UK Politics

MPs given 'inadequate' time to consider reform plans

A committee of MPs has attacked as "inadequate" the time it has been given to look into political reform bills due to be voted on in September.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee said it "regrets" the timetable set out for legislation covering the voting reform referendum, fixed-term parliaments and a cut in the number of MPs.

In a one-page report it noted Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had described the Bill as "fundamental to this House and to our democracy".

But it said there were only two sitting days in the Commons between the Bill being introduced and the second reading debate and vote.

And in a letter to Mr Clegg, committee chairman Graham Allen, a Labour MP, contrasted this with the timetable for House of Lords reform "where a draft bill will be published before the end of the year, which will then be subject to full pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint select committee over several months before a bill is formally presented to Parliament".

He added: "On what principle can you justify this different treatment of legislation affecting the two Houses?"

Mr Allen said: "I have made every effort to adjust the committee's schedule to meet the government's legislative timetable, and I have written to you twice, on 25 June and 6 July, to try to find a window, however small, within which some reasonable level of committee scrutiny of the government's bills could take place. I have had no reply to either of my letters."

"Your legislative timetable has put me and my committee in an extremely difficult position. When the House agreed to establish the committee, it did so, in the words of the deputy leader of the House, 'to ensure that the House is able to scrutinise the work of the deputy prime minister'. In the case of these two bills you have denied us any adequate opportunity to conduct this scrutiny."

The committee also published a letter sent to them from Mr Clegg on the day the bills were presented to Parliament in which he looks "forward to the process of scrutiny and debate over the coming months".

Shadow Justice Secretary, Jack Straw MP, said the report was "further evidence that Nick Clegg's pre-election commitment to increased openness and accountability was just empty rhetoric... Mr Clegg is attempting to hammer legislation through Parliament with the slightest of scrutiny".