The Government's plans to experiment with all-postal ballots in June's European Parliament elections were thrown out for a fifth time by the House of Lords yesterday.
Peers voted by 136 to 130 to water down the scheme, thwarting the Government's proposal to include four areas in the trial --the East Midlands, North-east, North-west and Yorkshire and parts of Humberside - a total of about 14 million electors. But peers again voted to remove the North-west from the experiment.
The defiance in the Lords means the Bill is in danger of running out of time. Nominations close for the elections on 13 May, and the timetable would be very tight for town hall electoral staff if the measure does not become law by Easter.
Lord Rennard, chief executive of the Liberal Democrats, said: "The Government can now avoid accusations of gerrymandering by agreeing to the compromise put forward by the Lords. If the Government will not compromise, they risk losing the whole of this Bill and will only have themselves to blame."
But Lord Filkin, a minister at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, said: "It defeats me to understand how this House can believe this is a point of principle on which it should stand in the face of the Commons for potentially five times."
He added: "This is not an issue which I believe the Lords has any strong case to claim they have a constitutional right to stand in the face of the will of the Commons because at heart this comes down to the judgment of the Government that it is desirable to have four regions rather than three."Reuse content