Peers sit for just 80 minutes after marathon debate

After a marathon all-night debate in the House of Lords on proposals for a referendum on changing the Westminster voting system and cutting the number of MPs, peers discussed the matter for just 80 minutes when business resumed today.

The ninth committee day on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which has already cleared the Commons, began at 3.48pm yesterday and did not end until 12.51pm today.

The House was restarted at 2.15pm for the introduction of three new members and oral questions before peers dealt with three sets of amendments on the Bill and adjourned at the unusually early time of 4.34pm.

Although the atmosphere in the chamber was noticeably more co-operative than yesterday, it remains unclear whether the Government will succeed in its aim of having the legislation on the statute book by 16 February.

That is the deadline required for a referendum to take place on 5 May, as the Government intends, on a move from the "first-past-the-post" system of electing MPs to the "alternative vote" (AV) system.

And peers may face another late night tomorrow when the 11th committee day begins at 3.30pm as the Lords must not only complete the committee stage of the Bill but its report stage and third reading before it can become law.

Unlike in the Commons, the Government cannot guillotine debates in the Lords and Labour has been pressing ministers to delay their plans to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 if they want the voting referendum to go ahead as planned.

Government chief whip Baroness Anelay of St Johns indicated at the end of the marathon sitting that today's business would end before the usual rising time of 10pm.

But the speed with which the three groups of amendments - the target set by the Government to complete today - were dealt with was in stark contrast to last night's slow progress.

The 21-hour debate, which saw long speeches and numerous interventions, had covered just eight out of 66 remaining groups of amendments to the legislation.

It was preceded by angry exchanges between Lords Leader Lord Strathclyde and shadow justice minister Lord Falconer of Thoroton over whether Labour peers were deliberately trying to "talk out" the measure.

Lord Strathclyde was less combative at the start of today's debates, when he told peers the House was "in the most unusual situation" that Monday in the Lords had only very recently become Tuesday.

"Your Lordships are looking remarkably sprightly - I am almost tempted to do it all over again," the Tory Cabinet minister quipped.

He commended the Lords staff for their back-up for the all-night sitting, including camp beds for "the lucky few" and "a most delicious breakfast" in the early hours.

He went on: "There is considerable pressure and concern throughout the House of those who wish to find a way to progress business which, by all measures, is going extremely slowly and to find ways to respect the convention that the House passes Government business in reasonable time.

"We are about to go into committee for the 10th day and I am hopeful that today's progress will be somewhat more speedy than yesterday's."

Lord Falconer told peers: "What has made this House successful over the years is finding solutions to the sorts of problems we currently face."

Lord Falconer confirmed he remained "willing to discuss" procedures and the content of the Bill with a view to bringing "an end to the position".

Peers then spent 74 minutes debating one group of amendments and the next two groups were completed in just six minutes before the adjournment.

In a symbol of the changed atmosphere in today's short sitting, Labour's Lord Campbell-Savours at one point intervened on fellow Labour peer Lord Davies of Stamford in an attempt to curtail a contentious speech he was making.

Lord Campbell-Savours, a stalwart of the lengthy debates on the Bill, said: "We're having a very constructive debate on this amendment and I do appeal to all my colleagues to try and conduct ourselves in a way where we may get some compromise on this amendment."

Tory the Earl of Onslow had earlier said that if Lord Davies' speech was not a filibuster "I don't know what is". He accused the Labour peer, a former Tory who swapped sides while in the Commons, of bringing the House "into absolute disrepute".

The brief heated exchange came during debate on an amendment moved by Lord Falconer that would have given greater flexibility to the Boundary Commission to set the size of constituencies to take account of matters such as geographical features.

Under the Government's plans the number of electors in a constituency can only vary by 5% either side of a fixed quota.

But Lord Falconer argued the Boundary Commission should be able to increase the flexibility to 10% if there were "overriding reasons".

Lord Wallace of Tankerness, replying for the Government, said the 5% provision allowed for flexibility, but pushed by crossbench QC Lord Pannick said he would "consider" the issue further but insisted he was not in a position to offer any concessions.

Earlier, Baroness Warsi, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, accused Labour leader Ed Miliband of being either weak or unable to control his own party.

Speaking outside the chamber, she said: "These time-wasting tactics by former Labour MPs are preventing the public from having a say on a policy Ed Miliband claims he supports.

"His failure to act is either a sign he is weak and cannot control his own party or that he is being opportunistic and playing politics ahead of an important referendum.

"Ed Miliband needs to say clearly whether he supports these tactics or an AV vote."

And Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron wrote to party members asking them to call on Labour peers and MPs to end their "filibuster" of the Bill.

Mr Farron said: "Labour peers are holding the democratic process hostage by blocking any progress of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.

"Ed Miliband has spoken of a new way of doing politics but the tricks employed by Labour peers are the worst example of petty party politics.

"Their claims of scrutiny are completely undermined by their own pantomime performance in the House. It is time Ed Miliband showed some leadership and took control of his party."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine