Flawed bill, floored coalition

by Phil Hunt

Lords reform faces a hugely uncertain future with the failure of the Coalition government to even put its timetable motion to the vote in the House of Commons last night. The humiliating climb down was a sight to behold. As the Coalition partners slugged it out over a long two day debate, it became abundantly clear that a mass of Tory MPs would not support the Bill. Equally clear during the debate, was the catastrophic failure by Nick Clegg to produce a coherent piece of legislation.

Whatever the controversies over whether the second chamber should be 80% or 100% elected, once only terms of 15 years or the place of bishops, the focus of most MPs was on the powers of an elected Lords. And the lack of any convincing argument from Ministers as to how legislative gridlock was to be avoided between two elected chambers was rapidly exposed.

Potentially, the House of Lords has a lot of muscle. The pre-legislative scrutiny undertaken by the Joint Select Committee it reported back: “if the Lords chose to use its powers, it would be one of the most powerful second chambers in the world”. Yet it hasn’t done this for many years, precisely because its current members know they lack democratic legitimacy. Conventions have developed to help Peers exercise a voluntary constraint. An all or mostly elected chamber will give short shrift to that.

One of the more fanciable claims made by the government about its Lords Reform Bill was that Mr Clegg had dealt with the fear of many MPs that Commons primacy would be challenged by an elected second chamber. In fact, all the Bill does is to say that the Parliament Acts will apply. Without the conventions however, there will be little to hold back a confident and assertive House.

Indeed, under what is currently proposed, an elected Lords could reject all legislation, thereby forcing an extensive use of the Parliament Acts and delaying Bills by a minimum of 13 months but probably longer. It could also make extensive changes to legislation and refuse to back down at the ‘ping-pong’ stage, forcing the Commons to concede on major changes. And it could even veto all secondary legislation. Over a thousand pieces of such statutory instruments go through each year, and these are not covered by the Parliament Acts.

Alongside all of this, there are potential issues with the government’s proposal for new Lords to be elected under a system of proportional representation. Those who arrive at Parliament by this route may well start to claim greater legitimacy since the argument will run that the second chamber more nearly matches the votes of the public at general elections.

None of this is to argue against an elected second chamber. Far from it. But it does show how flawed the current proposals are.

As the dust settles this morning, Ministers seem to be promising another Programme Motion come the autumn. They are clearly hoping to buy time to persuade Tory MPs to let a Bill through that they have no belief in. Few Westminster watchers, would bet on the government achieving this. Few, too, would conclude that the Coalition is in anything but a sickly condition, having bizarrely chosen to prioritise Lords reform over the many more pressing issues concerning our country at this time.

Lord Phil Hunt of Kings Heath is Labour’s Deputy Leader in the House of Lords

To keep up to date with Labour’s activities in the Lords, visit www.labourlords.org.uk or follow @LabourLordsUK

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4 Responses to “Flawed bill, floored coalition”

  1. Nick says:

    Yet it hasn’t done this for many years, precisely because its current members know they lack democratic legitimacy


    So why haven’t you quit?

    Ah yes, the dictator in you is stronger than democratic rights.

  2. John Slinger says:

    A way around this impasse is for a system of Citizen Senators to be brought in as I argue here in the FT http://slingerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/financial-times-publishes-my-letter-on.html
    Citizen Senators would be selected by lot, as per juries. They would comprise 50% of the Senate, with the remainder being filled by Expert Senators. An independent commission would recommend Expert Senators, with final appointment hearings held by committees of Citizen Senators.
    Citizen Senators would serve for 12 months and receive training. They would be sworn to act only in the national, not party interest, much as a juror is sworn to decide only on the basis of the evidence.
    This would maintain the expert nature of the Lords, bring ordinary people from all backgrounds and parts of the country into Parliament, enhance the notion that being a citizen means more than placing an X on a ballot once every 5 years, and will avoid the inevitable constitutional crisis that will occur with a fully-elected Lords.
    I have written a longer article about this for a pamphlet which is to be published (not by me) later in the year.

  3. swatantra says:

    Dave still has one trick up his sleeve. He could threaten to call a snap election on : Who Governs Britain : The Coalition or the 100 odd Tory Rebels? That should bring these disgruntled career seeking redneck reactionaries back into line. Most would be anhilated at that GE, and they know it. The chances are that EdM and Labour would be returned as a minority Govt and would go into Coalition with the Greens. Labour would be bolde in introducing HoL Reform A Senate, 7 year terms and no rotten List Members but AV, and a clause that states specifically the Supremacy of the Common People.

  4. Anon E Mouse says:


    Having read your postings over the months I realise that you display the usual left wing hatred of the poor in this country and have all the arrogance of a middle class champagne socialist but here you have really lost touch with reality.

    Let me assure you as a working class person on minimum wage I fully support those individuals you describe as “redneck reactionaries” and still cannot accept that despite Blair saying we should get a referendum on the EU we still didn’t.

    Roll the dice and Cameron will win any election held tomorrow. The only people reading The Guardian newspaper or getting their news from the BBC are those completely out of touch with real working people.

    You should keep doing it swatantra…

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