Following the Lords raising two fingers to BREXIT with their amendments requiring us to remain within key elements of the EU (with attendant costs and obligations); hijacking the negotiations to Parliament; and now interfering with our departure date; my inbox is overflowing with outraged demands for the reform of the House of Lords.
I do not think this is the remedy. The problem is not the Lords, but the Commons. The Lords are trying it on because they know that the arithmetic is very tight in the Commons, so given their lordships’ distaste for BREXIT, they think it’s worth a try.
Were the position in the Commons robustly in support of the Government’s BREXIT policy, the Lords would not be bothering.
The Problem in the Commons is a direct consequence of the election last year. The PM, with a majority of only 15, didn’t think it was enough to get BREXIT through Parliament, so she asked the people for a stronger mandate, but they chose not to give her one. And that is why their Lordships believe that they have leave to gum-up the process and the negotiations.
In ordinary circumstances the Lords is just a revising chamber and the overwhelming majority of those legislative revisions are accepted by the Commons. If it really comes to a crunch in a row between the two houses at which neither is prepared to blink first, then ultimately all the Lords can do is delay, until the Commons forces the matter through under the provisions of the 1911 Parliament Act.
My email correspondents demand however, that the Lords become more democratic, by which they mean elected, as is the Senate in the USA, so that it will reflect the popular will.
The greatest obstacle to any such plan, and I have seen two crash in my time, is the House of Commons. Were the Lords to be elected in some way, then that democratic legitimacy would soon enough lead to the demands for real power beyond their current status as a mere revising chamber. That power could only come from the Commons: and we have no intention of giving it up.
As a parliamentary representative of the New Forest, the last thing I would welcome would be some peer on my turf purporting to represent the very same people as I do.
Given this hornets’ nest, there is little appetite in any government for investing the time and energy to try and resolve it with a reform that will command sufficient support in both houses to get it through.
So, given the current state of affairs, reform of the Lords, or the empty threat of it, is no solution to the wrecking amendments to the EU withdrawal bill that are currently being passed there.
The only remedy is to overturn the amendments when they return to the Commons.
Will there be a majority in the Commons to do so?
It’s just too soon to tell.