By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday afternoon, Tim noted that the House of Lords was standing its ground and had inflicted another defeat on the Government over retaining a 40% threshold in the Bill setting up the AV referendum for May 5th.
The Bill then returned to the Commons, which again rejected their Lordships' amendment by 310 votes to 231 in a vote just after 8pm, with 18 Tory MPs voting in favour of the Lords' amendment:
The measure then returned to the House of Lords for further discussion at 10.30pm, at which point one of those Tories who had been in favour of the threshold, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, indicated that now was the time to call off the parliamentary ping-pong:
"We have now asked the other place to think about this issue twice and we have had a clear answer twice – by 70 votes last night and by 79 this evening, if my mathematics are right. We have heard a powerful speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the amendment, he was right to tell us that we are discussing an issue that focuses narrowly on a matter that affects the other place alone. Therefore, while I continue to have considerable and very grave doubts about the course on which my Government are embarking, I am afraid that I have now concluded, after two disobliging votes, that the time has come for the Members of the elected Chamber to make a final decision, because they alone will have to live with the consequences of their deliberations."
Not all rebel Tory peers voted with him – the likes of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Lord Lawson and Lord Hamilton of Epsom continued to insist on the threshold in the voting lobby – but the Government won the vote at 11pm by 221 votes to 153.
So by 11.45pm, Royal Assent was given and the Bill became the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, meaning that the ball is now formally rolling for the AV referendum on May 5th – and indeed for the Boundary Commission to reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600.