Our last week or so before the Summer recess was plagued with repeated votes on matters that we had already dispensed with weeks ago, when we went through detailed scrutiny of the Illegal Immigration Bill. The reason for the repeat performances were the wrecking amendments sent back to us by the House of Lords. I use the word ‘wrecking’ because they fundamentally undermined the purpose of the bill by tying any deportation up in interminable legal knots and appeals.
Given that a division can take up the best part of twenty minutes, to have to go through the division lobbies 18 times in an evening, is quite a demand on precious time. Of course, the rejoinder to that is that we ought to modernise our procedures and adopt instantaneous electronic voting.
Well, such repeated voting happens very rarely, and the advantage of going through the division lobbies to vote is that it affords the opportunity to badger the PM and other senior ministers with issues that you want resolved.
Anyway, the repeated ‘ping pong’ as the amendments went back and forth between the Lords and Commons generated a considerable correspondence from constituents. The bill is a popular one: overwhelmingly, voters want to see the small boats stopped. The ‘unhelpful’ amendments by the House of Lords filled my email inbox with demand for Lords reform, or even abolition.
I am not an enthusiast for reform, and certainly not for abolition. More often than not, the Lords do a good job of scrutinising legislation in greater detail than the Commons ever have done for the last 25 years. We simply don’t give enough time to it. Overwhelmingly, most Lord’s amendments are accepted by the Commons without dispute.
There are four reasons why I don’t believe we will ever give over the time necessary for considered debate over Lords reform.
First, there are always more pressing issues to deal with on the political agenda.
Second, whilst a part hereditary, part appointed House, is nothing that any of us would have designed were we starting from scratch. Nevertheless, it is there and, for the most part, works satisfactorily.
Third, there is nothing approaching consensus of any kind with respect to what a reformed House of Lords should look like. The reality will never find sufficient agreement.
Fourth, MPs are jealous about their constituencies: they would never welcome an elected member of the Lords on their patch also claiming to represent their constituents.
Fifth, were we to elect the Lords, then the elected peers would have a legitimate demand for real political power. They would not be satisfied with being a mere revising chamber, as is the case now.
That political power could only come from the Commons. The notion that we will be prepared to share power with the Lords, is for the birds: Dream on.