Uncharted Territory for the Lords

Lord Soley

 Rumours began to circulate last week that the Government was going to introduce a guillotine on House of Lords business for the first time in its history. I still don’t know how serious or real the threat was but it is now virtually certain that they will force through a constitutional Bill (the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituency Bill) with three consecutive days of scrutiny possibly including all night sittings. This is new and is clearly uncharted territory for a House that normally works in a much more consensual way.

The House authorities are laying on extra facilities in the form of all night refreshments so at least some of the staff will get overtime payments!

The Bill is a constitutional measure where the Government are taking the power to reduce the number of MP’s by 60. Decisions like this would normally be taken by agreement between the political Parties because it will significantly affect the majority a party can win at future elections. You would also expect a Government to agree to a reduction in the number of the pay roll vote otherwise the power of the Executive is increased over the power of the legislature.

The first part of the Bill deals with the referendum on the Alternative Vote. If this was dealt with as a separate Bill it could go through relatively quickly because although some Peers have very strong views about voting systems it is not as powerful a constitutional change as changing the number of MP’s.

I have an amendment down for debate on Monday that will require an independent report on what the number of MP’s should be. This whole issue will be hard fought. I think the government should also bear in mind that if we begin changing the number of MP’s in Parliament without all party agreement then other governments will do it in future – this is a slippery slope we are on.

Why is the Government doing this? Essentially it is the political agreement between the coalition Parties. The Liberal Democrats want to change the voting system and the Conservatives want to reduce the number of MP’s – so it derives from the coalition agreement and is therefore very important for the two parties. Sadly it is also a divisive constitutional measure so we are in for some very real and probably negative changes in the way the House works.

23 comments for “Uncharted Territory for the Lords

  1. Dave H
    16/01/2011 at 2:59 pm

    The way to approach the guillotine threat is to have enough peers prepared to vote against anything that hasn’t been fully discussed. That way, they government may get their vote after three days but it’ll mean that the Bill is gutted and will have to spend extra time in ping-pong between the chambers as the Commons puts back in what gets removed.

    However, I guess you need to get some government peers to support this approach to overturn the majority they’d otherwise have.

    The previous government did a lot of this in the Commons, especially during the final few months, and we would have had some pretty poor legislation from it had the wash-up not ditched the worst of it.

  2. Lord Blagger
    16/01/2011 at 5:47 pm

    Overtime for the staff. More expenses.

    Congratulations to the Lords for spending money as quickly as possible and racking up more debts.

  3. Lord Blagger
    16/01/2011 at 5:48 pm

    Far simpler just to abolish the Lords.

    Let the electorate have the say.

    It’s called democracy and its far better than having the Lords dictate. (Plus its cheaper)

  4. Carl.H
    16/01/2011 at 6:10 pm

    All I will say is I wish Labour much luck, this bill is wrong in not having had enough research & scrutiny.

    “Proposals being rushed through Parliament to equalise constituency sizes risk a “chaotic” redrawing of boundaries, a report has warned.

    Changes would not have regard to local loyalties and historic ties, the think tank Democratic Audit said.”


    One wonders if the Government are pushing so hard for this equality of votes as they have put frequently in debate why they aren`t proposing PR at the same time. After all if equality is what they want then one vote should equal one votes worth of power and not be wasted should your preferred candidate lose.

    Sounds like another lot of hypocrisy from a Government who apparently don`t do their homework but rush around shouting change is the answer to everything, provided it`s in our favour.

    No matter what is said publicly, someone HAS done the sums regards constituency boundaries and this like the coming reform of the Lords is nothing but a political maneuver to gain more power and control.

    I will not understand Conservative peers supporting something they know has not had the proper and correct scrutiny. If they support it then they have to support the reforms put forward for the Lords which will also lead to improper scrutiny.

    Do the job properly or not at all, it`s ermine you wear not wool.

  5. Senex
    16/01/2011 at 8:04 pm

    Do you know a filly buster! Her name is Procrastination the thief of time.

    Is it really appropriate for a political peer to comment about house business before the event as it might be seen as partisan and the blog has a tradition of being non-partisan?

    I agree entirely about the ‘usual channels’ amounting to some degree of consensus however Parliament is set up for constitutional politics that serve only the interests of Parliament and its long gone empire. Only a one vote majority in either house is needed to carry constitutional change.

    Perhaps when the house becomes elected consensus might protect the people’s interests by allowing the house to reject a bill outright and for the Commons by a two thirds majority to bring it to statute otherwise it lapses. What need of a Parliament Act then I wonder?

  6. Matt
    16/01/2011 at 11:34 pm

    The line from some labour peers, about needing to get the electoral registration precise, has become an example of what I call the ‘You’re not going in that swimming pool until you can swim!’ argument. The electoral rolls will always be less-than-accurate. Could these peers tell us what degree of inaccuracy they would deem tolerable?

  7. Dan Filson
    17/01/2011 at 9:53 am

    A guillotine is surely inevitable as the proposals whilst not in the Government programme as expressed before the General Election – what is? – are clearly part of the coalition deal, and they have set their stall by having the referendum on the May polling day, come what may.

    Reduction in the payroll vote should be a sine qua non for any reduction in the overall number of MPs, as otherwise the other place will increasingly replicate the corrupted 18th century house run by the Pelhams.

    The AV vote is increasingly an irrelevance – it won’t bring proportional representation, and only marginally adjust the way parts of the country have no Conservative representation to speak of and other parts no Labour representation to speak of. These defects in our current political system threaten the unity of the country as it causes disaffection from the whole process if millions of voters perceive that their votes are effectively valueless in their area. AV+ should have been on the table, for all the problems it creates of lists and the break with one member one constituency.

  8. Gareth Howell
    17/01/2011 at 1:09 pm

    I’m all in favour of both items on the Bill.

