Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011

Last updated
Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011
Act of Parliament
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Long title An Act to make provision for a referendum on the voting system for parliamentary elections and to provide for parliamentary elections to be held under the alternative vote system if a majority of those voting in the referendum are in favour of that; to make provision about the number and size of parliamentary constituencies; and for connected purposes.
Citation c. 1
Introduced by Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Other legislation
Relates to Representation of the People Act 1983, Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000
Status: Amended
History of passage through Parliament
Text of statute as originally enacted
Text of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk.

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011(c. 1) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that made provision for the holding of a referendum on whether to introduce the Alternative Vote system in all future general elections to the UK Parliament and also made provision on the number and size of Parliamentary Constituencies. The Bill for the Act was introduced to the House of Commons on 22 July 2010 and passed third reading on 2 November by 321 votes to 264. [1] The House of Lords passed the Bill, with amendments, on 14 February 2011, [2] and after some compromises between the two Houses on amendments, it received Royal Assent on 16 February.

An act of parliament, also called primary legislation, are statutes passed by a parliament (legislature). Act of the Oireachtas is an equivalent term used in the Republic of Ireland where the legislature is commonly known by its Irish name, Oireachtas. The United States Act of Congress is based on it.

Parliament of the United Kingdom Supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom

The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known internationally as the UK Parliament, British Parliament, or Westminster Parliament, and domestically simply as Parliament or Westminster, is the supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies and the British Overseas Territories. It alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the UK and the overseas territories. Parliament is bicameral but has three parts, consisting of the Sovereign (Queen-in-Parliament), the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The two houses meet in the Palace of Westminster in the City of Westminster, one of the inner boroughs of the capital city, London.

Instant-runoff voting (IRV) is a type of ranked preferential voting method used in single-seat elections with more than two candidates. Instead of indicating support for only one candidate, voters in IRV elections can rank the candidates in order of preference. Ballots are initially counted for each voter's top choice. If a candidate has more than half of the vote based on first-choices, that candidate wins. If not, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the votes. When the field is reduced to two, it has become an "instant runoff" that allows a comparison of the top two candidates head-to-head. Compared to plurality voting, IRV can reduce the impact of vote-splitting when multiple candidates earn support from like-minded voters.

Contents

The Act

The Act brought together two different constitutional aims of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition:

2011 United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum

The United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, also known as the UK-wide referendum on the Parliamentary voting system was held on Thursday 5 May 2011 in the United Kingdom (UK) to choose the method of electing MPs at subsequent general elections. It occurred as part of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition agreement drawn up after the 2010 general election which had resulted in the first hung parliament since February 1974 and also indirectly in the aftermath of the 2009 expenses scandal. It operated under the provisions of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 and was the first national referendum to be held under provisions laid out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

2010 United Kingdom general election election of members to the House of Commons in 2010

The 2010 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday, 6 May 2010, with 45,597,461 registered voters entitled to vote to elect members to the House of Commons. The election took place in 650 constituencies across the United Kingdom under the first-past-the-post system. None of the parties achieved the 326 seats needed for an overall majority. The Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, won the largest number of votes and seats, but still fell 20 seats short. This resulted in a hung parliament where no party was able to command a majority in the House of Commons. This was only the second general election since the Second World War to return a hung parliament, the first being the February 1974 election. Unlike in 1974, the potential for a hung parliament had this time been widely considered and predicted, and both the country and politicians were better prepared for the constitutional process that would follow such a result. The coalition government that was subsequently formed was the first coalition in British history to eventuate directly from an election outcome. The hung parliament came about in spite of the Conservatives managing both a higher vote total and higher share of the vote than the previous Labour government had done in 2005, when it secured a comfortable majority.

Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 United Kingdom legislation

The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which amended electoral law in the United Kingdom. It introduced Individual Electoral Registration (IER).

Part 1 – Voting Systems for Parliamentary Elections

Part 1 of the Act comprises sections 1 to 9. Section 1 sets out the question to be put to voters, in English and Welsh. Section 4 sets out provisions associated with the date of the Referendum, whereby the date for the poll and one or more 2011 United Kingdom local elections, 2011 Scottish Parliament election, 2011 National Assembly for Wales election or Northern Ireland Assembly election, 2011 will be taken on the same day. Section 9 set out amendments to the Representation of the People Act 1983 if the vote was "Yes".

