaving like this in this way in the future.