Lord Paul Tyler writes…Will Labour Lords stick to their EU principles?

As the Lords prepared to vote this week on the Queen’s Speech, I have been asked often about whether the so-called “Salisbury-Addison Convention” applies during this Parliament, to proposals from a Government which did not obtain a majority in the Commons.

Briefly, the Convention holds that the Lords does not reject Bills predicated on manifesto commitments, nor introduce “wrecking amendments”. The convention was first formulated in 1945 between the post-war Labour Government and Conservative leaders in a heavily Tory- and hereditary- dominated House.  The Liberal group was never party to it.

Speaking in the Queen’s Speech debate, I urged Peers – Labour Peers in particular – not to be bound into believing that the Government’s Faustian pact with the DUP gives it the right to railroad legislation through Parliament.  Unlike the 2010 Coalition Government, this administration cannot claim that its composition enjoys anywhere near majority support in the country, and the ‘deal’ is in any case only on big ticket votes.  There is no agreed programme for government between parties who together can claim a mandate.  That means that the Official Opposition should see no need simply to roll over during parliamentary “ping-pong” at the very first whiff of ‘pong’ from the Commons!

On Brexit, I pointed out that Labour voters had a far more positive view of the UK’s relationship with the EU than the Labour leadership. Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell may still regard the single market as a capitalist conspiracy, but most of their supporters do not.  With some 69% now thought to support the UK’s continued membership of the EU customs union and 53% favouring a referendum on whether or not to accept the Brexit deal, the Lords will should be fearless in making sure the public is heard.  

Parliament as a whole will also be in a more powerful position to take its own initiatives than when the Executive has an unassailable majority. In particular, the longer parliamentary session planned for this year and through 2018, makes the opportunities for gaining traction with Private Members’ Bills more substantial.  I had good luck in the so-called ‘ballot’ (really a raffle) for getting a debate on a Bill, and have resubmitted in revised form my Bill for comprehensive reform of the party funding system.  After another General Election in which vast sums were spent by all parties on ‘national’ direct mailings to swing constituencies, and centrally-directed social media grew again in importance, it is plainly time to revisit the law.  Likewise the rules of referendum expenditure which have been shown to be inadequate, with some key campaigning costs going undeclared, and a shadowy role for the now pivotal DUP.

Even the Conservative Party headquarters now agrees.  Six days before polling day they told the press that “there is a broad consensus that election law is fragmented, confused and unclear, with two different sets of legislation, and poor guidance from the Electoral Commission”. While their intention was probably to explain away in advance any infringements of the rules, I have put this admission straight to Cabinet Office Ministers.

After more than forty years in and out of one or other House of Parliament, I thought that the 2017-2022 cycle would be one in which the Executive through its Brexit legislation would wrest yet more power from the legislature.  It is not to be.  On the “Great Repeal Bill”, and all of the legislation put before us, both Houses now have the opportunity and the right to take extra special care in deciding what to agree and what to reject.  After all, this is supposed to be the year when Parliament “takes back control”!

 

* Paul Tyler is the Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Lords on constitutional reform issues

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21 Comments

  • YellowSubmarine 29th Jun '17 - 1:48pm

    “Faustian pact” – Do you believe that the only view allowed is your own or perhaps your own party’s ? I would think the only Faustian pact on Lib Dems minds is the recent one between Lib Dems and Tory’s, a pact that was still a rock around LIb Dems necks just a few weeks ago.
    Deals between democratically elected groups are negotiated all the time on the continent as their electoral system rarely delivers a working majority. Why is it wrong here and fine over there ?
    If you want to move forward at the next election, whenever that is, you need to stop fighting the EU referendum.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Jun '17 - 2:01pm

    We should be encouraging far greater voting in parliament and elsewhere, along the lines not of party but principle.

    A party with no principles is no party I want to be in, but a party that thinks it’s principles, rather than policies, are the same thing, is wrong.

    To detour from the official line to that which is the individual one, is democracy deluxe!

    If Norman Lamb and his vote in the Commons , on triggering the relevant article, was seen as with his vote against bombing Syria, he would be a candidate for leader.

    As it is apparently because a number of rather loud people in leadership and membership think they know best, he , and many , are seen as having principles that are , not quite the right , or is that , left , thing ?!

    It is never good to label views, worse to do so , regarding those who hold them.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jun '17 - 2:58pm

    The Repeal Bill may be large but it is not great, unparliamentary language, tory spin for euro-sceptics, lacking enforcement mechanisms as Caroline Lucas has said (Green, Brighton Pavilion). The Reform Act 1832 denied votes for women, not great.
    God Luck with the “Bill for comprehensive reform of the party funding system”. Please note that the DUP may be getting Short money (PMQ 28/6/2017).
    Labour’s Chris Bryant has come first in the ballot in the Commons, but has not chosen a bill yet. He cannot ask to increase government expenditure, which rules outmost of the Labour manifesto, but he can ask to reduce it. As per Daily Politics 29/6/2017 he might try something on electoral reform and is being lobbied on twitter. How about electoral reform of some kind? Votes at 16 or a fair voting system for local government?

  • Alex Macfie 29th Jun '17 - 3:01pm

    YellowSubmarine: One major difference is that the Coalition commanded the combined support of a majority of the electorate, while the Tory-DUP deal does not. And the issue is whether the Lords should continue to hold to a Gentlemen’s agreement, which was introduced at a time when single-party government commanding close to half the vote was the norm, when what we now have is a not-quite-coalition that comes nowhere near that.

  • nvelope2003 29th Jun '17 - 4:30pm

    Before pressing for votes at 16 perhaps we should try to get more people over 18 to vote or there will be a further drop in turnout.

