The two houses of the British parliament played “ping pong” well into the night on the bill to convoke a referendum this May on whether to adopt the Alternative Vote system for future House of Commons elections. The bill finally cleared and has received Royal assent, according to the UK Press Association (in an item released about an hour ago, or 1:00 a.m. Thursday morning, London time). The referendum will go ahead on 5 May, the same day as English local and Scottish and Welsh parliamentary elections.
Today was the deadline set by the Electoral Commission for having the referendum, a critical item in the government’s coalition agreement, ready to go. (Some sources said this week, but not specifically today; the Lords was to go into recess, increasing the urgency.)
The main matter of contention between the houses was over whether to mandate a minimum threshold of participation in order for a majority voting YES to prevail. The Lords had amended the original bill so as to require at least 40% voter turnout in the referendum. The Commons took this amendment out, by a vote of 317-247 earlier this week, which necessitated sending it back to the Lords for approval. Earlier Wednesday, reports Sky News, the Lords voted 277-215 to insist on their turnout amendment.
On another amendment, the Lords defeated by only one vote a proposal that “would have allowed the Boundary Commission extra flexibility when deciding the size of Parliamentary constituencies.” The bill is not only about the AV referendum, but also includes changes to the boundary-delimitation process and a related reduction in the total numbers of constituencies–measures demanded by some Conservatives as a price for swallowing the very idea of considering AV. Some Labour peers have alleged that the constituency changes amount to gerrymandering.
The Lords finally voted down the amendment on the turnout requirement by a vote of 221-153 (according to the UKPA item).
On to the voters…