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

Welsh language Brythonic language spoken natively in Wales

Welsh is a Brittonic language of the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family. It is spoken natively in Wales, by some in England, and in Y Wladfa. Historically, it has also been known in English as 'British', 'Cambrian', 'Cambric' and 'Cymric'.

2011 United Kingdom local elections

The 2011 United Kingdom local elections were held on Thursday 5 May 2011. In England, direct elections were held in all 36 Metropolitan boroughs, 194 Second-tier district authorities, 49 unitary authorities and various mayoral posts, meaning local elections took place in all parts of England with the exception of seven unitary authorities, and seven districts and boroughs. For the majority of English districts and the 25 unitary authorities that are elected "all out" these were the first elections since 2007. In Northern Ireland, there were elections to all 26 local councils. Elections also took place to most English parish councils.

The referendum

The act legislated for a referendum to be held in the United Kingdom on whether to introduce the alternative vote electoral method of electing Members of Parliament (MP’s) to the House of Commons in all future UK general elections on Thursday 5 May 2011. The referendum would be conducted by the Electoral Commission and overseen by an appointed "Chief Counting Officer" (CCO) and a "Deputy chief counting officer" (DCCO) who would declare the final result for the United Kingdom. The Electoral Commission is the public body under the terms of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 that was given the task to raise public awareness ahead of polling day, and to oversee the conduct of the referendum.

Referendum question

The question that appeared on ballot papers in the referendum before the electorate under the act was (in English):

At present, the UK uses the "first past the post" system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the "alternative vote" system be used instead?

In Wales, the question on the ballot paper also appeared in Welsh:

Wales Country in northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, and the Bristol Channel to the south. It had a population in 2011 of 3,063,456 and has a total area of 20,779 km2 (8,023 sq mi). Wales has over 1,680 miles (2,700 km) of coastline and is largely mountainous with its higher peaks in the north and central areas, including Snowdon, its highest summit. The country lies within the north temperate zone and has a changeable, maritime climate.

Ar hyn o bryd, mae'r DU yn defnyddio'r system "y cyntaf i’r felin" i ethol ASau i Dŷ'r Cyffredin. A ddylid defnyddio'r system "pleidlais amgen" yn lle hynny?

permitting a simple YES / NO answer (to be marked with a single (X)).

Original proposed question

The original proposed question in English was: [8]

Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the "alternative vote" system instead of the current "first past the post" system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?

In Welsh:

Ydych chi am i'r Deyrnas Unedig fabwysiadu'r system "bleidlais amgen" yn lle'r system "first past the post" presennol ar gyfer ethol Aelodau Seneddol i Dŷ'r Cyffredin?

permitting a simple YES / NO answer (to be marked with a single (X)).

This wording was criticised by the Electoral Commission, saying that "particularly those with lower levels of education or literacy, found the question hard work and did not understand it". The Electoral Commission recommended a changed wording to make the issue easier to understand, [9] and the government subsequently amended the Bill to bring it into line with the Electoral Commission's recommendations. [10]

Electoral Commission (United Kingdom) an independent body set up by the UK Parliament

The Electoral Commission is the election commission of the United Kingdom. It is an independent body, set up in 2001 by the British Parliament. It regulates party and election finance and sets standards for how elections should be run.

Voting areas

Under the provisions of the Act, the designation of a "voting area" (also known by some as "Counting areas") on the day of the referendum was to be overseen by "Counting officers" (CO) who were to declare the results of their local areas within the United Kingdom and Gibraltar is as follows:

There were a total of 440 voting areas. 326 in England, 73 in Scotland, 40 in Wales and a single area for Northern Ireland.

Regional counts

The act also provides provision for the results from the "voting areas" to fed into twelve "regional counts" to be overseen by "Regional counting officers" (RCO) which were appointed in the following areas and declared the results for their areas as used under the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 but with the exception of Gibraltar which did not participate in the referendum:

The regions each declared their results once all local voting areas had declared their local results late on Friday 7 May 2011. There was no provision under the Act for any national or regional recounts by the Chief Counting Officer and Regional Counting Officers.

Franchise

The right to vote in the referendum applied to UK residents who are British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens, in accordance with the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and the Representation of the People Act 2000. Members of the House of Lords were able to vote in the referendum. Citizens of other EU countries resident in the UK were not allowed to vote unless they were citizens of the Republic of Ireland, Malta or Cyprus. The same Acts permitted UK nationals who had lived overseas for less than 15 years to vote. Voting on the day of the referendum was from 0700 to 2200 BST (Western European Summer Time). Also under the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 2000 postal ballots were also permitted in the referendum and were sent out to eligible voters some three weeks ahead of the vote. The minimum age for voters in the referendum was 18 years, in accordance with Representation Acts (above). A House of Lords amendment proposing to only make the result of the referendum valid if the national turnout was higher than 40% was defeated in the House of Commons.

