» Thursday, February 22, 2007

House of Lords Reform

The Leader said that the votes would take place at the end of the debate on March 7. He had announced in the House earlier that he would table the various motions, in draft, on the Order Paper and would be available tomorrow. He had made it clear that he would look at any amendments to them to see if there could be some form of accommodation in the search for a consensus. At present, there would be nine motions – ranging from whether there should be a bicameral House, and then – for a reformed House – whether it should be 100pc appointed, 20pc, 40pc, 50pc, 60pc, 80pc to 100pc elected. There would be a separate motion, irrespective of the view taken of a reformed House, on whether the remaining hereditaries, who had seats in the Lords, should have their places removed.

Asked if the votes would be taken in the order he had just set out, Mr Straw said he was open to persuasion. The Leader made it clear that all the decisions within Cabinet, in respect of the recent White Paper on House of Lords reform, were taken around a "hard table" and were the subject of Cabinet committee and Cabinet papers. There was agreement on the proposed alternative voting system, which he had announced would not now proceed. The Leader said he had not anticipated the scale of the concern about the AV system.

While he was open to persuasion, his view was that, in the current circumstances, the simplest was the best, and everyone could see there was a logic to starting at one end of the spectrum and working through to the other. He was not in favour of the kind of gamesmanship that had happened when the issue was last debate and voted on.

In response to a question, Mr Straw said that the Lords had a role as a revising chamber and, so long as the current division of powers remained (to which all parties were committed), which meant that the House could not veto legislation and had no role in tax and spending, it would be slightly above a party battle in many cases.  But there was no way it could be wholly detached from politics. Every decision was a political decision, and the non-party political peers made decisions which were political – which was as it should be in a democracy.

Replying to a further question, the Leader said that one of the effects of the reform that the Government introduced in 1999 had been to make the Lords much more assertive and active. Numbers of peers attending had risen significantly, and the number of occasions when the Government in the Lords had been very, very significant. That was the House, in a sense, doing its job, he added.

Asked if the motion on the hereditaries would propose immediate removal, he said it would not. The Leader said that there was an issue, not specified in the motion, about what should be done about the existing so-called "elected" – the 92 peers. There was a debate about how they could be "converted". Basically, there were two choices – simply to end the current system of by-elections among the electoral college after the death of one of their number and effectively convert them into life peers; the alternative was to say that they would all lose their seats as hereditaries, but then there would be negotiations with other parties about putting their equivalent in place.

Mr Straw said that there would be a procedural motion before the House with the effect that the normal Standing Order, preventing inconsistent motions being put in succession, is suspended for the forthcoming debate. All nine motions – or whatever the final figure – would be put to the Commons. Therefore, it would be technically possible for that which happened on the previous occasion to occur again – either to vote against all options or to vote for all of them. That was his motive for seeking to use the AV system. The Leader explained that, even if all the options were approved, the one with the greatest percentage of an elected element would be decisive. The AV system was, as he had said, "a perfectly formed aeroplane, but it was just denied fuel". He pointed out that, whatever the outcome, there would have to be a Bill, when it would be very clearly a "yes, no" decision. He said he favoured the free vote, and the Government would have to take stock afterwards.

He had explained earlier today that he believed that the centre-of-gravity of opinion in the Commons had shifted significantly since the previous occasion. All parties were signed up to a hybrid House. The Leader said he just hoped there would be a clear enough consensus about the way forward. He rejected the suggestion that he would merely engaging in a tactical approach to defer reform until after the next election. He insisted that he would not have put so much effort into it if that were the case. What he had said was that he would take stock after the votes. If there was a very clear decision by the House, then it would point the way forward. What he could not do – because it was a free vote and all three parties were split – was to make a hard prediction about the outcome. If, as he hoped, there was a significant majority in favour of the policies shared by all three parties, then the prospects of getting some legislation were very different from a position where there might be contradictory votes or in the same "train wreck" territory of the previous occasion.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

1 Comment »

  1. http://rattube.com/blog1/2007/02/26/the-smoking-gun-wtc7-bbc-jumps-the-gun/


    The BBC reported that World Trade Centre Building 7 collapsed – 20 minutes before it actually happened! How is this possible unless the BBC had prior knowledge? Please watch the videos and judge for yourself. This is dynamite!!

    Comment by BBC-Busted!! — 28 Feb 2007 on 7:47 am | Link

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