The last few days has seen seep into the media an idea that has been doing the rounds of pro-Lords reformers in government for a little while.
It is an answer to the question of how the Coalition Government could get Lords reform through the Lords itself without the legislation being bogged down in filibustering and disruptive tactics designed to wreck other legislation. For all the childish temper tantrum tinge to the views of some peers (mainly Conservative) – ‘if you dare take away my place in the Lords, I’ll scream and I’ll scream and I’ll wreck all your bills’ – it is a serious threat. Because, after all, unelected peers don’t have to worry about making themselves look ridiculous, out of touch or petulant in the eyes of the electorate as they’re currently blessed with a seat in Parliament for life, regardless of what the public thinks.
So the answer to this? Give the Lords one chance to behave sensible and if not, force through Lords reform without giving them a say. This would be palatable on a topic such as Lords reform which was in the manifesto of all the main parties at the general election and was also in the Coalition Agreement. It means putting the proposed Lords reform to debate and amendment in the Upper House in the usual way, but if it gets filibustered to death or other legislation gets wrecked in revenge, pull the legislation. Then use the Parliament Act to push through a reform measure regardless of what the Lords says.
In other ways – ‘if you debate sensibly, we’ll listen and amend the legislation, but if you don’t, tough – it’ll happen anyway but just without you getting a say’.
What that Parliament Act propelled version should say is a matter of some debate in the coalition at the moment. Some in Liberal Democrat circles want it to be a simple and radical alternative. Some in Conservative circles want it instead to be a rather more modest alternative, one that brings in a limited number of elected peers in 2015 but leaves the question of increasing the number of elected peers open, to be returned to in the next Parliament. Either way, the key feature – which is good news for the Liberal Democrats – is that David Cameron looks committed to using the Parliament Act if necessary.