The Second Reading of the 'Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill' takes place tomorrow - a people-friendly title or what? This is the Bill which enables a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote system for general elections, reduces the number of MPs to 600, and equalises constituency populations at around 67,000 each. There will be several days of more detailed consideration at the Committee Stage in October, the whole House sitting as the Committee. I hope to speak tomorrow, and spend as much time as possible participating in the Committee consideration next month. Its highly unlikely that I'll vote against the Bill, but I'm not going to remain silent about the serious concerns that I have. I suppose I flagged up my discontent in July when I signed an Early Day Motion condemning the decision to hold the Alternative Vote referendum on May 5th 2011. I think I was the only Welsh MP on the Government side to do so.
Firstly, we need to establish one absolute 'given'. There must be a referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote system of election. It was part of the Coalition 'agreement' with the Liberal Democrats - and a deal is a deal. And I must admit I didn't think that it was that big a deal. AV is not as revolutionary, or threatening as some of my colleagues fear. I would probably have voted against any change, but I wasn't that fussed. But since it's proposed that the referendum is to be held on the same day as the Welsh General Election, my "gentle" opposition has been transformed into "unrestrained ferocious antipathy". I hope I have the chance to explain my anger to the Deputy Prime Minister tomorrow. I now want the decision to choose May 5th 2011 to be the death knell for this Bill as it stands. I feel the spirit of Glyndwr rising in my soul.
I must also admit great concern about the equalisation of constituency populations. It sounds easy at first and casual hearing, but when I began trying to work out how it would work in practice, my concern was first awakened, and then just grew - and is still growing. I really do wonder what the House of Lords are going to do with a Bill that drives a coach and horses through every constituency in Britain (except a couple in Scotland) and leaves no-one in Britain knowing the boundaries of their own constituency - all history and tradition tossed into the bin like so much discarded chip paper. I can see one very big rumpus brewing over this.