They said it was impossible, unrealistic, over-optimistic. No select committee could be expected to produce a report in less than a month Indeed, some Peers even used this as an excuse for not supporting the otherwise infallible Motion before the House on 20th January (full comments). However, the vote was decisive: 327 to 234, an amazing majority of 93 (full division lists available here).
Well, we have done it! The Select Committee on Trade Union Political Funds and Political Party Funding has today (Wednesday 2 March) published its report – thanks to some remarkably skilful steering from its chairman, ex-Treasury mandarin Lord (Terry) Burns, and the equally indefatigable team of Clerks – without straying beyond its allotted time table. It didn’t even have to stop the clock, Brussels style, on Monday night.
As the original promoter of this mechanism to get the whole issue of the damaging effect of the “big donor culture” in British politics, back on the public and parliamentary agenda, I take pride in this achievement (see my full speech on Hansard].
The House of Lords is a place of curious timetables. The doctrine of unripe, or insufficient, time is a favourite excuse to nothing, not least on democratic reform of the Lords’ own composition. And yet, when we put our collective mind to it, we can do a serious job of work in just one month. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The Committee is clear that, contrary to ministerial assertions, the Trade Union Bill does have an impact on political party funding, and that cross-party talks must now resume. Now we have to see whether the Government can be as positive and prompt in responding to the report, as we were in producing it.