Lords deadlock over vote reform is broken

 

A 15-day stand-off in the House of Lords over the Government's constitutional reform plans appeared to be at an end last night after the Coalition announced a "package of concessions" to break the deadlock.

Lord Strathclyde, the leader of House of Lords, said significant progress had been made between Tory and Labour peers to end the impasse. The marathon committee stage of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill, which saw peers debate through the night last month, will now end on Wednesday.

In return for Labour agreeing not to delay the committee stage further, Lord Strathclyde has promised a "package of concessions" at the report stage of the Bill. Among the proposals thought to be on offer is the suggestion that public inquiries take place where boundary changes are contentious. There is also likely to be some sort of post-legislation scrutiny of the reduction to 600 seats and a greater variation of seat sizes – a key demand of Labour.

The Bill, which cuts the number of constituencies from 650 to 600, must become law by 16 February for the referendum on adopting the alternative vote (AV) system to take place as planned on 5 May. The Government had threatened to attempt to take the historic step of guillotining discussions on the Bill if agreement could not be reached in time.

The move would have been unprecedented, ending the constitutional right of peers to determine how much time they spend scrutinising legislation.

Labour sources claimed that David Cameron "blinked" after BaronessD'Souza, convener of the non-aligned peers, said peers might as well "go home" and "cease to exist" if the Prime Minister moved to put a time limit on the upper house. This was denied by the Coalition.

Speaking in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde said: "We have had a series of produce discussions as a result of which [we] have agreed that the committee stage will be completed by the end of business on Wednesday this week."

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for Labour, signalled that further concessions may be necessary if the Bill is to be returned to the Commons on 14 February in time for MPs to consider amendments made in the Lords.

After committee stage, the Bill must also be considered by peers at report and third reading stages.

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