Referendum result

Of the 440 voting areas in the United Kingdom a total of 430 returned majority votes for "No" whilst just ten returned majority votes for "Yes" with all twelve regional count areas returning "No" majorities.

Yes
No United Kingdom AV referendum area results.svg
Of the 440 voting areas in the United Kingdom a total of 430 returned majority votes for "No" whilst just ten returned majority votes for "Yes" with all twelve regional count areas returning "No" majorities.
  Yes
  No

The result was declared by Chief counting officer (CCO) and the then chair of the Electoral Commission Jenny Watson on Saturday 7 May 2011 after all 440 voting areas and the 12 regions of the United Kingdom had declared their results on a national turnout of 42%. [11] The decision by the electorate in all four countries was a decisive "No" to adopting the alternative vote system in all future United Kingdom general elections.

United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, 2011
National result
ChoiceVotes%
No13,013,12367.90%
Yes6,152,60732.10%
Valid votes19,165,73099.41%
Invalid or blank votes113,2920.59%
Total votes19,279,022100.00%
Registered voters and turnout45,684,50142.20%
Source: Electoral Commission
Referendum results (without spoiled ballots):
Yes:
6,152,607 (32.10%)
No:
13,013,123(67.90%)


Results by counting regions

RegionElectorateVoter turnout,
of eligible
VotesProportion of votes
YesNoYesNo
  East Midlands 3,348,46942.8%408,8771,013,86428.74%71.26%
  East of England 4,263,00643.1%530,1401,298,00429.00%71.00%
  Greater London 5,258,80235.4%734,4271,123,48039.53%60.47%
  North East England 1,968,13738.8%212,951546,13828.05%71.95%
  North West England 5,239,32339.1%613,2491,416,20130.22%69.78%
  Northern Ireland 1,198,96655.8%289,088372,70643.68%56.32%
  Scotland 3,893,26850.7%713,8131,249,37536.36%63.64%
  South East England 6,288,36643.1%823,7931,951,79329.68%70.32%
  South West England 4,028,82944.6%564,5411,225,30531.54%68.46%
  Wales 2,268,73941.7%325,349616,30734.55%65.45%
  West Midlands 4,093,52139.8%461,8471,157,77228.52%71.48%
  Yorkshire and the Humber 3,835,07539.9%474,5321,042,17828.52%68.71%


Results by constituent countries

CountryElectorateVoter turnout,
of eligible
VotesProportion of votes
YesNoYesNo
  England 38,323,52840.7%4,786,53210,724,06730.86%69.14%
  Northern Ireland 1,198,96655.8%289,088372,30643.68%56.32%
  Scotland 3,893,26950.7%713,8131,249,37536.36%63.64%
  Wales 2,268,73941.7%325,349616,30734.55%65.45%

AV Repeal

The alternative vote system provisions within the Act were repealed following the decisive "No" vote in the referendum on 8 July 2011 via a Statutory Instrument. [12]

Part 2 – Parliamentary Constituencies

Part 2, comprising sections 10 to 13, amends the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 including replacing Schedule 2 to introduce changes to the boundaries and number of UK constituencies, and the processes for their review. The changes for constituencies include:

Passage of Part 2 through Parliament

The bill instructed the boundary commissions to undertake the Sixth Periodic Review of Westminster constituencies before 2014, which would have involved a significant redistribution of seats between the four parts of the UK and the near-equalisation of constituency sizes by registered electorate. In accordance with this, the Boundary Commissions began a full revision of constituency boundaries with an instruction to reduce the number of constituencies to 600 and to recommend constituencies which are no more than 5% above or below the standard size. However, in August 2012, Liberal Democrats party leader Nick Clegg announced that his party would oppose the implementation of the new constituency boundaries as a reaction to the failure of the government to enact House of Lords reform. [13] In January 2013, the Government lost a vote on this timetable, which effectively ended the entire process. [14] The boundary commissions were required to produce their reports by 1 October 2013 but they announced the cancellation of the reviews on 31 January 2013. [15] [16] [17] [18]

Schedules

The Act does not alter the structure and independence of the various boundary commissions that are responsible for carrying out reviews of constituencies.

