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PEERS FIGHT TO THE WIRE OVER EURO ELECTIONS

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The house of lords was last night locked in constitutional stalemate with the government after, for the third time,...
The house of lords was last night locked in constitutional stalemate with the government after, for the third time, they voted for a system of named candidates for the European parliament elections rather than closed party lists.

The European Parliamentary Elections Bill is in danger of being lost, with consequent chaos in selecting candidates on the old constituencies for first-past-the-post elections next May. Time is running out with the present parliamentary session due to end next Friday, when the Bill would automatically fail.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who moved the rejection of the commons insistence on the closed list system and of the government's new proposed review after next year's Euro elections, said: 'The review will be laid before parliament. There is no word about whether we will have the chance to decide in legislation what system will be used in future elections and no guarantee that the report, if unfavourable to the closed list, will be allowed to do anything other than gather dust'.

Labour peers were divided over the vote, which resulted by 237 to 194 to force the Bill back to the commons. Former Labour cabinet minister lord Shore and lord Stoddart were among those rejecting the government's proposals. But former Labour leader of the lords, lord Richard, and lord Evans, a former chairman of Labour's national executive committee an opponent of closed lists, and former cabinet minister Lord Barnett all warned of the constitutional implications of rejecting the government's amendments.

Lord Barnett said: 'How many times can we ask the other place to think again? This is the third time. I am bound to say that whether the other place puts forward a proposition that is good, bad or awful or just plain wrong, as I believe it to be in this case, after three times of asking it to think again -and it is the elected chamber - it is entitled to have its way'.

Lord Evans said to reject the commons amendments would create an unnecessary constitutional crisis. Lord Richard to reject them would break the understanding that had arisen under successive as to the circumstances when the lords could insist on its view. That course is dangerous and one the lords would regret.

But lord Shore said: 'It is not commons versus lords; it is not democracy against autocracy in the sense that the advocates of the original closed system would like; it is something quite different.

'The issue is about the open list against the closed list. It is about an open democratic list against a closed party management list. It is about accountability to the electorate, to the voters, against accountability to a party committee'.

Liberal Democrat earl Russell ignored his party whip and voted against the government. He said time had not run out and it was unlikely the government would lose its Bill.

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