How the silly season came early

Lord Tyler

The weeks of late July and August are often referred to in Westminster circles as “the silly season”, as newspapers look for all sorts of stories to fill their political pages while Parliament is in recess. And in recent days one errant Peer has provided a vivid cocktail of absurdity for them to do just that.

Yet this year, it was the final few weeks before the long Summer break which seemed to get really silly.

Pride of place in the roll call should probably go to “English Votes for English Laws” (or EVEL, pronounced “Evil” by some).  No sooner did the Leader of the Commons attempt to slip through a daunting sequence of complicated changes to Standing Orders than a varied and cross-party alliance of analysts, in both Houses, spotted a bewildering array of constitutional blunders.  The lack of clarity and simplicity in Ministers’ proposals was all too apparent from the claim by the Leader of the Lords that English MPs were to be given “a voice not a veto”. This assertion came just moments after she had repeated a statement from her colleague, the Leader of the Commons which consistently referred to an English MPs’ veto.

MPs rightly insisted on a delayed decision until September, to allow some time for the government to get its ideas straight.  Last Tuesday the Lords went further still. Led by Crossbencher Lord Butler (former Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service), the House voted for a Joint Committee of MPs and Peers to examine the options. It was a heavy defeat for the government, involving leading Conservatives as well as Labour, Liberal Democrat and Crossbench Peers.

Amongst many other critics – most much more expert than me – I suggested that for a subset of only some members of the Commons to have the power of veto over Lords’ Bills and Amendments raised substantial new issues for us all, not least in terms of the precedent for Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont.  I referred to this as altering “the whole delicate balance of power and responsibility within the United Kingdom… This is a classic case of the dangers of piecemeal and ad hoc attempts to deal with apparent anomalies in our constitution. Removing one anomaly produces another.”

Meanwhile, the rush to legislation after the change of Government in May has led to some singularly oddly drafted Bills.  The Lords’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee (DPRRC), of which I am now a member, had some terse comment for two Bills which started in our House.

In the first case, on the Childcare Bill, the Committee was especially critical: the Government had asserted that the Bill was intended to “send a message” which earned it a wrap over the knuckles from the DPRRC which rightly says that “the purpose of an Act is to change the law, not to ‘send a message’”.

In the second case, on the Cities Bill, the DPRRC was able to achieve a modest but very democratic improvement. The Government had been trying to “streamline” consultation processes about changing the structure of local government so that what I referred to as “a small and relatively exclusive group” could take decisions without public consent.  The government amendments introducing these provisions were so controversial that I was able to persuade the House and the Minister that they should be withdrawn until DPRRC criticisms of them had been addressed.  On the final Tuesday before the recess, the Minister responded with a much more acceptable proposal for public consultation. A good outcome in the end, but it was a remarkable mess for the government to have got itself into in the first place.

The third government initiative could not be described as “silly” at all, but as a very serious affront to democracy. Yet Ministers hoped it would go unnoticed just before the summer break. As my colleague Lord Rennard described here so fully last week, Ministers are making a bid to ignore the clear advice of the statutory Electoral Commission by removing 1.9 million people from the electoral register.

If the Government gets its way, this nakedly partisan move could have a profound effect on next year’s London, Scottish and Welsh elections – and in the European Union Referendum too, if it is timed for June 2016, as now predicted. My colleagues and I will fight it all the way, and we hope for support from all sides in doing so.

1 comment for “How the silly season came early

  1. maude elwes
    09/08/2015 at 9:16 am

    To me, this most extraordinary rant on ‘English Votes for English Laws’ is the height of hypocracy. Especially coming from those who feel ‘equality’ ‘and ‘multiculturalism’ must be enforced on every national in the UK and further, to the point of creating the kind of revolt we now have staring us in the face.

    Every group on earth must have the ‘right’ to speak out and have their idocyncracies heard and pandered to. Regardless of how racist, sexist, ageist, or plain evil it is. They all must have a voice. Except, of course, the dreaded ‘English.’ That group must be duck taped before being drawn and quartered, for they created slavery and colonialism which damaged the very soul of the planet. That same planet of human flotsum we see ready to die for British rule to save them once again. Clearly it is not Europe they are heading for because it is there they are trying to escape from.

    Those English, who not so long ago, had no voice at all as their leaders kept them well and truly stifled from any idea of revolt. The poor English serf who has never once been free of his chains until a movement called ‘socialism’ found its breath via its way to our shores. That same movement who took them from the slavery of the ‘workhouse’ to the luxury of council homes, where, at last, they were free of penury. Which again today is under an assault from those same ruthless, sit on their arses, rulers, who salvate with joy at the prospect of the starvation they impose on us ‘English’ of today.

    Followed by a ‘hope’ of sanity. Unless he too turns into a Blair creature? Could that be possible?

    The Scots are free of them, well almost, but, the English must never be heard for they will fight to be free and that is not something you can tolerate in a Globalised elite takeover. Can you?

    What is it you politicians and Peers fear in the English so much that you established an invasion against them not seen since the Romans beat a path to rid the world of our horrific barbarians?

    What is it you hate so remorselessly in the ‘English’ that leaves you denying them a voice to choose their preferences by a vote? Is it the absolute knowledge that should they have their way, the LibDems will finally be not only outside of the Commons but out of the Lords as well?

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