AV and constituency redrawing bill risks “consitutional car crash”

The Parliamentary Voting System & Constituency Bill caused fresh controversy last night with the threat of an unprecedented House of Lords guillotine motion.

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituency Bill caused fresh controversy last night with the threat of an unprecedented House of Lords guillotine motion of Tory Lords leader Lord Strathclyde to cut off debate on the 301-page bill that both authorises a referendum on AV on May 5th and redraws Westminster’s constituency boundaries.

The Electoral Commission has ruled that unless the bill receives Royal Assent by February 17th, no referendum may be held in May.

As Labour peer Lord Toby Harris noted on his blog, a guillotine would be:

“… a constutional car crash… [it] would be unprecedented. It has NEVER been done before. And as the whole point of the House of Lords is that it takes the time to scrutinise legislation properly, such a motion would be a constitutional outrage.”

Concerned peers are determined to scrutinise the bill properly and push for three key amendments. Left Foot Forward understands that the key amendments under consideration are:

• A change in the acceptable variation of population size of constituencies from 5% to 10% – meaning in essence less change to existing constituency boundaries;

• The reintroduction of independent constituency boundary hearings and tribunals;

• The maintenance of the House of Commons at its present size of 650 seats.

The time consuming nature of the amendment process and the lack of any constitutional precedent for a Lords guillotine increases the need for compromise. As such, the prospect of portioning the bill into two, dealing separately with the AV referendum authorisation and the constituency changes may well be the best way to both break the impasse and avoid an ugly constitutional fight.

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