"Parliamentary Ping Pong" – Part 2

Lord Tyler

The afternoon after the night before, and here is my report, as promised.   So much for the claim that the House of Lords makes the Commons – and the Government majority there – think again.

 David Davis MP, former Conservative Shadow Home Secretary and leading campaigner against attacks on civil liberties, previously described Minister’s attempts to hold inquests in secret as a “sinister threat”.   Conservative MPs consistently supported moves to stop this change in the law – intended, no doubt, to protect officialdom in the case of soldiers’ deaths – in the Coroners and Justice Bill.

Last night, despite all this principled opposition, Conservative Peers were told by their Whips to abstain when the Liberal Democrats maintained their attack on this “sinister threat”.   Sadly, a number of Crossbenchers who should know better followed their lead, although those most associated with civil liberties issues joined the Liberal Democrats. With only a very brave few Conservatives defying their party, the Government won by 175 to 70.  

Unkind colleagues muttered that the Tory Peers had wanted to speed up the ping-pong process, putting “dinner before democracy”.   I think that was unfair.  It was only too obvious that they wanted to get on to the more excitable issue of sexuality.  Significantly, they piled into the Chamber for that debate:   I saw Peers who haven’t been present for months, and one or two that I didn’t recognise at all.  A total of 314 Members voted in the Division just before 8pm, and so those already dressed up for formal dinners were able to get away in time for the soup course.

The only casualty in the rush for the door was the reputation of the House of Lords as a responsible revising chamber, using this priceless opportunity to force the Government and the Commons to think twice before undermining our civil liberties.

Meanwhile, a list of votes sent to me by the excellent House of Lords Library shows that of all the hundreds of government defeats since November 2002, only 19 happened after 8pm. Of those six were in 2005, when the House exceptionally sat until nearly 6am, to counsel caution against the Government’s attempts to introduce control orders.  Back then, I was in the Commons and, as in this more recent case, Conservative MPs made a lot of bluster in defence of civil liberties and then their Peers gave in on key principles where they had the power to make a difference.

7 comments for “"Parliamentary Ping Pong" – Part 2

  1. Bedd Gelert
    12/11/2009 at 5:18 pm

    Thank goodness a bit of common sense over freedom of speech has prevailed..


    It is about time we had a US-style ‘First Amendment’ protection for freedom of speech.

  2. wolfgang
    12/11/2009 at 5:25 pm

    Congratulations at preventing 1 bit of bad legistlation.

    However, one part of your post worries me. You’re proud that 314 peers voted on this.

    However, Baroness Desouza has stated on this blog that 3-400 peers turn up each day. What are they doing if they aren’t voting on legistlation? They are collecting expenses? What are they collecting them for?

    I put an FOI request in for the 12 October. Just 8 peers were in just one committee. So it clearly can’t be committee work.

    Something is wrong if you think 300+ voting is a sign that the Lords are doing well and are concerned enough to vote on something.

    You’re a very expensive cost, and its a serious question, are we getting any value for the money?

  3. Croft
    12/11/2009 at 5:29 pm

    Unless we chart votes by time of the day the figures given are meaningless. I would guess that the vast majority of votes are before 8pm, and of that minority after 8pm many are not controversial.

    Assuming for the purposes of the argument that your point stands up to scrutiny – unless we have a co-equal chambers how does this change with election? Indeed with both houses elected they might have egged each other on in a contest to be tougher on terrorism and consequently even less willing than the Lords to oppose any daft bit of ill thought through and illiberal anti terrorist legislation post 11/9.

  4. franksummers3ba
    12/11/2009 at 5:53 pm

    Lord Tyler,
    I just posted a comment on your last ping-pong post saying that a fully and truly democratic Lords would be a bad idea and that has not yet been accpted by your Lordship.

    Assuming this and possibly the other comment appear I wish to show that the upper chamber of the USA is not a majoritarian democracy. California’s 36,756,666 citizens, Texas’s 24,326,974 citizens, Louisiana’s 4,410,796 citizens, Montana’s 967, 440 citizens and Alaska’s 686, 293 each elect two senators (statistics 2008 estimate by US Census Bureau). These used to be elected by state legislators. The Senate is more powerful than the House as a whole despite the power of the purse in the House.
    Your Lordships concerns are doubtless real and well-founded. However, a democratic Lords would in a real sense mark the end of British political culture. Is there no other form of redress?

  5. wolfgang
    12/11/2009 at 10:14 pm

    And it’s needed. We need proper democracy in the UK. 1 person – 1 vote. Not to elect a representative that is then subject to whipping. In other words bribery and corruption. eg. If you want that job as a minister and the pay rise, you have to behave.

    No, everyone gets to vote if they want on a particular issue. MPs can come up the legistlation. Then let the voter decide, do they want it.

  6. Chris K
    13/11/2009 at 2:05 pm

    Lord Tyler,

    I find it a staggering contradiction that, on the one hand, you say that the Lords is failing because it picks and chooses its fights against the (democractically elected) Commons carefully. And yet on the other hand you advocate electing the Lords (albeit, presumably, under a different electoral system).

    How is one elected institution going to neglect our civil liberties, while another one will magically be prepared and capable of defending them? I very much doubt that, somehow, a higher calibre of people will stand for election to some feable (non-)revising chamber! Instead of people from a wide range of careers and backgrounds we’ll have career politicians. In fact, not even that, we’ll have failed career politicians.

    I also note that, since joining the Lords, not once have you rebelled against the Lib Dem whip, and also that you have an extremely high attendance. Do you consider yourself an expert on everything you vote on, or are you just confident that the Lib Dem whip is always right? I’m sure it’s difficult to adjust going from the Commons to the Lords, but perhaps you may want to consider your reasons for voting the way you do before you criticise other peers’ reasons for doing so.

    • Chris K
      14/11/2009 at 8:40 pm

      My apologies if my hastily-written comment seems confrotational and/or breached the terms of the site.

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