Friday 18 January 2008

House of Lords Bill

The Committee Stage of the House of Lords Bill began at 4.20pm last night. I had the privilege of watching from the gallery - it was worth the time, and I would heartedly recommend taking a look at the video footage on http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Archive.aspx (Thu 17 Jan - approx 5 hrs 15 mins in - there is a fast forward button!) or reading Hansard at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/80117-0013.htm#08011776000003

There was a fascinating battle between the supporters of this private members bill - who want a short, limited debate - focused on their vision of a reformed House - and others who wanted detailed consideration. It was a battle fought with speeches of quality and good humour. For me the highlights were:

Lord Strathclyde' amusing and subtly provocative speech - which produced the desired effect. It is printed at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/80117-0014.htm#08011776001068 - but worth watching!

Lord Desai introduced us to the "English Compromise" - which he defined "as one that confronts a major problem and proposes a solution which does not solve the problem but makes the solution to the problem less urgent. Everyone then forgets about it and we move on."

Lord Richard concluded his comments on the debate on the first grouping of amendments by saying:-

"This has been a fascinating debate on the general arguments, which we have been round and round and round, and we will go around them again in this Bill.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that he cannot have it both ways. If he produces a Bill that was bound to be controversial, and which he knew would be once it is in the public domain, any noble Lord would be entitled to table amendments to it and to have them discussed. If the amendments were not in order, I have no doubt that the excellent Clerks at the Table would not have allowed us to put them down. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, cannot now say, “Oh gosh, isn’t it terrible? You want to discuss things which I don’t want to discuss. I merely want to discuss the things that I want to discuss”. That is not on.."

A number of speakers indicated their preference for naming the reformed House the Senate. Lord Trefgarne said "I am rather in favour of calling the House a senate. I am much attracted to the United States model and this might be the first step in that direction." and Lord Stathclyde told the House

"The name of the senate conjures up certain important parallels for me. It is not just the Senates of Rome or Venice, which were in their time hugely influential bodies. We also have Senates in the United States and in Italy, and those two chambers have the most significant powers and authority of any Upper House in the world. In the past, my party has advocated the use of the word “senate” to replace a House of Lords. This is not the most essential item that we shall be discussing in this Committee, but it would probably be better to have a senate rather than the House of Lords if we are to change the method of selection to this House. That is partly because it conveys a sense of authority, and what is the purpose of all this disruption and reform if not to create a more powerful House, more able to help the other place to do its job properly, and help it to hold the Executive to account?"

Lord Steel now has to negotiate further time for the bill - which with 196 amendments put down to date - could cause headaches for business managers.