UK Politics

Lords clashes over delaying of boundary changes vote

MPs in the House of Commons
Image caption Under the plans there would be 600 MPs in the Commons - down from 650

Labour has accused the Conservatives of "subverting democracy" by dropping a Lords vote which could have delayed constituency boundary changes to 2018.

Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the House of Lords, said "senior members of the government" needed to discuss the issue before peers could hold the vote.

Labour's Baroness Royall said this was "wholly inadequate" and Downing Street should not be pulling Lords business.

Lib Dem peers announced last week that they would back Labour on the issue.

That would mean the opposition amendment - effectively killing off plans to cut the size of the Commons from 650 MPs to 600 MPs - would have been likely to have succeeded.

The Lib Dems say the changes cannot happen before the next election - scheduled for 2015 - and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has promised to oppose the final proposals.

They argue the changes were linked to proposals to elect members of the House of Lords, abandoned by the government over the summer, although the Conservatives dispute this.

David Cameron has said he will still push ahead with the plans, which would see the new boundaries implemented from 2015.

The Lords was expected to debate an amendment to the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill last week.

But Lord Strathclyde delayed the debate because he said he had been advised the motion was "inadmissible" and should be withdrawn. It has now been moved to an unspecified date.

In heated exchanges on the issue in the Lords on Monday, Lord Strathclyde repeated that the House's clerks had ruled that the amendment, put forward by Labour peer Lord Hart of Chilton and backed by senior Lib Dem Lord Rennard, was outside the scope of the bill.

Lord Strathclyde told peers: "All those involved need further time to reflect before this House is invited to take a decision either on the admissibility of the amendment or on its merits.

"It will not surprise the House that those involved include senior members of the government and that until their discussions are concluded the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill will not proceed further in committee."

Lord Strathclyde said the last time a Conservative backbencher had put forward an amendment against the advice of the clerks, both he as shadow leader and the then Labour leader of the House had agreed on it being withdrawn.

"Will you respect the advice and role of the clerks as your predecessors have always done?" he asked.

Lady Royall said that she respected the clerks, but said that Labour had got its own legal opinion and believed the amendment could stand.

She told peers: "Within the coalition, it is clear that the Liberal Democrat party is standing by its declared position that it will oppose the government's proposed changes to the Commons' parliamentary constituency boundaries."

She said the Conservatives were "trying to subvert the constitutional role" of the Lords by pulling the business and were "running scared". Parliament was not the "plaything" of government, she added.

Lord Strathclyde denied the bill had been "pulled" from the days's agenda - known as the Order paper - insisting: "It was never on the Order paper."

He said the review was not simply about boundaries but about reducing the size of the Commons to save taxpayers' money.

The boundary changes, approved in principle by Parliament last year, would see England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland lose 31, 7, 10 and 2 seats respectively.

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