Political

Deal struck in Lords over Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

From the BBC comes news of a deal in the unelected upper House to let the public get a vote on how the lower House is elected:

Tory and Labour peers have reached a deal ending the deadlock which threatened to block a 5 May referendum on changing the Westminster voting system, Lords leader Lord Strathclyde has said…

The government accepted in principle an amendment tabled by the convenor of crossbench peers, Baroness D’Souza, which reinstates public inquiries in the boundary review process in certain circumstances.

The crossbench peers’ amendment would allow, but not compel, the Boundary Commission to hold a local inquiry where an objection raised “substantive issues”. Inquiries would take no more than six months…

Lady D’Souza withdrew her amendment, telling peers she was encouraged by the minister’s response to her arguments.

She added that crossbench peers had been motivated to intervene in the “impasse” by “the shadow or the threat of anything approaching a ‘closure motion’ in this House”.

The Economist adds:

The House of Lords likes things to end with compromise deals, so this is on the face of it a traditional conclusion to this convoluted tale. But peers and MPs with an interest in constitutional matters take a rather different view. They say that the conduct of the House of Lords in recent days has looked nakedly partisan and aggressive in a way that feels unsustainable. The self-regulating ways of the upper house have been “abused”, said Lord Strathclyde this evening, adding that a “genie” was now out of the bottle.

Tories say that the Labour party has behaved disgracefully: to simplify, they think that a group of thuggish Scottish ex-MPs have brought the rough and tumble ways of the Commons to the courtly red leather benches of the upper house. Moderate Labour peers say that, yes the Scottish newboys behaved badly at first, but that more recently this has been a perfectly legitimate display of close, line-by-line scrutiny, and that the Tories are the vandals trying to ram a big constitutional change through at high speed. And what is more, they claim, a surprising number of Tories have been egging the Labour rebels on, seeing them as defenders of the powers of the House of Lords.

The BBC’s James Landale has also pointed out that,

Although this row is ostensibly about how MPs should be elected, it is really about the balance of power in the House of Lords. At the heart of many of Labour’s grievances lies the fact that the voting arithmetic is against them in the Lords. The fact of the coalition means Tory and Lib Dem peers together create a formidable voting block that is hard to beat. For Labour to win, they need a comprehensive turn out of their own peers and a goodly majority of the independent crossbenchers. Labour don’t like this…

This row has shown that in opposition Labour is prepared to be shameless in its use of the Lords as the Tories were in recent years. In government, it was a frequent refrain of Labour ministers to bemoan the constitutional outrage of an unelected second chamber blocking the passage of his legislation. It used to drive Tony Blair mad with frustration. Labour saw the House of Lords as a bastion of conservatism with a small and a large c, an illegitimate piece of grit in the democratic process. It was somewhere to park an unelected minister, it was somewhere to hide an unwanted MP. Now though, the worm has turned. Today it appears it is the duty of all progressive parliamentarians (that is unelected ex-MPs and party hacks) to stand in the way of a Bill that has been passed by the elected House of Commons. This, it seems, is the new politics.

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