Archive for the 'House of Lords' Category

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The Lords vote to delay, not kill, Osborne’s tax credits plan

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Reminder: PB gathering Shooting Star Pub, London on Thursday evening from 6.30pm



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David Herdson asks: Where are UKIP’s 34 peers?

Friday, July 31st, 2015

An unreformed Lords shouldn’t be a closed shop for the old parties

Sex, money and people in high places all make for a good scandal, as Lord Sewel found out to his cost this last week. And as usually happens when a member of the Lords gets into trouble, the opponents of the institution cite it as an example of the need for reform of it, or even its outright abolition.

Not that there’s a chance of serious reform any time soon. It suits both Conservative and Labour governments to keep a second chamber that doesn’t pose too much of a threat to the first and into which they can parachute placemen and -women. It suits the Lib Dems too to keep their hundred peers in place while their representation in the Commons lies in single figures; a point which may have to the forefront of their thinking when they folded so easily on the subject in the last parliament.

Because the fact is that even more than the Commons, the Lords is a club for the established parties: the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems have 539 peers between them; all other parties, just twelve. There are of course more than two hundred non-party peers – crossbenchers, unaligned and bishops – but while that provides diversity in one sense, it does little to reflect changing voting patterns.

The last government in its coalition agreement pledged itself to appoint new peers with the intention of reflecting the previous election. It never quite got there and it was always a bit of a silly objective: were it to be followed rigorously, the see-saw effect of electoral swing combined with the length of peers’ service would see numbers in the Lords expand out of all control. To have been pushing Lib Dem membership up to 23% when their opinion poll rating was marooned in single figures would have looked unjustifiable.

However, that objection can be navigated if we take not the last election as the baseline but an average of the last three, both to mitigate the see-saw effect and on the basis that 15 years is closer (though probably still short) of the average length of a peer’s service. If, to avoid the introduction of flash-in-the-pan parties, we also introduce a 3% UK-wide threshold, or a 10% threshold for the regional parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, then on the basis of 550 party peers there’d be the following numbers:

Con 202 (actual 226)
Lab 181 (actual 212)
LD 101 (actual 101)
UKIP 34 (actual 3)
SNP 15 (actual 0 on principle)
DUP 4 (actual 4)
Plaid 3 (actual 2)
Sinn Fein 3 (actual 0 on principle)
SDLP 2 (actual 0)
UUP 2 (actual 2)

The Greens fall below the threshold (the three Green parties within the UK averaged just 1.9% between them over the 2005-15 period) but do have one member of the Lords at present.

Various things stand out on that list: the existing bias to the Tories and Labour (soon to be increased, apparently), the Lib Dems being spot on their ‘quota’, and the near-fair representation of those regional parties which allow their members to participate in the Lords. But by far the most striking is the scale of UKIP’s under-representation.

There may be some justification for this. On the criteria above, UKIP wouldn’t have crossed the qualifying threshold until this last election (their average from 2001-10 was only 2.3%) but even if they were expected to work up to their full allocation over three parliaments, they’d still be entitled to eleven or twelve in this one: four times what they actually have.

The House of Lords has never justified itself on democratic legitimacy but on grounds of effectiveness. Which is all very well but the fact is that democratic arguments are put forward when it suits one politician or another to do so. So would it really hurt to give a voice to the one in eight at the last election who voted for Farage’s party? Who knows – they might even brighten the place up.

David Herdson



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Will the Lords euthanize Lansley’s bill?

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Is the government about to lose a major reform?

This has not been a good week for the government. The ongoing difficulties of Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox, are far from over as the investigation into both his own and his friend Adam Werrity’s conduct continues. This alone will make for a difficult Prime Minister’s Questions. It could be about to get worse.

    The Conservatives went into the last election with plans to empower local providers of many services to enable the providers and clients to shape those services according to local and individual needs, free of the controlling hand of Whitehall. For the NHS, the Health and Social Care bill was the result of that objective.

It has not had a happy passage through parliament. First there was a revolt among Lib Dem activists at their party’s Spring Conference, filtering up to MP’s at Westminster, which prompted a ‘listening exercise’ and substantial rewriting and watering down of the proposals. Then the government tabled a huge number of further amendments as the bill reached the Lords, prompting accusations of inadequate drafting and giving opponents a fine stick with which to beat it.

Those opponents (and perhaps some who agree with it in principle but believe that no bill is better than a badly written bill), will today seek to send it to a special select committee, where progress would be likely to be delayed so long that it would fail. If it does, Lansley and the Tories are unlikely to try for major reform again this parliament – it simply would not be worth the effort for what could be passed.

    It is rare for any government to lose a piece of legislation, never mind such a major one, but then it is unusual for Britain to have a hung parliament and if one consequence of that is that proposed legislation will in future need to be better written and subject to more scrutiny, that’s no bad thing. For Lansley, the only consolation if the bill does fall is that there’s plenty else in the news to drown out the (for him) bad news. On the other hand, if Fox does leave the cabinet one way or another, it would leave him vulnerable in the reshuffle that would ensue.

Mentioning Fox, Ladbrokes’ market asking whether he’ll still be in post at the turn of the year is 4/6 that he will and 11/10 not. It’s really a bet on the nature of what else there is to be revealed, and for how long it will go on, which is too much of a blind guess for my liking.  However, if he does go, it’s more likely to be within the next week than after it.

David Herdson



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Could today hasten the end for the House of Lords?

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Are peers ready to continue the battle with the commons?

Later this morning, at about 11am, the controversial voting and constituencies bill returns to the upper house after MPs last night overturned the changes that peers had sought to impose.

Do their lordships now acquiesce and approve the bill as agreed in the commons or do they seek to continue the battle. If so they could stop the AV referendum taking place as planned on May 5th?

For the legal time-table means that the bill has to complete its passage though both houses before peers and MPs rise for their half-term recess.

A challenge for the coalition is that following the Labour government’s peer creation programme the red team is the biggest grouping in the upper house. It has the votes although the very sizeable cross-bench segment is likely today to play a key role.

One thing we do know about David Cameron is that he doesn’t like being defied and you could see him instituting his own peer creation programme if the Lords go against him.

All this is against the background of plans to reform the second chamber which the coalition is committed to.

My guess is that the cross-benchers in particular will see the danger of upper house reforms being brought in against the background the the Lords frustrating a key part of the coalition’s programme.

But who knows? The filibuster was unprecedented and maybe peers feel strongly enough to go into battle against the elected commons.

Mike Smithson