  • Dave Orbison 29th Jun '17 - 6:24pm

    Alex Macfie – “One major difference is that the Coalition commanded the commanded the combined support of the majority of the electorate.”

    No, no, no. Still the LibDems misrepresent what took place in 2010. The widely accepted view of the demise in the LibDem vote since then is because so many LibDem voters did not support a Coalition with the Tories.

    As one such LibDem voter at that time I cannot underline how annoying it is that even now my ‘stolen’ vote is misrepresented in this way.

    By stolen I simply mean that had the LibDems said they would be prepared to enter such a Coalition they never would have got my vote. Instead they conned me into offering a radical manifesto, with Nick Clegg’s assurances of no ‘broken promises’ and look what we got – supercharged austerity fronted day after day by LibDem Front Bench spokespersons rejoicing in the spotlight regardless of their message and impact on people.

  • Mick Taylor 29th Jun '17 - 6:59pm

    The short answer to Paul’s question is no. Labour peers will follow the whip. They will support Hard Brexit

  • Chris Bertram 29th Jun '17 - 8:27pm

    @Dave Orbison – I think you may not have been paying attention in the run up to the 2010 election. Nick Clegg made it clear that he did not rule out anything, and that the party with the largest number of MPs would have the responsibility to try to form a government. And anyway no arrangement with Labour could have worked. I suspect you were projecting your own desires onto the party leadership. That’s a dangerous game, and one that’s apt to lead to disappointment.

  • Dave Orbison 29th Jun '17 - 8:50pm

    Chris Bertram – you are right I was disappointed along with a couple of million more who voted LibDem and have not done so since.

    It’s all our fault. Yes keep going. No doubt it was those stupid students who didn’t understand the meaning of pledge too.

    The LibDems never ever wrong.

  • John Barrett 29th Jun '17 - 10:12pm

    Paul – “I have been asked often about whether the so-called “Salisbury-Addison Convention” applies during this Parliament, to proposals from a Government which did not obtain a majority in the Commons.”

    I am sure that many Lib Dem Voice readers, whenever they are out and about delivering leaflets and chatting to the public, find that lots of people ask them that same question.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jun '17 - 10:55pm

    Chris Bryant will decide what he can achieve, Government whips might talk out a private member’s bill as they did to Caroline Lucas’ 10 minute rule bill.

  • Firstly Paul Tyler, I see from your previous LDV articles that you do not often post in the comments sections of your articles. I hope this will change. Secondly as you are thinking of changing your private members bill I hope you will post another article on it when it is still in draft form so the readers of LDV can suggest some changes and you can engage in a debate with them.

    @ Dave Orbison

    I have sympathy with your view, especially on no more broken promises and austerity. I was content for the Liberal Democrats to go into government with the Conservatives and I was too quick to accept a deal which took one of our policies and one of theirs in the deal making process and accepted Conservative deficit reducing targets. I think in any future agreement less should be agreed and we shouldn’t support Conservative (or Labour) policies we argued against during the campaign. However when asked during the 2010 campaign which party we would support the answer I think was clear – the one with the most votes and seats would get the first opportunity to do a deal with us.

    I hope that the Liberal Democrats will become once again a radical social liberal party, which will have no place for economic liberal policies. Hopefully when this is achieved you will be able to vote for us again.

  • The coalition was a disaster you can’t get away from that. Far to many rushed into it without extracting a high enough price. If you want to see how to do coalition sit back and watch the DUP, they are giving a master class in how a tail can wag a dog.

  • Martin Land 30th Jun '17 - 7:44am

    Labour have principles? When did that happen?

  • Labour, principles….. I doubt it…

  • Richard Underhill 30th Jun '17 - 8:57am

    Those who want to create a new, wider, centre party now know who the Labour Pro-European MPs are because they voted to stay in the single market and customs union yesterday and three of them were sacked from Labour’s shadow cabinet for defying Corbyn. Expect Labour peers to be tribal.
    Enough Tory MPs must have threatened to rebel over equality of treatment for Northern Irish women to cause themagic money tree to bear fruit.

  • David Evershed 30th Jun '17 - 10:59am

    Chuka Umunna’s House of Commons amendment to stay in the single market and customs union was defeated by 322 votes to 101.

    Most MPs listening to their constituents.

  • @David Evershed – Err no, just another example of most MPs listening to their party whips and behaving like sheep – witness Jeremy Corbyn’s actions against those who disobeyed his direction, sending out a clear message as to what happens to dissenting voices on the Labour benches…

  • Dave Orbison 30th Jun '17 - 11:57pm

    Roland – so are you suggesting that when the LibDems were in Coalition they did not operate a whip system?

    For example on student fees, yes that again, were those LibDems who were on Govt office and who broke the pledge not following a whip?

  • Thanks to all who have commented so positively: for those (like Michael BG) who will be interested to see my Democratic Political Activity (Funding and Expenditure) Bill in its updated form, this should be available on line and in printed format from the House of Lords shortly. It doesn’t – at the moment – deal effectively with all the clandestine campaign spending by the Leavers in the EU Referendum, but I am hoping to strengthen this aspect if and when we get into Committee. Contributions welcome !

  • John Littler 9th Jul '17 - 9:58am

    Some Tories are now saying that they would like a short period of Corbyn in power, obviously they mean to have Labour delivering brexit and taking the hit. Other Tories want to have other parties at the brexit table, obviously to spread the blame.
    Every week, brexit is looking like the fairy tale led plodding disaster it is and the Tories are responsible for it so should own this disaster and go down with it for a generation. Other parties should not get too close. The LibDems would then be in a great position to come through the middle as they did under Kennedy after Iraq, but much bigger.

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