The Lords is an amending, revising chamber, not a “chuckerouterer” of Government Bills. What on earth are the Opposition doing filibustering over days and days to delay the passage of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill? Tabling amendments, having a robust discussion and pressing it to a vote is one thing; behaving like a panellist on ‘Just a Minute’ is quite another. And on Just a Minute, panellists must talk on a topic for 60 seconds without ‘repetition, hesitation or deviation’; if only peers (old lags one paper called them) would restrain themselves to one minute and frankly the repetition and deviation from the topic makes sorry reading. I’m just not going to participate in such ill-mannered debates and judging from the low turn out of crossbench voters, many of my colleagues take the same line as I do. We have no business preventing the passage of the Government’s programme; our business is improvement not rejection. As Lord Norton has pointed out, (and Lord Butler of Brockwell noted on the Radio 4 ‘Today” programme) this Bill is susceptible to change by normal parliamentary procedures, witness Conservative Lord Fowler’s ‘Isle of Wight amendment’, won against Government opposition in the usual way. As Baroness O’ Neill of Bengarve said on 19 January “I think that scrutiny has become impossible in the course of the debate on this Bill, in part because of the repetitive and irrelevant comments, whether co-ordinated or not, made in many speeches by noble Lords on the Opposition Benches.” “As a Cross-Bencher, I beg the leaders of the Opposition and of the Coalition to remember that their loyalty to this House stands above their partisan loyalty.”
The aim of the filibuster is to prevent the referendum on the alternative voting system going ahead on May 5th. That’s all (in spite of the denials). The truth is quite a lot of peers enjoy this kind of behaviour, some even think it’s legitimate (‘all’s fair in love and war’ sort of approach). No, it just makes us ridiculous. Peers who are former MPs have been blamed but not all of those indulging in filibustering have political backgrounds. There are many of us who want to get on with the scrutiny of the Government’s ambitious programme; several bills will now be delayed. This has not been the Lords’s finest hour.