By Ray Fleming

WHAT is the connection between a national referendum on the adoption of the Alternative Vote (A/V) election system and a review of parliamentary boundaries to cut the number of MPs by 50 and equalise the size of constituencies? The answer is that there is no connection of any significance but the two matters have nonetheless been bundled together in the coalition government's Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, the consideration of which has been keeping members of the House of Lords up long past their bedtime this week. All night parliamentary sessions are usually confined to matters of great moment but the government's insistence on getting its Bill passed is not a point of principle -- it is just that if it is not approved by February 16 the Electoral Commission will not have time to prepare for it to be put to the electorate on May 5 when local elections are also being held.

Labour is taking its time over the Bill in the Lords and Commons because it believes the constituency changes, a complex and sensitive issue, require much more careful consideration before they are implemented; accordingly it has offered to guarantee to vote for the A/V referendum to go ahead but wants the constituency issue to be dropped from the Bill and given more time for research and consultation. Once again, however, Mr Cameron is in a hurry.

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