UK Politics

No done deal on AV bill, says Labour's Lord Falconer

Houses of Parliament at night
Image caption One of the Lords debates lasted all night

Labour's Lord Falconer has said there is still "work to do" if a bill setting up a referendum on the Westminster voting system is to get through.

It follows a marathon 15-day debate on one stage of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.

A compromise was reached to end it but the bill returns to the Lords next week. It must be law by 16 February if a referendum is to be held on 5 May.

Lord Falconer told the BBC's Record Review: "There isn't a deal yet."

The shadow justice minister said agreement had been reached on "certain aspects" of the bill - but added: "There is still work to do."

Labour peers have been resisting plans in the bill to cut the number of MPs and redraw constituencies.

The government wants to hold a referendum on changing the voting system on 5 May - the same day as elections in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and some local elections in England - which they say will save money.

But time is running out to get the bill through Parliament in time to give the Electoral Commission the time required to prepare for a referendum.

'Only decision left'

The BBC's Mark D'Arcy said there was still no agreement about when the bill's report stage would be completed. The bill then has to return to the Commons by 14 February for MPs to debate new amendments.

Labour could seek further concessions - for example on the size of the new constituencies.

Asked whether the bill would get through on time, the Conservative leader of the Lords, Lord Strathclyde told the BBC's Record Review: "In the next few days the House of Lords is going to have to make a decision.

"Does it wish to send a Bill that has been intimately scrutinised in every aspect back to the House of Commons to allow the referendum, the people to have their say, on May 5 or not. That is the key decision and it is the only decision left."

But Lord Falconer added: "It's a matter for negotiation and I think we would have failed if it does not go through but that means our negotiations have to succeed."

Call for compromise

Last week's agreement was reached after cross-bench peers' convener Baroness D'Souza called for compromises and put forward an amendment to allow the Boundary Commission to hold public inquiries into proposed boundary changes in some cases.

The government wants to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 in time for a 2015 general election.

Over the last few weeks peers debated the bill's committee stage for 15 days - with one session lasting all night. It was thought to be the longest Lords debate at committee stage since 1971.

The bill proposes holding a referendum on replacing first-past-the-post Westminster elections with the Alternative Vote system, allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference - a key Conservative concession to their Lib Dem coalition partners.

The government has suffered two defeats in the Lords over the planned legislation.

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