Parliament & Politics: Hague says peers will block Bill

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE vowed yesterday to block the controversial Bill to bring in proportional representation for elections to the European Parliament.

The Tory leader scuppered the Government's plans to rush the legislation through the Lords in the new session of Parliament, which begins next Tuesday. It was killed off in the session that ended yesterday after peers voted five times against the system of PR proposed by Labour.

Mr Hague stamped firmly on suggestions by Lord Cranborne, Tory leader in the Lords, that the Opposition would co-operate with the Government so the Bill could become law by mid-January - the deadline set by ministers to enable it to be used in the Euro elections next June.

Although Labour claimed the Opposition was in "disarray" over the Bill, Tory sources denied any split between Mr Hague and Lord Cranborne. They said the Bill was still flawed because Labour's "closed list" system would allow people to vote only for a party and not an individual candidate.

Mr Hague's decision means next June's elections will almost certainly be fought under the existing first-past-the-post system, with Euro MPs representing single-member seats rather than being chosen from regional party lists.

The Tory leader said the Government was trying to introduce a system of election that denied people a vote for the candidate they preferred. "We say that is wrong, that it is undemocratic and that has never been the way we have done things in this country," he said. Mr Hague added: "We were opposed to it yesterday, we are still opposed to it today and they will find we will continue to be opposed to it in the future. We are not going to co-operate or acquiesce in any way."

Tory officials insisted the Government could still get the measure approved in time for next year's Euro elections if it was prepared to sacrifice other Parliamentary business. But ministers accused the Tories of trying to delay the Bill to strip the 750 hereditary peers of their right to speak and vote in the Lords --the centrepiece of the Government's programme for the coming year.

When it brings back the European elections Bill, the Government will invoke the Parliament Act, which allows the Commons to overrule the Lords when the second chamber has defeated legislation.

But Downing Street insisted this move would not meet the January deadline unless the Tories ended their blocking tactics. "It is not a gun that the Government can hold to the heads of the Lords and tell them to vote one way or the other," Number 10 said.

Mr Blair said the Tories had "scuppered" his plans to bring in a new voting system for the European poll. "If they play that game we have got to go back to the old system," he said.