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Thursday, December 3, 1998 Published at 01:11 GMT

UK Politics

Euro bill forced through

The bill centres on elections to the European Parliament

Ministers have succeeded in forcing a controversial European voting bill through the Commons in the face of angry opposition.

The government used a guillotine technique to limit debate by MPs on the European Elections Bill to just four hours.

They were determined to press on with the measure after it had been blocked by peers five times in the last session of Parliament.

[ image: Ministers are bludgeoning the bill, says Sir Norman Fowler]
Ministers are bludgeoning the bill, says Sir Norman Fowler
Shadow Home Secretary Sir Norman Fowler accused ministers of "bludgeoning the bill" through and branded the time limit "probably the most severe guillotine that has ever been introduced".

But Home Secretary Jack Straw accused Tory peers of an "abuse of parliament" in blocking the bill last session.

To the Lords - again

The Tories forced a series of votes on the bill's final stages but it gained its third reading by 254 to 122, a government majority of 132, and now goes back to the Lords.

At the heart of the row are Labour's plans for "closed lists" for European elections, under which voters do not see candidates' names, only party names on the ballot papers.

They say the proportional representation system is fairer and threatened to use the rare tactic of the Parliament Acts, overriding the Lords, to get the system onto the statute book.

Faced with a revived bill, the Lords would have to decide whether to fight on for the Tories' preferred option of an 'open list' system of PR or throw in the towel.

Ministers have urged the Opposition to drop their resistance to the measure and co-operate to get the bill on the statute book early in the New Year in time for arrangements to be made for PR to be used in June's Euro-elections.

'No system perfect'

Reintroducing the bill, Mr Straw said: "No Opposition since the war has gone through the madness that the current Opposition is currently infected with.

"This is the first constitutional measure which has been not only guillotined but also where a government has been forced to use the Parliament Act procedures."

Liberal Democrat Richard Allan said his party was siding with the government because the key issues were debated at length the last time.

He said they supported the bill because the greater proportionality of closed lists was an advance in itself.

During the bill's second reading stage, Mr Straw admitted no electoral system was perfect but this system balanced the advantages the best for European elections.

The use of the guillotine motion follows the unprecedented clash at the end of the last parliamentary session, when Lords voted against the bill five times.

If it is not passed quickly, the vote could be held under the first-past-the-post system.

Peers may do all they can to table amendments to delay the bill - dashing government hopes of getting through the change in time for the summer.

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