Saturday, 11 December 2010

Growing Concerns

The house of lords will spend around Seven and a half minutes on the question that Baroness Royall of Blaisdon will put on Monday, asking "Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that Parliament is able effectively to hold them to account"

Baroness Royall is the Leader of the Opposition in the Lords - having previously served as the Leader of the Lords and a Cabinet Member  in the previous Labour Government.

The question might focus on a number of current concerns -

It might focus on the way that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government is seeking to ensure that it has a working majority in the House of Lords. Until the election there had been an apparent consensus that no Government should have sufficient members in the Lords to enable it to get its way alone. The Labour Government could be, and was frequently, defeated by the main opposition parties voting together. This, it was argued, enhanced the House's ability to require the Government to think again. It might be able to force its will on the Commons - but it could not rely on bulldozing the Lords. Now the coalition wants a working majority - proportionate to its support in the country.

Or the concern highlighted might be about the speed at which substantial, and Constitutional, legislation is being pushed through the House - allowing limited time for both reflection and debate. The breaks between stages (the various Readings and Committee/Report Stages) is as important as the debates themselves. Some of their Lordships feel that there has been constant bulldozing of the House since May.

The designation of the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grants Bill as a Money Bill has many of their Lordships smarting - because it limits the role the House of Lords can play in the legislative process.

We will see on Monday which of these issues - or other concerns - are raised during Question Time. One thing is certain - the value of the House of Lords as a scrutinising body is coming under challenge - and many of their Lordships are deeply concerned about it.