I was Right

A few days ago I explained why all this fuss about the House of Lords trying to overrule the elected House was a storm in a teacup. It wasn’t that I went along with their Lordships’ amendments to the Article 50 bill. I thought them wholly unnecessary and slightly tiresome. But I was absolutely confident that the Lords would give way to the Commons. And I was right.

To be frank, I wouldn’t have thought it the end of the world if the amendment on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK had been passed. It seems to me to be as plain as night follows day that we will honour those rights, whatever the rest of the EU decides to do about UK citizens living on the continent. Politicians who try to frighten EU nationals living here into thinking they might be thrown out are just being mischievous. It will never happen. But that, of course, was why the amendment was unnecessary, though its passing would not have changed the negotiations in the slightest (the EU knows we are determined to allow EU citizens living here to be allowed to remain).

The other amendment, the “meaningful vote” in both Houses, suffered, strangely, as it was drafted by Lord Pannick QC, from being very badly worded (I refer to sub-clause 4). Lord Hope of Craighead (former Law Lord and Deputy President of the Supreme Court) did his best to explain to Lord Pannick why his sub-clause 4 was a non-starter. But Pannick paid no heed and off it went to the Commons, where Sir Oliver Letwin explained with brutal clarity why it was a nonsense.

Anyway, the Commons, with increased majorities, rejected both amendments. Back went the Bill to the Lords. I have just watched the brief debate there. It went entirely along the lines I had predicted. The Labour Party (which is uncontaminated in the Lords by the dreaded Corbyn) behaved entirely properly. They regretted that the Commons had not supported the amendments, but recognised that “the other place” would not back down. Keeping “ping-pong” going all night (making the Bill go backwards and forwards between Lords and Commons endlessly) would be pointless. If the Lords didn’t eventually give way there would be a major constitutional crisis. The elected chamber had to get its way. To his credit, Lord Pannick took the same line.

But the Liberal “Democrats” were not going to play ball. They have decided that the only way they can recover in the next general election is by being seen as the Party which rejects the referendum result. No opportunity can be missed for using their ludicrous over-representation in the House of Lords to make the point that they represent the 48% who voted to remain. They forced the House to divide.Of course, they knew that their little demonstration was a waste of time. They knew the amendments would be rejected. But they wanted it on record that they had done their best to stymie the referendum.

One of the best things about watching debates in the Lords is seeing people one had quite forgotten about (or assumed had died years ago). Tonight’s star, undoubtedly, was Lord Taverne (do you remember Dick Taverne?). He made an impassioned speech explaining why Parliamentarians who supported the “will of the people” were just like Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. Democracy, he assured the House, required the rejection of popular opinion, and therefore only his party was truly democratic. It was a glorious performance, though I got the impression that one or two of the more intelligent Lib Dems were a little embarrassed by it.

The Lords behaved sensibly tonight. I don’t resile from my belief that it is not healthy to have an upper chamber which, despite the way it voted today, is made up almost entirely of men and women who were appointed because they supported the opinions of Blair, Brown, Cameron and Clegg on Europe. But, so long as they continue to respect constitutional convention, I don’t think they are wholly bad.

Charles

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6 thoughts on “I was Right

  1. Yet another round of applause Charles, except for the last sentence – where we must agree to differ.
    The Lib/Dems under Clegg were a pain in the neck. Under Farron they are a pain in the arse.
    As an ex-pat, I’m comforted by your words regarding EU nationals. Let’s hope the unelected spiteful buggers in Brussels are persuaded in the same direction.
    As for the Lords, it’s way past time for an overhaul. The exposure to ‘placemen’ makes it worse than undemocratic. The right of bishops to attend is a bizarre anachronism and the imbalance of left v right must be reconsidered. I like the idea of a second house, but not if it is unelected, or populated by the chums of ex-PMs

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    • I am with you on Charles last sentence, the Lords behave disgracefully at times,aided and abetted by the libdums.

      The next problem is the little red headed woman up north, I hope May ignores her completely, Nicola’s voice grates on me.

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    • The Lib-Dems kept the Tories in power for five years of relatively stable government. The two years since the 2015 election have, by contrast, been a shambles.

      I agree with you that the HoL is in parts anachronistic but my solution is appointees made on the basis of proportional representation so at least one chamber reflects how people actually voted.

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  2. Re your comment that the Lib-Dems are ludicrously over-represented in the HoL.

    I note that in the 2010 election the Lib-Dems won 23% of the vote. In the 2015 election that sadly dropped to 7.9% as a direct result of propping up a Tory government.

    Lib-Dem representation in the HoL is some 13.5 % which is considerably closer to the 2015 election result than it is to the 2010 election result.

    What, I wonder, would you consider to be an appropriate degree of representation in the HoL for the Liberal Democrats?

    I do find it bizarre that your concern for the UK to regain sovereignty from the European Union (which we never actually lost) refuses to countenance the idea that government should actually reflect how people voted.

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  3. How many hours are wasted annually in both Houses by the medieval process of ‘division’? My impression is that a division usually takes from 20 to 30 minutes and sometimes there may be several, one after the other. It soon slowly adds up during the day and a couple of hours can be wasted in the course of a busy day.

    Surely a simple and fool-proof mobile app could be created so that members can vote with their phones in a minute or so and without having to traipse out of the chamber every half hour.

    We DO pay their wages!

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    • Even better, MPs can conduct their business in parliament via skype and video conference and live full-time in their constituencies where they can see how people live and actually be useful.

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