Deal struck in Lords over Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

From the BBC:

Tory and Labour peers have reached a deal ending the deadlock which threatened to block a 5 May referendum on changing the Westminster voting system, Lords leader Lord Strathclyde has said…

The government accepted in principle an amendment tabled by the convenor of crossbench peers, Baroness D’Souza, which reinstates public inquiries in the boundary review process in certain circumstances.

The crossbench peers’ amendment would allow, but not compel, the Boundary Commission to hold a local inquiry where an objection raised “substantive issues”. Inquiries would take no more than six months…

Lady D’Souza withdrew her amendment, telling peers she was encouraged by the minister’s response to her arguments.

She added that crossbench peers had been motivated to intervene in the “impasse” by “the shadow or the threat of anything approaching a ‘closure motion’ in this House”.

The Economist adds:

The House of Lords likes things to end with compromise deals, so this is on the face of it a traditional conclusion to this convoluted tale. But peers and MPs with an interest in constitutional matters take a rather different view. They say that the conduct of the House of Lords in recent days has looked nakedly partisan and aggressive in a way that feels unsustainable. The self-regulating ways of the upper house have been “abused”, said Lord Strathclyde this evening, adding that a “genie” was now out of the bottle.

Tories say that the Labour party has behaved disgracefully: to simplify, they think that a group of thuggish Scottish ex-MPs have brought the rough and tumble ways of the Commons to the courtly red leather benches of the upper house. Moderate Labour peers say that, yes the Scottish newboys behaved badly at first, but that more recently this has been a perfectly legitimate display of close, line-by-line scrutiny, and that the Tories are the vandals trying to ram a big constitutional change through at high speed. And what is more, they claim, a surprising number of Tories have been egging the Labour rebels on, seeing them as defenders of the powers of the House of Lords.

The BBC’s James Landale has also pointed out that,

Although this row is ostensibly about how MPs should be elected, it is really about the balance of power in the House of Lords. At the heart of many of Labour’s grievances lies the fact that the voting arithmetic is against them in the Lords. The fact of the coalition means Tory and Lib Dem peers together create a formidable voting block that is hard to beat. For Labour to win, they need a comprehensive turn out of their own peers and a goodly majority of the independent crossbenchers. Labour don’t like this…

This row has shown that in opposition Labour is prepared to be shameless in its use of the Lords as the Tories were in recent years. In government, it was a frequent refrain of Labour ministers to bemoan the constitutional outrage of an unelected second chamber blocking the passage of his legislation. It used to drive Tony Blair mad with frustration. Labour saw the House of Lords as a bastion of conservatism with a small and a large c, an illegitimate piece of grit in the democratic process. It was somewhere to park an unelected minister, it was somewhere to hide an unwanted MP. Now though, the worm has turned. Today it appears it is the duty of all progressive parliamentarians (that is unelected ex-MPs and party hacks) to stand in the way of a Bill that has been passed by the elected House of Commons. This, it seems, is the new politics.

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28 Comments

  • toryboysnevergrowup 1st Feb '11 - 9:16am

    Could someone help me – I’m trying to find similar articles on LibDem Voice criticising the House of Lords when it voted aggainst/delayed legislation passed by the elected House of Commons unfortunately without success. Could it be that unelected LibDem peers supported such actions in those days and talked about the need for checks and balances?

    Again could someone tell me where the electoral mandate is for these changes?

  • George W. Potter 1st Feb '11 - 9:22am

    @toryboysnevergrowup

    I doubt our peers have ever done that in the past.

    The democratic mandate comes from both labour and the lib dems having a policy on electoral reform in their manifestos. More than 50% of people voted for parties with policies on electoral reform, therefore electoral reform has a democratic mandate

  • toryboysnevergrowup 1st Feb '11 - 9:35am

    George W Potter

    Oh yes they have!

    The dispute wasn’t about the AV referendum – which BTW the LibDems were quite happy to avoid if they could. The LIbDem and Labour policies on electoral reform were quite different – but I have no problem in putting constitutional changes to the electorate in a referendum in the event that there is no all party consensus.

  • @George W. Potter
    You are half right. There is a madate for the AV referendum but not for the badlyplanned, ill researched butchery of the boundaries. Which is why far in advance of this fiasco I said on this site the Bill should be split. It would also have been a demonstration of the ‘new’ politics to have sped through legislation with cross party support and then worked through the contentious stuff.

