Marathon debate too much for elderly British lawmakers

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A marathon overnight debate on changing Britain's voting system proved too much for ageing lawmakers in the upper house of parliament, with many sneaking off early Tuesday to take a nap in the historic buildings.

Beds had been laid out for the members of the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster, with dormitories divided by sex and political party, and free tea and biscuits were being served all night long.

The debate on a proposed referendum on changing the voting system kicked off at 3:48 pm (1538 GMT) Monday.

With the opposition Labour party being accused of deliberately slowing down the proceedings, the sitting was set to be one of the longest in living memory and was still well under way early Tuesday.

David Steel, 72, known as Lord Steel in the upper house, said in 13 years as a lawmaker in the House of Lords he had never known an all-night sitting of the house, adding that many would find it a struggle.

"You have to remember our age," the Liberal Democrat lawmaker told BBC radio, saying he was about the average age in the upper house.

"There are a lot of very older ones and I don't know how they are going to survive the all-night session."

While all-night debates are a regular occurrence in the lower house of parliament, the House of Commons, they are much less frequent in the upper house.

There are some 750 lawmakers in the House of Lords and they are normally elderly, with many having been appointed to bring their years of experience from different walks of life into government. They are not publicly elected.

Labour claims that it merely wants to give a substantial constitutional change proper scrutiny and has denied using delaying tactics in a bid to derail the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition's plans.

The proposal on altering the voting system must become law by February 16 for a promised referendum to take place on May 5.

© 2011 AFP

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