Page last updated at 20:39 GMT, Monday, 24 January 2011

Parliamentary Voting System Bill

There is a "real risk" that the planned referendum on changing the voting system for elections to the UK Parliament on 5 May will be delayed by the tactics of Labour peers, Lords Leader Lord Strathclyde has warned.

During committee stage debate on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill on 24 January 2011, the cabinet minister said the government was "open to changes" to the bill but was not prepared for its fundamental purpose to be undermined.

The Electoral Commission has said the bill needs to clear Parliament by 16 February if a referendum on adopting the alternative vote (AV) system for Westminster elections is to be held on the government's preferred date.

Ministers have accused Labour peers of filibustering by making long and sometimes tendentious speeches.

Last Monday the Lords sat through the night debating a series of Labour amendments to the bill.

Labour justice spokesman Lord Falconer of Thoroton said his party was open to discussions but until concessions were made would "continue to apply the same level of scrutiny" to the bill.

While Labour does not oppose an AV referendum it is against the second part of the bill, which cuts the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and redraws constituency boundaries, arguing it will favour the Tories.

Lord Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor, said: "We are at an impasse. The right of the government to get its business in reasonable time has to be balanced with the right, and indeed responsibility, of the opposition to give reasonable scrutiny to any bill but particularly to an important bill and a bill of considerable parliamentary and constitutional significance."

Crossbench peers' convener Baroness D'Souza spoke of peers' "deep concern" at the breakdown in Lords conventions, warning that it might even mark the beginning of the "dissolution" of the House.

"Scrutiny is our job," she said, "but I doubt a reasonable person would conclude that speeches in the dark hours of the night... represent scrutiny or sensible revision.

"These tactics undoubtedly bring this House into disrepute."


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