Paul Tyler writes… Radicals and reactionaries on the red benches

Julian Glover, writing on the Guardian website, has called the situation in the House of Lords well today. “This is a ceasefire not an armistice,” he says.

As of midday today (Wednesday), Lord “Charlie” Falconer appears to have retreated from the undertakings he was giving earlier in the week to expedite the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies (PVSC) Bill. Labour Peers are apparently determined both delay and elongate the Report Stage, so making it impossible for the AV referendum to take place on May 5th. As Julian Glover says, “the behaviour of a gang of timeserving Labour MPs turned peers during committee stage in the Lords suggests the party is less interested in improvement than crude obstruction. Many have been talking rubbish to drag things out. They want the bill to die.”

Chris Rennard and I, with unanimous backing from our Lib Dem colleagues, have shown this to be a clear betrayal of Labour’s own manifesto promises. In addition, of course, it may well stoke up the pressure for radical reform of the House of Lords – on which Labour Peers are also backtracking as fast as their robes will allow them!

For background on what’s been going on in the past few weeks, have a look at my piece on the Guardian website and Chris Rennard’s own post on Friday.

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  • I think the whole thing has been a ridiculous waste of time and resources. The Government have yet to show what concessions they will make, my understanding (and I’m sure this was articulated during the debate) was that Labour would allow committee to end but would return to some issues during report and would wait to see the substance of the Governments concessions. Perhaps you could enlighten us to to what those concessions will be?

    On the matter of Manifesto’s….Isn’t a manifesto promise now classed as something you only have to keep if you win an election outright, that seems to be the defence you have given as a party to the wholesale failure to stick to the student pledge. If you do not have to keep yours in Government I think it a bit rich to highlight Labour not keeping theirs in opposition. Also is it not true that they have offered to allow the vote to take place had the Bill been split?

    Personally, I think all sides have behaved badly in this matter. The Bill should be split, the first part is simple and even opponents of AV should have no problems allowing the British people a vote on the matter. The second part should have been a more measured process with at least some pre-legislative scrutiny. I think there are serious issues that have been steamrollered by the Government, frankly I think they picked the fight they have been in. I also believe the Labour tactics have been wrong, but have yet to have explained what other tactics could have been used.

    I have listened to much of the debate (chronic insomnia helps along with being away from home through much of the week). I have been impressed with some of the arguments and thought others (along with the personal stories!) ridiculous.

    I am convinced that the 5% rule is too narrow to allow the effects of other issues (including your own amendment) to make enough difference. The geographical problems in some Scottish and Welsh constituencies seem compelling to me, and the arguments of using new technology to counter these do not stand up in areas with poor Broadband or for the elderly. The stupid idea in my area to have some form of Devonwall constituency (that seems likely given the rules to be followed) is just one of many examples of poorly thought through legislation. I am also convinced that the public consultation process needs to be looked at. One Labour amendment, supported by Lord Woolf seemed to be common sense and would have avoided delaying beyond the 2015 election. In fact it seemed very similar to the Crossbench amendment accepted in principle by the Government. This begs the question to me as to how willing the Government were to compromise.

    Let’s face it the Tories don’t give a monkeys about the referendum. Therefore they don’t care if it is delayed and have no intention of making any meaningful compromise to keep it on course. If the deadline is missed, they are the real winners here, they will eventually get their part of the Bill then provaricate over the AV date.

    I also do not feel there is a democratic mandate for the changes. The Tories did talk about reducing the number of MP’s, but they did not win the election. The Lib Dems talked about a more drastic reduction, but as this would have accompanied a proportional system it would have negated some of the issues over Boundary concerns.

    Some of the points being made outside of the house did seem both spin oriented and frankly a bit pathetic. Chris Rennard, for example, attempted to make out the delays were mainly related to the AV referendum in a recent blog on this site. It would be clear to most people who observed the debate that whilst this is the blunt weapon being used by Labour, the issues were with the other elements of the Bill. As to the coments about how many times Lord McAvoy had spoken in the Commons. I believe that both Labour and the Tories have a working practice that Government Whips do not generally contribute to HOC debates. The man spoke enough nonsense to highlight without needing to put a negative spin on the lack of input his role (as practiced by Labour) dictated.

