Peers and Priorities

The whole House is now hopeful that the last few weeks’ shenanigans on the part of a minority of Labour Peers can now be brought to an end, without further damage to the reputation of the Lords.

I have been reminding colleagues across the House that Labour Peers themselves published a report all the way back in 2004, recommending that there should be a convention that the Lords disposes of Government Business in reasonable time. Alas, many newer Peers – mostly former MPs – have no regard for that contention.

If the Lords can finish the Committee stage of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill this week (after perhaps 150 hours), our conduct of the next stage – called “Report” – will be critical. There are clear conventions, set out in the Lords’ Rule Book, known as the Companion, that there should not be long, general debates on particular clauses and that identical amendments to those pressed at Committee must not be re-tabled.

However, what has been frustrating in recent weeks is that a good many amendments have been spoken to at length but then not pressed to a vote. Technically, these can be therefore re-tabled, but there is a usually self-denying ordinance about the Report Stage where Peers pick only the biggest issues to revisit. But are these circumstances “usual”?

There are rumours that Labour Peers could be trying to find as many as 20 such ‘big’ issues. This is the legislative equivalent of the statement: “everything is a priority”.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t want to divert into the merits of the Bill itself here. However if anyone wants to examine the absurdities of what has been going on, please look at the article I had published on the Guardian Online last week, my letter in the paper on Friday last, and at what my colleague, Lord Rennard, has written elsewhere.

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