Last week I welcomed a group of over thirty students from Bury College to Westminster who had been on an educational tour. After they had been on the guided tour and spent time studying how legislation becomes law I took a question and answer session where the questions covered human rights and government spending.
On Friday I had my first meeting with three students from Manchester University as part of the Three Faiths project I am taking part in. Three students from different faiths ( Jewish, Muslim and Christian) are asked to work together on a project and find out about each others faiths and each group is allocated an MP to act as a mentor.
Now that the Bill paving the for the holding of a referendum on whether the country should change the system we use to elect Members of Parliament has completed its passage through Parliament I thought it would be useful if I posted a few articles about AV.
Firstly AV stands for Alternative Vote and it is the name given to the system that will be used to elect MP’s in future if the Country votes yes in the referendum which is to be held on the first Thursday in May the same day as the local elections in England. In Wales and Scotland it will be held on the same day as the Welsh Assembly elections and the Scottish Parliament elections.
Secondly, the referendum is not simply seeking the opinion of the Country if the Country votes yes then the new system which is already provided for in the Act will automatically come into force for all future general elections.
Thirdly, this is the case regardless of how many people turn out to vote in the referendum. During the Bill’s passage through Parliament many of us felt that in order for the referendum to be binding there ought to be a requirement for a minimum number of people to vote but this was rejected by the Government.
I should say at the outset of this series of posts on AV that I support the retention of our existing system of electing MP’s which is often referred to as First Past the Post system. I prefer the more accurate term of Most Votes Wins. I consistently voted against the Bill in Parliament and I will be voting No in the Referendum. In future postings I will explain how the new system works and why I will be voting No.
I have had a busy day in the Constituency today.
This morning I visited Tottington Primary School and answered questions from around a hundred children who I always find ask the most perceptive of questions!
I have spent the whole of the afternoon down at Gigg Lane at the Mental Health conference organised by Rethink and the Bury Carers Group. I attended a similar albeit smaller and shorter event during the general election campaign and it was good to be able to return and spend more time discussing the problems facing those with mental health illnesses.
As soon as I returned from there I spent over two hours with a packed surgery dealing with the usual range of personal problems that are typical of an M.P.’s surgery.
The House of Commons will today debate and vote on whether we should continue with our centuries old tradition of preventing convicted criminals from having the right to vote.
The European Convention on Human Rights was introduced after the Second World War to prevent the re-occurrence of the atrocities which took place during that war. During a Westminster Hall debate on this issue last month a fellow M.P. spoke about the fact that when the Convention was being drafted the question of voting rights for prisoners was apparently suggested but because of Britain’s long-standing position on this matter the offending words were never included. That is how it has been in this Country since as long ago as the Forfeiture Act passed in 1870. I see no reason to change it and I will be voting accordingly today.
For me this issue is about who governs Britain. Is it our democratically elected House of Commons or is it some un-elected judges in Europe. Prisoners are all volunteers. People know that if they commit a crime and are sentenced to a term of imprisonment they lose their right to vote.
The main business in the House of Commons today is the Second Reading of the Education Bill.
Amongst other things the lengthy Bill contains proposals to improve school discipline by giving teachers powers to search for items which disrupt learning and make it easier for Head teachers to expel violent pupils. The Bill will offer protection for teachers who are faced with untrue allegations made by pupils. In future teachers would remain anonymous until ( and unless ) they are charged.
The Bill will also abolish a few more Quangos the GCTE , the QCDA, the SSSNB and the TDAS. ( In other words the General Teaching Council for England, the Qualification and Curriculum Development Agency the School Support Staff Negotiating Body and the Training and Development Agency for Schools. It will also simplify Ofsted inspections by ensuring Ofsted inspectors focus routine Ofsted inspections on four key areas rather than the present 27 headings.
Today would have been the 100th birthday of the great American President Ronald Reagan.
An appreciation of the life of Ronald Reagan written by the Foreign Secretary can be read here.
Of course I am disappointed that local NHS officials have not used the opportunity provided by the review to ensure that families in Bury have access to a Maternity Department at Fairfield. I have already asked a Question in The House of Commons about the review within hours of the decision being made and I will continue to fight for the Maternity Department at Fairfield Hospital.