Yesterday in the Lords: Labour prepare the ground for rejection of Lords Reform

We pick up from where we left off earlier…

Onwards into the night, the Lords raged in their own, uniquely genteel, way.

Whilst with his usual radical enthusiasm, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, put his finger on the problem with the current composition of the House of Lords;

We are the creatures of patronage. There are only two ways to get into this place. One is because you are a friend of the Prime Minister, or at least he does not object to you, and the other is because your great-grandmother slept with the king.

Conservatives and Crossbenchers, Bishops and Labour Peers purveyed a selection of reasons to oppose reform;

  • “it isn’t a priority at this time of economic crisis” or, as Baroness Royall of Blaisdon put it;
  • The reform of your Lordships’ House is an important issue and one that we need to get right, but the idea that it is the most pressing issue facing the country is risible.

  • “we need to discuss the matter further”, courtesy of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean;
  • A constitutional convention is the responsible and sensible way to resolve the huge questions that the supporters of the Bill have so conspicuously failed to answer. We did it for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so why not do it for the United Kingdom as a whole?

    (Perhaps if you had done that when removing most of the hereditary Peers, you might have the benefit of consistency?)

  • “it will cost far too much”, as Lord Lipsey claimed;
  • The headline numbers are that the extra costs of the reforms will be, in year 1, £177 million, and over the five-year Parliament of 2015-20, £433 million. To put that in a more down-to-earth way, it is the equivalent of 80,000 hip replacements-a comparison that should appeal to Members of your Lordships’ House-or a year’s salary for 13,000 nurses.

    (That would be ‘making up the numbers so that they can be used against any meaningful reform’ – as patented by the ‘No’ campaign during the AV referendum)

    Meanwhile, the noble Lords Steel of Aikwood, and Phillips of Sudbury, from the Liberal Democrat benches, were unconvinced too… As Andrew Phillips put it;

    I am not at all persuaded that the proposed reforms of this House will achieve their aims, irrespective of whether it is wholly or partly elected. Indeed, I think that a partly elected House would be more of a dog’s dinner than a wholly elected one. I am much more committed to the reforms proposed in the original Steel Bill, with others besides – in particular the reform of the appointments system, which is lacking. I believe that criteria for appointments should be agreed between both Houses of Parliament.

    All in all, it wasn’t looking good for proponents of reform. With cross-benchers uniformly hostile, Conservative supporters keeping their heads down, and Labour finding every excuse in the book to oppose their own manifesto commitment, it appeared that the chances that the House of Lords will quietly roll over and let the Commons have its way was nil. But we knew that already…

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    14 Comments

    • David Boothroyd 1st May '12 - 4:50pm

      If Clegg wanted Labour support he would have made sure the Labour Party had an input into the details of what was proposed. He didn’t. Lords reform isn’t a binary issue of in favour or against; the details of the scheme matter and the Labour Party is entitled to oppose if it thinks the details of this particular scheme are wrong. And the Labour Party is not obliged to help the Liberal Democrats if one of their policies hits trouble.

    • John Richardson 1st May '12 - 5:05pm

      If Clegg wanted Labour support he would have made sure the Labour Party had an input into the details of what was proposed.

      What… you mean like an all-party committee with prominent Labour politicians such as Jack Straw, Rosie Winterton, and Lady Royall as members?

    • There are no excuses for Labour’s position on this – it is just pure opportunism. And the Tories need to be warned yet again (if it weren’t obvious enough) that if they fail on Lords reform, they can kiss their boundary changes goodbye.

    • David Boothroyd 1st May '12 - 5:20pm

      The draft Bill was a Government proposal, not a product of the cross-party Committee, as Baroness Royall made clear on 17 May 2011: “The purpose of the group was to produce a draft Bill, and I have to tell the House today that it did not do so.” Hansard HL 5ser vol 727 col 1271.

    • Jayne Mansfield 1st May '12 - 6:02pm

      @ RC
      Surely if one believes that boundary changes are a necessary way of increasing fairness and therefore democracy , they shouldn’t be used as a tit-for tat negotiating tool.

    • Richard Shaw 1st May '12 - 6:03pm

      @David

      I think the debates, committees and reports published over the last 100 years should have aired most things that could be said for and against Lords reform and on the various details. Draft Bills are draft for a reason – so that they can be scrutinised before being possibly amended while going through Parliament. If Parliamentarians were as fastidious as they are on Lords Reform on any other topic I’m certain they would pass no more than one or two Bills each decade. I’m equally certain that the reason this is the case is due to the self- and political- interest of those involved.

    • John Richardson 1st May '12 - 7:04pm

      @Jayne

      But reducing the number of constituencies does not increase fairness. It makes the representational deficit even worse. IMO, we should never have agreed to the reduction unless voting reform was also passed. Resizing constituencies could be done with our without voting reform.

    • Labour will oppose Lords reform by any discrete means possible, because:
      1. They think sinking it will lead to the collapse of the coalition
      2. They dont want the Coalition, and the Lib Dems in particular to have any legacy of reform – particularly not any that highlights their own failures.

    • Richard Church 1st May '12 - 11:19pm

      Mboy- You’ve got it right. They won’t support HofL reform that is someone else’s idea, hence David Boothroyd’s comment. It would actually show up their shameful inaction over 13 years to deliver nothing more than a second chamber dominated by patronage.

    • John Richardson 2nd May '12 - 7:12am

      Equal constituencies should be a fundamental feature of a democracy.

      I can think of more fundamental features. Like, you know, elections.

    • Steel should have the whip withdrawn.

    • ‘Stephen W’ how naive can you be !? The voting reform referendum was a dead duck when the system proposed was one that would immediately divide those in favour of a fairer voting system. It should have been taken as a two stage process, first to demonstrate the support from the public on having a fairer system, and then a working group to put the choices to parliament.. thus it was lost when the coalition agreement was drawn up.. But then to suggest that anybody ‘lost’ it .. did you not see the blatant lies of the ‘no’ campaign; did you not witness the bias of the media ?

    • Mainly as an aide memoire and to facilitate further reading by other casual readers:

      The transcripts of the three-part Lords debate concerning the motion “That this House takes note of the report from the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill.” can be found here:

      Part I: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2012-04-30a.1937.11
      Part II: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2012-04-30a.2013.5
      Part III: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2012-05-01a.2081.2

      Whilst I have not read them in full, there are many good points made concerning the need for reform and whether the proposed bill is an appropriate vehicle. I personally like Lord Forsyth of Drumlean’s observation:

      “The House of Commons should look out for this Bill. It will be decided in the House of Commons, not here. It is right that it should be decided in the House of Commons, because the House of Commons is sovereign. ”
      [http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?gid=2012-05-01a.2083.1]

      Additionally, the relevant source documents may be accessed by following the listed URLs:
      The Joint Committee Report: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201012/jtselect/jtdraftref/284/284i.pdf
      The Alternative Report (from a minority group within the joint Committee): http://www.houseoflordsreform.com/
      The Draft Bill: http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm80/8077/8077.pdf

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