    It will surely only be token resistance by the opposition?

  9. Maude Elwes
    17/01/2011 at 3:59 pm

    Both houses should be cut in half. They run China with far less than what we have to foot the bill for.

    GB ran India with 1500 individuals total.

    What we now have is a joke. The Lords should not be seen as a place for unwanted, unelectable MP’s or pull ins to the Lords as a pay off to the old friends or family regime, as is the practice today. Take the Kinnocks and others of their ilk. On the bandwagon for years in Europe and now here. T

    And this lark of using unelected Lords as cabinet ministers, akin to the fiddle of Mandelson, Baroness Warsi, and so on, is another fraud the electorate is paying through the nose for.

    The quicker they rid us of this mockery of democracy the better.

    Our taxes are not a gravy train for those who cannot face the electorate with a hope of office.

    • Carl.H
      17/01/2011 at 11:07 pm

      Less leaders more democracy, how does that work ?

      • Maude Elwes
        18/01/2011 at 12:50 pm

        How about ‘too many cooks spoil the broth.’

        You could also look at organizations such as the NHS, too many managers not enough hands on workers.

        Top heavy hinders rather than aids the path to greater efficiency.

  10. Twm O'r Nant
    17/01/2011 at 5:09 pm

    GB ran India with 1500 individuals total

    All of them holding theodolytes?.

  11. Gareth Howell
    17/01/2011 at 5:18 pm

    “And this lark of using unelected Lords as cabinet ministers,”

    One that I conscientiously eschewed. Clever eh!?

    Not Welsh Liberals/Labour for nothing.

  12. Dan Filson
    17/01/2011 at 5:41 pm

    Tch, tch, Maude! Senex said “the blog has a tradition of being non-partisan” – guffaw.

    The difference between China and the UK, rather obviously, is one is a dictatorship and the other not. So we do need our houses in about the size they are give or take 50 (which is why I am not opposed in principle to 600 instead of the current number), as they are not just there to cheer on. But somehow along the way, MPs have become caseworkers on issues not in their JDs. Their prime roles, and of the Lords too, is (a) legislation and (b) scrutiny of the Executive without having, or using, executive power directly.

    The GLC had, I think, 90-100 members but the Greater London Assembly only 25 or so. It seems to my outside eye to be weaker as a result, though that is more because of the revised relationship of the Mayor of London in place of the Leader of the Majority Party being Leader of the GLC, and the characters of the Mayors as opposed to the previous Leaders. So if you slash – as opposed to trim – the size of both Houses, you weaken them, not least as the pool of newer talent is reduced.

    Massive companies are run by relatively small boards – they manage to make a pig’s ear of a lot of them,e.g. banks. I wonder if they are too cosy to the executive managers, and lose sight of their responsibilities to the shareholders. The same can be true of legislatures.

    • Maude Elwes
      18/01/2011 at 1:14 pm

      @Dan Filson

      China is indeed a dictatorship. Nevertheless, it is outdoing the west with growth and a startling economy and it is governing 1.3 billion population. We are miniature in comparison. They are 20 times bigger.

      • Dan Filson
        18/01/2011 at 4:41 pm

        Of course their growth rate is greater than ours – from a very, very, low base. 40 years ago they were building canals by hand and had the idiocy of the ‘Cultural Revolution’

        • Maude Elwes
          21/01/2011 at 6:56 am

          You could also liken our present policies to an idiotic cultural revolution. From where I’m standing it appears both our government and opposition are verging on insanity.

          Especially when it comes to interpretation of the Human Rights Act.

  13. Rich
    18/01/2011 at 7:19 am

    After 17 hours with not even six amendments done, it is frankly hard to take Labour seriously on this. If it wasn’t already obvious after two amendments in six hours (with neither put to the vote) that Labour was filibustering and their concerns about “pushing through” the bill and “legislative gerrymandering” (which, by the way, is clearly a word Labour don’t understand) are baseless, the last day’s pretense at scrutiny should make the case conclusively. I suspect British public’s appetite for pointless obstruction is even smaller than that of America, so Labour may well regret this overreach down the line.

    • Carl.H
      18/01/2011 at 11:18 am

      From where I sit most of the British public don’t even know this is going on nor do most care. However if they did look they’d see a Government trying to manipulate itself into a position where for it`s party it was trying to aquire more power, be it true or not.

      If a 10 man team decides to make for a particularly boring game and plays out a draw within the rules there is nothing wrong with that. When you are outnumbered you have to play the best tactics that your numbers allow.

      If Government are allowed to decide the blueprint for Parliament then our democracy will not last long.

      The interesting part is that a majority of Lords will go along with the Government on the make-up of the Commons without factual study but how will they vote when it comes to them. There is a suspicion of self interest here as always where British poilitics are concerned.

      • Maude Elwes
        22/01/2011 at 8:12 pm

        Our democracy won’t last long if the population continue to feel betrayed and do a Moses style Exodus.

        And I can’t imagine demanding what is a correct subject at dinner is the Orwellian nightmare we had in mind for our future.

  14. Lord Blagger
    18/01/2011 at 12:46 pm

    306,000 pounds per amendment.

  15. Maude Elwes
    18/01/2011 at 12:58 pm

    What we have is a crazy voting system. First past the post. What does that mean?

    It means our government is elected by a system of minority rather than majority approval. AV is another stupid fudge. It appears to the public that nobody wants a true ‘majority rule’ here. And this is why governments are losing the peoples interest.

  16. Matt
    22/01/2011 at 2:22 pm

    The correct course of action is to vote “no” on any matters which are being rushed. Clearly, if there were nothing profoundly negative which would otherwise be rejected by attentive members, this bill would be rushed through.

    Say no. Say no again. Say no until you have all the time required to evaluate it properly.

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