Hint to MPs: read legislation before asking a question about it

It’s not unusual for me to be less than impressed with Parliamentary debates on election law matters as so many of those deciding on what legislation should say have so many large gaps in their own knowledge.

It’s particularly galling where the subject under debate is something piloted in the long-running series of electoral pilots under Tony Blair – because you get MPs who voted to spend money on the pilots then, a few years later, debating the same topics without any apparent knowledge that the pilots took place or what lessons were learnt from them.

There is good news for MPs who have been such offenders in the past. There is now something that galls me more. It’s the case of the Labour MP Ian Austin, who recently tabled a several Parliamentary questions about the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, including this Parliamentary question:

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how frequently he proposes that constituency boundaries will be reviewed following the changes envisaged in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill; and if he will make a statement.

The problem with this question? Well, you might hope that an MP tabling a whole clutch of questions about a Bill would have already actually looked at what the Bill said (see clause 8). Or at least looked at the Explanatory Notes (see paragraph 7). Or listened to the debate on the Bill (see Nick Clegg’s opening speech) – especially as he voted three times in the divisions at the end of that debate.

But no. Despite the answer to his question being in the Bill, and in the Bill’s plain English Explanatory Notes and also given in the debate leading up to the three votes he cast, Ian Austin bunged in a Parliamentary Question.

An MP who has decided not to pay attention to the Bill I can understand; MPs do have to make choices about how to use their time. But an MP who doesn’t pay attention to the Bill, its Explanatory Notes or the debate in Parliament – and then tables a whole set of Parliamentary Questions on the matter?

That’s just an MP who isn’t doing a decent job.

Ian Austin has, so far, declined to respond a request for a comment on this matter.

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