Lords reform: bill being rewritten

Amid all the anger and fury directed by Tory MPs and peers against the draft House of Lords Reform bill, it is being rewritten before it will be presented to cabinet on the 26th of June. This still gives it time to be published and introduced before parliament rises in July for the Summer recess.

Oh, and apparently Tory rebels in the lower house, (self?) dubbed ‘The Sensibles’, have marshalled Tory forces of at least three-figures to vote against, while they can only find fourteen MPs in favour of the bill. This is in light of the coalition bending under the strain of scandals like that of Jeremy Hunt’s mishandling of the BSkyB bid. As to the peers? Apparently one Tory cabinet minister remarked ‘with a note of excitement in his voice’ that he’s never known the Lords so angry.

While Labour was, as of last month, planning to vote down the bill’s programme motion (leaving it potentially to be filibustered to death), revelations over the last few weeks describe a policy of reconciliation with the Liberal Democrats. Whether it will change their policy on Lords reform or how many Labourites are prepared to vote against/for the bill regardless of their whip, we still don’t know. It’s important to remember how divided Labour is on this too.

EDIT – 18/06/12: Jim Pickard of the Financial Times picks up on the fact that the proposed watering-down of measures is fairly pathetic in terms of compromise – both were things that were intended to be in the legislation anyway. Also, he reiterates the 50-50 nature of the reforms.

EDIT #2 – 18/06/12: And the war begins. In the no man’s land of the upper house, the Tories could usually muster at least one hundred and fifty voting members on any given pre-dinner hour division. The government has just been defeated on a motion to speed up proceedings on the Financial Services Bill, even after they compromised (Hansard, video) – the main reason being that the Tories could only find ninety-four peers to support them, while nine Tory peers rebelled alongside five Liberal Democrats. A worryingly large number abstained, marking the start of what can only be described as the campaign of obstructionism we were warned about.

EDIT #3 – 19/06/12: More details from James Landale at the BBC; apparently more compromises are on the way because that rarely used cabinet committee, the coalition committee, is still working, with parliamentary counsel working through bank holidays to get the bill prepared. But the biggest news is the confirmation that Labour may be wobbling on opposing the programme motion to prevent filibustering. Apparently, Ed Miliband instinctively doesn’t want to play politics with the bill and wants to prevent alienating the Liberal Democrats even more than he already has for any future coalition, but tactical considerations are becoming more tempting by the day as more Tory MPs say they will rebel against the government.

EDIT #4 – 21/06/12: Rafael Behr in the New Statesman claims that the battle within Labour to decide their line on Lords reform will show whether Ed Miliband can control his party – hardly. Three-term, charisma-filled Blair couldn’t whip his party into line over Lords reform, why on earth would Ed Miliband be expected to? Interestingly though, it seems while Ed’s heart lies with the Lib Dems on this, his senior colleagues are pushing against them. After a ‘bumptious’ meeting on the 18th of June where ideas were bounced around, the pro-faction feels that it will lose because Ed doesn’t feel he can impose his authority. Nicholas Watt at the Guardian says that the coalition committee may insert a referendum clause, but we’ll see how this goes. At the very least, the government is trying to minimise a defeat, though the Tory quoted is right that it would cause absolute Chaos in the upper house.

EDIT #5 – 23/06/12: The BBC has the scoop that the negotiations finished and that the bill will not feature a referendum, will ensure a reformed Lords is subject to the parliament acts, and most interestingly will only have 300 members. This goes against what the Joint Committee who recommended 450 members. Perhaps the arguments on cost are beginning to worry the government. This does, however, increase the chances of the programme motion going down in flames.

EDIT #6 – 23/06/12: As many had predicted, it looks like the “concessions” are unlikely to make any backbenchers back down. After the bill goes to Cabinet this Tuesday, it’ll have to go to the public bill cabinet committee where a strategy to get the bill through parliament will have to be submitted before it’s published mid-to-late next week. Oh, what I’d give to see that…

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