I am really sad to report that the House of Lords seems to be drifting further into the unthinking partisanship that Peers often accuse MPs of habitually exhibiting.
Today’s debate on mandatory sentencing for knife crime was characterised by some particularly powerful speeches from all sides of the House. The clear majority of the contributions – not least from eminent lawyers with direct experience of relevant criminal cases and former Ministers who had previous relevant responsibility – was that the clause added in the Commons was seriously defective. Even the Minister responding explained that the Government could not support it in its current form.
A number of Peers who listened to the whole debate declared that they had been persuaded by the force of argument to oppose it. As a result, prominent Labour members like Baroness Scotland, Lord Richard, Baroness Kennedy and Lord Reid voted with Baroness Trumpington and Lord Deben of the Conservatives, and a solid band of Liberal Democrats and Crossbenchers, against the clause.
However, a larger number of Labour and Conservative members – who had not attended the debate – arrived as the Division Bells sounded and simply obeyed their respective Whips and voted it through (by 228 to 159). Some Labour Peers are clearly quite as reactionary as their Conservative allies on this issue.
All too often that is what MPs are perceived to be doing – “don’t listen to the arguments, just do what you are told”. This is not good for the reputation of the Lords.
PS: I have now seen the official “scorecard”, and note that the opposition to the Clause included 59 Crossbenchers, 4 Conservatives, 24 Labour and 66 Lib Dems, but 94 Labour Peers voted for the government.