Last Friday, the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee did something I don’t recall any other Committee doing before it. It published a report in draft, and has asked for public feedback before making final recommendations.
In announcing this initiative Graham Allen, the Committee’s Chair, writes, “we raise issues around re-building our political parties, their funding, conduct of MPs, how the Media can work to improve public involvement, and how we can restore a sense of excite around our democracy”. These are all clearly crucial issues for Liberal Democrats.
Despite being dominated by Labour and Conservative MPs, there are suggestions in the draft report of a fairly radical prospectus to increase participation. They even took evidence and considered the thorny matter of electoral reform but – unsurprisingly – did not agree a recommendation in this area. Specifically, they call on all parties to consider the following issues for inclusion in their 2015 manifestos:
• The civic and legal duty of all citizens to register to vote
• Registering to vote closer up to or on the day of an election
• Online voting
• Extended or weekend voting, or a public holiday for voting
• Compulsory voting
• All-postal voting
• Extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds
On the last in that list, we made significant progress last week. With Liberal Democrat and Crossbencher colleagues in the Lords, I had tabled amendments to the Wales Bill suggesting that the franchise ought to be extended for Welsh Assembly elections and for any referendum on tax-raising powers. Working with Jenny Randerson, our Minister in the Wales Office, we secured a very positive response.
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