Commencement

As per section 19, the majority of the provisions of the Act came into force upon Royal Assent. However, under section 8, the alternative vote provisions could have come into force only if more votes were cast in the referendum in favour of the answer "Yes" than in favour of the answer "No"; and the Order in Council giving effect to the new boundaries had been made. In any case, the referendum was resoundingly defeated, and so the alternative vote provisions were repealed on 8 July 2011. [12]

Timeline

The initial timeline for consideration of the Bill was set out at the beginning of the process. [19]

The Bill passed through the House of Commons on schedule. The committee stage in the House of Lords began on 30 November 2010, and on the second day of Committee stage debate the Government were defeated when an amendment moved by Lord Rooker allowing the date of the AV referendum to be varied from 4 May 2011 was carried by 199 to 195. [20]

Labour Parliamentarians opposed the sections of the Bill relating to constituencies, asserting that it amounted to a 'gerrymander', and urged the Government to divide the Bill into two so that the section relating to the referendum on voting systems could be passed swiftly. [21] The Prime Minister dismissed requests that the two elements of the Bill should be split. [22]

By the middle of January, with the Bill having had eight days of consideration in Committee in the House of Lords, the Government voiced concern about the length of time being taken for a Bill which needed to be enacted by 16 February in order to allow the planned referendum to take place in May. Three of the Lords' four sitting days in the following week were set aside for the Bill and the Prime Minister's spokesman commented that some could be long days, with the House possibly sitting all night. [23] The Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde, complained that "the Labour peers are on a go-slow" and filibustering the Bill. He was reported to be considering introducing a guillotine motion to the debate, which would have been an unprecedented move for the House of Lords. [24]

On 17 January, consideration of the Bill in Committee began at 3:10 PM. [25] After a dinner break for an hour in the evening, at 11:38 PM the House had completed debate on only one amendment. Lord Trefgarne moved a rare closure motion "that the question be now put" which was carried, bringing an end to debate on a second amendment. [26] After fending off Labour attempts to adjourn the House at 12:14 AM, 3:31 AM, and 9:01 AM, the sitting continued until 12:52 PM on 18 January. [27] In order to keep Peers present during the all night sitting, the Coalition provided refreshment and arranged for celebrity Peers such as Julian Fellowes and Sebastian Coe to give talks. Parliamentary officials turned two committee rooms into makeshift dormitories for male and female Peers. [28] During the whole sitting, only eight amendments were debated.

The convenor of the Crossbench Peers, Baroness D'Souza, made it clear that she would strongly oppose any attempt to guillotine debate, [29] and at the end of January Strathclyde announced that (after discussion with Labour through the 'usual channels') the Government would bring forward a "package of concessions" in order to break the deadlock. [30] The Committee stage concluded on 2 February after 17 days of debate.

Report stage of the Bill in the House of Lords took place on 7, 8 and 9 February 2011, and the Bill was given a Third Reading and passed back to the Commons with amendments on 14 February.

Reaction and analysis

Upon launching the bill, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that "by making constituencies more equal in size, the value of your vote will no longer depend on where you live, and with fewer MPs the cost of politics will be cut." [31] While Labour promised a referendum for AV in their election manifesto, they announced that they would nevertheless oppose the Bill, saying that the constituency boundary changes would help the Conservatives. [32]

There was strong cross-party opposition to the bill in Cornwall as the boundary of Cornwall will not be respected when constituency boundaries are drawn up. Commenting on this, Prime Minister David Cameron said "It's the Tamar, not the Amazon, for Heaven's sake." Around 500 people gathered at a rally in Saltash organised by its mayor, Adam Killeya. Guest speakers included Conservative MP Sheryll Murray, Liberal Democrat MP Steve Gilbert, and Mebyon Kernow councillor and deputy leader Andrew Long. Speaking to the crowds, Steve Gilbert said that "This is Cornwall and over there, that's England. When David Cameron said this is not the Amazon he was right... it's much more important." On the same day the Cornish and Celtic campaigner Michael Chappell announced that he would be going on hunger strike over the boundary issue. [33] [34] [35] [36] [37]

During the bill's second reading in the House of Commons, Nick Clegg said that the bill would help "restore people's faith in the way they elect their MPs" while Shadow Deputy Prime Minister Jack Straw called it "deeply flawed and partisan". [38]

In October 2010, the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee reported on the bill. [39]

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