Government vows voting reforms will 'transform politics'

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Indy Politics

The Government today promised a series of reforms "to transform politics" - including five-year fixed parliaments, a referendum on a new voting system and cutting the number of MPs.

The Queen's Speech also pledged legislation to allow voters to "recall" an MP guilty of serious wrongdoing and force a by-election.

The plan for a five-year parliament means the next general election is on course for May 7 2015.

Proposed legislation would remove the right of a premier to ask the Queen for an earlier dissolution of parliament unless he could win the support of 55% of MPs in a vote in the Commons.

On voting reform, a Bill would provide for a referendum to choose between the existing "first past the post" system of electing MPs and the Alternative Vote system.

The AV system requires a candidate to achieve 50% of the vote to become elected, with voters ranking candidates in order of preference so that if their first choice is eliminated their vote switches to their second choice and so on.

The legislation providing for the referendum will also allow the system to be changed if there is a "yes" vote for AV, without the need for further laws.

The Queen's Speech also said the Boundary Commission will be asked to draw up plans for more equally-sized constituencies, with fewer MPs, in time for the next election.

That move would be seen as helpful to the Tories, who traditionally have to garner larger numbers of votes in bigger constituencies to get elected than their Labour counterparts.

Voters will also be given the right to force a by-election if their MP "is judged to have engaged in serious wrongdoing" and they can get 10% of electors to sign a petition to "recall" the member.

The Government said these moves were "an ambitious programme of reforms to transform politics and redistribute power away from the centre".

Local councils will also be given more powers in a Decentralisation and Localism Bill.

Decision-making powers on housing and planning matters would be returned to councils from quangos or central government.

Communities could also bid to take over and run threatened local services, and residents could institute referendums on local issues - including threatened Council Tax rises.

Public bodies would also be required to publish online the job titles of every member of staff and the salaries and expenses of senior officials.

The Decentralisation and Localism Bill will also abolish the controversial Infrastructure Planning Commission, set up by the previous government to streamline major projects such as power stations, airports and motorways.

The commission, which was to examine and decide applications against a framework of several new National Policy Statements set out by the government, had been widely criticised for taking power away from local people.

The coalition Government says it plans to replace it with a "democratically accountable" system which provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure schemes.