Yesterday in the Lords: flightless poultry call for a postponement of Christmas?

So, the Joint Select Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill has reported, and it would be fair to say that the ladies and gentlemen in ermine are, to put it mildly, perturbed. So perturbed that an extra two days were set aside for debate before the House prorogues prior to the Queen’s Speech.

With Lord Richard, the Chair of the Committee, focussing on the work of the Commiittee itself, it was left to Baroness Scott of Needham Market to make the opening speech for meaningful reform;

Two phrases are constantly used in the context of Lords reform. The first is the one about turkeys voting for Christmas. It is an expression I have come to loathe. We supporters of an elected House will have to do better than that in support of our case, and I believe that we will do so. But, equally, those who argue “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, which is my second hated phrase, will also have to do better. If our system is not broken, it is certainly showing signs of wear and tear, and I do not believe that we can ignore those signs indefinitely.

She went on to conclude;

In the final analysis, even we must rule by consent. There is a danger that if we turn our faces against all reform, those who argue that there is no need for a second Chamber will grow in number. For the opponents of change, there is a danger that we will win this battle but lose the war.

Opponents of the proposed reforms seemed fixated on the Steel Bill which, having been filleted by noble Lords, ran into the sands in the Commons on Friday, failing to be moved for Second Hearing there. As Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean stated;

I support the sort of reform put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

Curious, was it not, how so few Labour Peers were keen to support it at the time.

But, to close this first part of our review of the debate, I have been asked to highlight Lord Thomas of Gresford‘s contribution, in which he reminded us of a past leader of the Liberals in coalition;

What we are facing here in opposition to the Bill are the forces of inertia, however it is described. Lloyd George understood and even sympathised with this notion. After all, he had spent six years in coalition with the Tories. He was the Nick Clegg of his day, you might say. He had the Nick Clegg experience. Speaking at the National Liberal Club in 1924, Lloyd George said:

“Toryism undoubtedly makes an appeal to one essential mood of human nature — that of fundamental inertia; and that is sometimes a real human need … every man tends to become a Tory himself when tired, disinclined for exertion, wishing to be left alone, cross with anyone who proposes new efforts, and, may I add, tempted to view the drink traffic with an unusually friendly eye. Toryism makes an inherent and instinctive appeal to very prevalent moods in human nature — contentment with your own lot; indifference to the lot of others, often through ignorance of the conditions or the imagination to realise them; rooted habits and prejudices”.

However, Toryism, as Lloyd George defined it, is just as active on the opposition Benches as it is on these Benches. “Not now”, says the noble Baroness the former Leader of the House, “Not like this”. “Give us a constitutional convention”, others cry — anything except action. Toryism on all sides of the House, said Lloyd George, would, if left alone, do nothing. Liberals would break the soil with the plough.

Join us tomorrow, for more of the debate…

* Mark Valladares is Liberal Democrat Voice’s Tuesday Co-Editor, specialising in coverage of the House of Lords and Europe.

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