As soon as recess began yesterday we came down to Italy for a few days change from what has been a depressing few weeks in the Lords. I have a completely different take on what happened in the last stages of the passage of the PVSC bill from Lord Knight. But before I get onto that I have to comment on the wonders of the mimosa trees which flower in northern Tuscany in early February brightening the hillsides and giving a glorious perfume. It’s always worth a trip here in early spring to catch the wild hellebores, camellias and lemons ripened over winter. Yes it rains a lot but today we lunched outside in the sun.
But Back to the Lords. All Governments pack the House of Lords with their own supporters, ‘twas ever thus. And with an elected house we are likely to have a chamber with a proportional representation of the votes at an election; hence the Government of the day will expect to be able to get it’s business through the Second Chamber as it does now. We are there to challenge, improve by revision, ask the Commons to think again and reconsider. The Commons did indeed reconsider, even if in their usual cursory fashion and in a rather dismissive way. Many crossbenchers will not press the Commons past one reconsideration, in other words they won’t indulge in ping-pong because we regard ourselves as finally an unelected house that should give way to the Commons at the end of the debates. So quite a lot of crossbenchers wouldn’t have stayed to vote in the late night final ping-pong and quite a lot of us who were there for the first ping-pong did not vote in support of the amendments which had been brought forward earlier. So the crossbenchers do not feel let down, rather they feel that in the end a strong Government got its way, as was the case I recall when the Labour party were in a strong position and persuaded the LibDems to vote with them.
For me it suggests that the Opposition must learn the value of persuasion and negotiation off the floor of the House and working more in cross-party alliances. Many Labour party members kept saying the Labour constituencies would be disadvantaged by the reduction in MPs and new even-sized constituencies but no-one ever gave the crossbenchers any convincing facts and figures to demonstrate their case. And the forthcoming bills? Like most bills the ones approaching are a mixture of the good, the inadequately prepared and the peculiar, just like the former Government’s were. Curiously many of them had their origins in Labour party policy, like the Health and Social Care Bill. The Second Chamber works best by collaborative negotiation that was largely lost from the Chamber this term. I hope it isn’t going to continue like this; I’ve had a belly-full of destructive political squabbling of the kind we see in the Commons to no-one’s benefit. Still, any complaints I have about il sistema politico britannico pale into insigificance in Berlusconi’s Italy.