    The problem with the Bill as it stands is that there has been no atempt at compromise from the Government. There was also none of the usual pre legislative scrutiny for a Bill of this magnitude probably because the referendum needed to be arranged for May.

    There is need for change, but the rubbish that has been spoken about fairer votes is just a smokescreen. There is a way to give votes equal value and it is neither rebalancing the boundaries or AV but some form of PR. The boundary commision need flexibility, if you remove that you effectively remove their independance.

    The only people to come out of this looking good are the cross benchers, and they will probably be gone soon if reform of the Lords takes place.

    As to the behaviour of Liberal Lords. If Chris Rennard’s recent thread on this site is anything to go by I wouldn’t expect too much. He began with a title that suggested the delays were about AV when Labour had long stated they would allow that to pass, and then berated a Labour Lord for his lack of comments when in the commons when it transpires that there is a convention (held by both Tories and Labour) that government whips do not generally contribute to debate there. Absolutely berate him for the amount and content of his interventions but do not add the needless spin.

    Personally I see this Government taking on too many of the bad points of New Liebour. Broken promises, spin, lack of adaptability to circumstance, early announcements to meet the needs of the media and not the country and the unwillingness to compromise, some of the reasons Labour will not be getting my vote anytime soon. I had hoped to see the Lib Dems changing these traits in Government and not joining them.

  • Roger Roberts 1st Feb '11 - 10:15am

    “Tory and Labour peers “!!!!

  • toryboysnevergrowup 1st Feb '11 - 10:30am

    It is quite clear that all the talk in the past about the Lords being a revising and scrutiny chamber which provided checks and balances on those matters where there was no clear electoral mandate given to the House of Lords was just that – i.e. talk. Now the Tories and Lib Dems have a clear majority in the House of Lords – beefed up by party hacks such as Lord Rennard – its role is just to act as a rubber stamp for the Coalition government, this is a change from its previous role which was to frustrate a Labour government. If there is a better argument for reform of the second chamber – both with regard to its role and the electoral accountability of its membership I have yet to hear it.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 1st Feb '11 - 10:31am

    in my previous post the first refernce to the House of Lords should have been to the Commons.

  • If we want new politics then let’s start with the HoL – let’s get rid of the Heredetaries and have the rest all up for election.

    Let’s sweep aside all this claptrap about being a revising chamber only – along with elections should come power to block legislation from the HoC.

    Let’s have the HoL elections at the same time as the GE and use a full-blooded PR system to provide ‘balance’ or at least some kind of direct representation of the public views and wishes. I would also set the term at 10 years ie two HoC Parliaments and not allow any Representative to serve more than one term so that we had an infusion of fresh blood and energy on a regular basis.

    Let’s get out of this being stuck in aspic and actually create a chamber that scrutinises with power as this will ensure that the government of the day tries harder in the HoC to bring forward bills on a consensual basis and with some pre-legislative thought and consultation.

    Yes we will lose some of the expertise that we have but that will be replaced in time – Elected Representatives will build their own area of expertise just as in the Commons. And as this HoL would be a revising Chamber with teeth let’s have ‘office hours’ instead of times arranged to suit those with other jobs. The representatives would, like present, not deal with ‘constituency matters and they would not be allowed to accept ‘lobbyist’ funding.

    Tying their vote to a constituency is one of the checks and balances that need to be created to prevent the new House of Representatives being a rubber-stamp for HoC Bills – as it tends to be at the moment or, at least, every government of the day tries to make it.

    We really have got to stop this ‘dumping’ of people into the Lords because of services rendered usually to their political party – in this day and age it’s obscene and an affront to Democracy.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 1st Feb '11 - 12:48pm

    While I agree with much of what EcoJohn proposes for the House of Lords – I don’t think that you can really start making sensible decisions about how a second chamber should operate until there is a clearly understood view of what are and are not the roles and functions of the second chamber. The manner in which many LibDems and Tories have reacted recently all too clearly demonstrates their views as to how a second chamber should operate are very much a moveable feast depending on whether or not they are in power (and I daresay others might wish to point out inconsistencies on the Labour side despite our natural claim to all things that are right and good!). It should also be pointed out that changing how our constitution operates is also a pretty serious matter – and as such any changes need to be properly developed and put to the electorate BEFORE they are put in place. A vague electoral commitment to reform of the House of Lords is really not enough, and there is a lot to be said to the Constitutional Commission approach adopted for Scottish devolution where most of the details were worked out before the 1997 General Election and the subsequent referendum.

