Page last updated at 22:15 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Government charged with constitutional 'mismanagement'

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Former Commons Speaker Baroness Boothroyd has launched a stinging attack on the government for bringing major constitutional changes before the Lords soon before a general election.

As peers continued debate on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill at second reading on 24 March 2010, she said: "I can't remember a more flagrant example of mismanagement of an important constitutional Bill during my time in public life."

She added: "To me, it simply illustrates the government's underlying contempt for this House by not allowing us detailed scrutiny and its disregard of our duty, therefore, to the nation."

Lady Boothroyd, a former Labour MP who sits as a crossbench peer, said that, after a series of Green and White Papers, the bill was published last July.

"If the government had put its mind to it, it could have been on the statute book later that year and in better shape than it is now," she contended.

But junior justice minister Lord Bach, winding up for the government, said: "The very severe criticisms that have been made of the government do cover up the fact that a large part of this bill is agreed by a large number of peers around the House."

Pointing to the level of pre-legislative scrutiny various parts of the proposals had received, he added: "To pretend that this bill has come from nowhere is I don't think realistic."

The bill includes measures to allow peers to resign and brings an end the by-election process for replacing hereditaries peers when they die.

In its current form, it would also pave the way for a referendum on changing the way MPs are elected from first past the post to the Alternative Vote (AV) system which would allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

At the conclusion of debate on the bill, peers gave the bill an unopposed second reading, as is customary in the upper chamber.

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