Voting reform: What the new government is proposing

THE new Government will table a binding motion within days to set the date of the next General Election for May 7 2015, it was announced today.

Legislation to introduce five-year fixed-term parliaments is a centrepiece of wide-ranging political and constitutional reforms outlined by the new administration today.

Other plans include a referendum on electoral reform, an elected Upper House of Parliament and a new power for voters to recall misbehaving MPs.

The Government has committed itself to pursuing an agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove "big money" from politics. And the Tories have accepted Lib Dem demands for a statutory register of lobbyists.

Fixed term parliaments were a key demand of the Liberal Democrat manifesto, which argued that the existing system gives the ruling party an unfair advantage by granting the Prime Minister the power to call the General Election at the moment of his or her choice.

Under the proposals unveiled today, MPs will be able to trigger an early election if 55% or more of the House of Commons votes in favour - allowing a failing Government to be booted out, but also effectively giving a PM with a comfortable majority the power to choose the date.

A referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) was the key concession granted by the Tories to secure Liberal Democrat participation in the coalition, but the terms on which it was agreed sow the seeds for potential conflict between the parties.

Under the terms agreed in negotiations over the five days following last week's election, MPs of both parties will be whipped to support a referendum on AV.

But the agreement makes clear that the two parties will then be free to campaign on opposite sides in the referendum battle.

In the referendum, a simple majority will be enough to replace first-past-the-post with AV, under which voters rank candidates in a single member constituency in order of preference and second preference votes are redistributed until one candidate has more than 50% support.

A committee is to be established to draw up proposals by December for the replacement of the House of Lords with a wholly or mainly elected Upper Chamber, on the basis of proportional representation.

But it appears likely that existing peers will be allowed to stay on in Parliament, as the new Government plans a "grandfathering system" for current peers under which the new requirement for election will not apply to them.

In the interim before the establishment of the new chamber, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of ensuring the House reflects the balance of votes secured by the parties in last week's election.

The proposed reform fudges an area of disagreement between the coalition partners' manifestos. Tories campaigned for a mainly elected second chamber, while the Liberal Democrats wanted all members to be elected.

The Tories appear to have backed down on their manifesto promise of "English votes for English laws" in the House of Commons, which would have prevented Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs from voting on matters which affect only England.

Instead, the coalition proposes only a commission to consider the "West Lothian Question" of the imbalances caused by devolution. It will also implement the proposals of the Calman Report on Scottish devolution and offer a referendum on the devolution of further powers to Wales.

The new Government confirmed it will introduce early legislation to give voters a power to recall MPs who have been involved in serious wrongdoing, with a mechanism to force a by-election with a petition signed by 10% of constituents - usually around 7,000 people.

And it said it would bring forward in full the proposals of the Wright Committee on reform of the House of Commons, starting with a committee to manage programmed business.