    If the present shower are allowed to reform the House of Lords one can only imagine the mess that they will create.

    I also have a worry – that even if we want a second chamber that is meant to give expert scrutiny to legislation it will still be made up of elected party hacks, who are not good enough for the first chamber, and whose only expertise is in running party machines. But at least if the purpose of the second chamber is properly defined we could at least place some trust in the electorate to select the right representatives.

  • @Jedibeeftrix
    “In. Your. Opinion. Some of us are quite happy with FPTP because we place a priority on both the constituency link and the decisive manifesto mandate.”

    I was talking about giving votes equal value. FPTP has merits but can never do this, you will never remove all safe seats for either main party and therefore there will always be those whose vote, in effect has no value. PR however can ensure that every vote really has equal value and using top up lists the local accountability can be retained. Unless you forceably repatriate voters into Labour / Lib Dem / Tory etc etc Ghettos of equal size then FPTP can never give botes equal value.

    The boundaries do need to be altered but if you actually believed in the constiuency link, and had listened to any of the Lords debate you would realise that this is going to be eroded in many rural areas.

  • @toryboysnevergrowup – you party political points are really disappointing; it simply isn’t just political game-playing. Incindentally, I found this interesting, 101 years on: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Arts/Arts_/Pictures/2010/3/5/1267810632184/Labour-poster-from-1909-001.jpg

    However, re the substantive discussion on the Lords, I believe in a party/philosophy driven second chamber, pure PR based, and a House of Commons/constituencies driven lower house AV which will be for local MPs to lobby on behalf of their constituents.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 1st Feb '11 - 2:57pm

    @Henry

    I don’t deny that I make party political points from time to time – only LibDems appear to be able to speak without showing their political affiliations, apparently! It is interesting however how political game playing has maintained an unelected second chamber for so long – when there has really been little in teh way of rational arguments for its maintenance.

    Re you general split of responsibilities – I am not sure how you would take the party/philosophy out of the lower house. I am also not sure who does the detailed scrutiny of legislation which has often been missing in recent years – and has led to an awful lot of poor legislation (to be non party political for a moment).

  • @toryboysnevergrowup, Labour Government legislation was occasionally voted down or significantly amended in the Lord but only when a majority of the Lords voted for it. Labour have been using filibustering tactics because they can’t persuade enough of their own side and cross benchers that the Government position is wrong in order to win any vote. So they are opposing something already passed in the commons and which a majority of the Lords also approve of by IMHO illegitimately blocking its progress. This bill has had far far more scrutiny than any such equivalent bil that Labour passed in its 13 years in power.

    Labour had 13 years in order to democratise the Lords and failed, lets hope this Government succeeds where Labour failed miserably. However I can’t help but feel that at this rate Labour will oppose that.as well

  • @jedibeeftrix

    You say you favour FPTP because you place a priority on both the constituency link and the decisive manifesto mandate. If that is the case then you can not really support Tebbit’s claim. Total national vote share has no relationship with the constituency vote. If in one constituency Tory voters vote in large numbers, even though the result is a foregone conclusion, resulting in a majority of tens of thousands; yet in another constituency Labour voters vote in not so large numbers, knowing the result is a foregone conclusion, resulting in a majority of thousands. Is one MP more legitimate than the other?

  • Liberal Neil 1st Feb '11 - 7:11pm

    I thought that both the Lib Dems and the Tories had a commitment to reduce the number of MPs in their manifestos? If they did, then major boundary changes are an inevitability.

  • @Liberal Neil
    There was in the Tory Manifesto but not, I believe (I could be wrong but I’m sure I checked early in this fiasco), in the Lib Dem one and no mention of changing the rules to the extent they have or this ‘magic’ number of 600.

  • @Mark Pack

    Thanks for that, of course if the Lib dems had won a proportional system would have been implemented making most of the wrangling pointless….

    I still have big concerns about the general mood to reduce the number of MP’s. If it is to be done it should be at the same time as improving westminster procedures to allow them more time in the bigger constituencies when parliament is is session.

