It is the Second Day of the Report Stage of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. Yesterday, in a very tight vote the Government was defeated by 219 votes to 218 on the issue of whether there should be a minimum turnout requirement before the referendum vote on the alternative vote would be binding.
There has just been another very close vote with an even higher turnout of members of the House of Lords. This time the Government won by 266 votes to 262. The issue was whether there should be local inquiries into the recommendation of the Boundary Commission on particular constituency boundaries. In the Committee Stage the Government had promised that they would bring forward their own amendments to make this possible (this was the offer that helped bring the Committee Stage proceedings to a close after seventeen days of detailed consideration of the Bill). In the event, the Government’s proposals were so weak and watery (it in practice only provides for the Boundary Commission to hold some public hearings) that there was a widespread feeling in the House that the Government had reneged on their promise – hence the amendment to strengthen the arrangements which was in the end narrowly defeated.
What is notable is the size of the vote: 528 members of the House voted (more than two-thirds of the House). This is almost certainly the highest number of votes cast since most of the hereditary peers lost their right to sit and vote in the House. And it approaches the record vote on the ratification of the Maastrict treaty, when a total of 621 Members voted in a division on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill on 14 July 1993 – and that was the largest recorded vote since 1831.
The figures, of course, reflect the wholesale creation of new members of the House of Lords since the Conservative Coalition was formed last May – 88 so far with more to come.