  • @Steve Way

    Wow Impressive – I’ve had a few pints rtonight so I’ll appreciate it better in the morning.

    I think your right that Cameron is probably quite happy if AV misses the May date but obviously can’t admit it. Why the LibDem Parly leadership can’t spot that as a strong possibility defeats me. In any case there is a major prob brewing in Scotland with prisoners taking legal action because they’re not getting a vote at the Scottish Parly elections. So looks as though not just AV will be off but the elections as I don’t think they’ll be able to organise the prisoner vote in time.

    All very interesting stuff – those prisoners must all be Labour voters 🙂

    @ Paul Tyler who stated: ‘shown this to be a clear betrayal of Labour’s own manifesto promises’. My interpretation of the Manifesto Commitment was that we would have a referendum on AV and that hasn’t changed.

    It may be at a time which is inconvenient for the LibDems but that is politics and it’s a bit presumptuous anyway for any government to assume that it will always get its way or timing especially on an issue like this where you don’t have the support of all Tory MPs. But you seem to be forgetting the Labour Manifesto stipulation ‘by October 2011’ – I am unclear whether that actually applies to the AV referendum as it depends how your read it. Even if it doesn’t then that means there was never a date set so we are not tied to one by our Manifesto.

    If you want the May date de-couple the sordid compromise – however because of the prisoner vote issue in Scotland you probably ain’t going to get it anyway. It will also be interesting to watch how the Crossbenchers react if no concessions are given – badly I would think.

    But I have to advise Mr Tyler that the sooner the HoL is reformed and unelected Party Hacks can’t become Peers unless they stand for election the better and I do know that you have been an MP before and might actually understand the ‘constituency’ issue before anyone gets over-excited.

  • How the Tories must laugh. Whatever the policy, however ill conceived, ideologically driven or poorly thought out there is always a Lib Dem, grateful for the crumbs of government, waiting to speak in its defence.

    Whatever the arguments and merits of the content Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill it has been rushed through and there has been an apparent lack of consideration of the longer term consequences of issues such as the almost permanent boundary review process it instigates.

    There is a mood for electoral reform of some sort but not necessarily the one being prepared. A more cautious, consensual approach would have been better and longer term produced greater benefits for the Lib Dems. At present, the accusations of being the Tories’ hired hands or pushing for AV because of perceived narrow party advantage are both damaging.

  • Good. As I have posted before, by cutting MP (but not Minister) numbers, this bill will increase the power of the executive and weaken the legislature. Backbench rebellions will be fewer, defeats for ministers even more rare, bad bills will get through more easily.

    I am amazed that so many LibDems seem content with such a measure.

  • @Paul Tyler – as you have made negative comments about fillibustering by Labour how do you feel about the LibDems guilty of ‘unparliamentart behaviour’ last night by going through both the NO and YES Lobbies.

    You either observe all of the conventions or you lose any legitimacy in attacking someone else for failing to do so. Glass, house throw and stone come to mind 🙂

  • @John
    Excellent point that the reduction in MP numbers will only be a reduction in backbenchers. It will also reduce still further the pool of “talent” which a Prime Minister can select from when choosing ministers.

    In a largely elected upper chamber some seats should be reserved for Party nominations of ministers and opposition shadows. Rather like Lord Digby Jones advising the Labour government. But unlike Digby Jones such government appointees should require approval from a committee of MPs (a bit like the US model but hopefully speedier and less partisan) and, on leaving the government (or shadow role if in opposition), they would lose their seat in the upper chamber.

    Also, ministers and shadows in the upper chamber should have to face MPs questions, ending the ridiculous separation of the two chambers.

  • @Chris

    I agree with some of what you said but I don’t agree with the unelected Reps – if particular expertise is required then it can be brought in from outside or even the HoC Committee system used so that a considered report can be presented to the House of Reps.

    Doing it this way might even pressure political partied to ensure that their HoR candidates for election are of a high calibre rather than just party hacks being ‘parked’ on the red benches.

    But the real problem isn’t making the HoR an elected chamber but whether it stays as simply a revising chamber or whether it actually gets powers to block or radically change legislation further than the present system of ‘revising’.

    I think that’s the real problem and I really have doubts that any Government of the Day will grasp that particular nettle.

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