  • David Allen 1st Feb '11 - 9:40pm

    Reducing the number of MPs is populist nonsense. It will ensure that the payroll vote is dominant and so the independence of the Commons is totally lost. There is a real risk that when the public see how useless the Commons becomes they will want it scrapped altogether.

  • @Liberal Neil – In one of the all night Lords sessions I am sure that the LibDem Manifesto commitment was given as 500 MPs but with PR – it came from a Peer and was mentioned a few times but I don’t know if accurate.

  • By the way the LibDems have been polling very badly i.e. at 8% in the last 3 YouGov polls. I think the Party needs to wake up if they want to exist in the next Parliament rather than blindly support the nasty Tory policies.

  • @BB

    I don’t think there’s anything they can do they are handcuffed to the Tories for 5 years or until the Tories decide to shed them.

    I suppose if Clegg chucks it or is deposed then a window might open that could allow the LibDems to move to a Confidence and Supply position with the Tories and an understanding with Labour to protect the weaker and poorer sections of society by blocking the most savage Tory moves and by pursuing real growth policies.

    I don’t think Cameron would feel the need to go to a GE as he would quite likely lose so he would need to swallow it. But if all the opposition parties combined with LibDems to and created a motion of confidence scenario then Camerom might be forced into a GE. Ordinarily I would welcome that but the possible financial consequences for the economy from international speculators makes it not worth the gamble.

    So we have an important time coming up with the referendum, May elections and LibDem Spring Conference and possibly after that things may be clearer. There is no doubt in my mind that many LibDem MPs have already identified Clegg as an electoral liability and that their own chances of survival would be enhanced with his demise.

    In a way the public hatred for the LibDems might be assuaged if Clegg went because they hate him more. I’ve only ever seen the same level of hatred with Thatcher but with her it all came from the Left whereas with Clegg it comes from all sides.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 2nd Feb '11 - 10:10am

    @Peter1919

    You appear to start from the position that the majority in the House of Lords has some democratic legitimacy – and that there is a democratic electoral mandate for the proposed boundary changes. I’m afraid I don’t share that view – so I can see a moral and logical justification for the filibuster by Labour peers. Certain LibDems may wish to believe that they have a monopoly on what they believe to be the moral high ground – but that is merely their own view, and throwing accusations around of disgraceful etc is just political game playing on their part.

    Yes Labour was in favour of the democratisation of the House of Lords and it failed in its objective – but perhaps they didn’t want to endanger the rest of its programme by enetring into a battle with the illegitimate majority in the House of Lords, especially given what had happened on hunting.

    And no I don’t believe going forward that a democratic second chamber should be established by piecemeal changes to the House of Lords when there is no clear democratic mandate for what tthe changes should be. Ideally, properly thought out proposals should be developed by a Constitutional Commission would could develop a range of possible alternatives that could be put to the electorate in a referendum – such a structure would actaully give us something more permanent and with a better domocratic mandate than a cosy backroom deal stitched together between the Tories and LibDems (National Liberal controlling faction).

  • No electoral mandate for changes to the House of Lords?

    Page 88 of the Lib Dem Manifesto

    “Replace the House of Lords with a fully-elected second chamber with considerably fewer members than the current House.”

    Page 67 of the Conservative manifesto

    “We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence”

    And this is in addition to the 2007 Commons votes in favour of either a 100% elected or 80% elected and 20% appointed House of Lords

    Frankly I think this is more than enough electoral mandate and that after discussing reform of the Lords for 100 years it is well past time for a bit of action to bring some democracy to the second chamber of our legislature.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 3rd Feb '11 - 9:50am

    @Peter 1919

    The two positions you outline are different and the 2007 votes were for 3 different positions- I could also argue that what the Conservattives said about working to build a consensus (but not the allowing an unelected bit) – is not a million miles away from my own view about how to proceed – a constitutional commission and then put the proposals to the Electorate in a General Election or a referendum. To do otherwise would mean that legitimacy of any 2nd Chamber would be under challenge from the start – and set a poor precendent of allowing our coalition to be changed by back door deals between coalition members none of whom have a clear elctoral mandate.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 3rd Feb '11 - 9:55am

    I should add of course that Tory idea of what is meant by a consensus may well be very different from my own – I don’t mean a consensus with their fellow coalition members but with the electorate as a whole.

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