Saturday, May 20, 2006


Blair's plan to reform Lords suggests later rather than sooner departure

We read that Jack Cunnigham, one of Tony's most reliable fixers, is to be brought back, one assumes briefly, into the limelight to 'fix' the House of Lords (picture shows statue of Richard the Lionheart by the entrance to the Lords). Labour, of course does not command an overall majority in the second chamber so the passing into law of prized 'legacy' items on terrorism and ID Cards might face substantial impediment. David Hencke reports that an all party comittee will be set up next Monday, chaired by Lord Cunnigham, with the purpose of ending the Lords' ability to 'throw out bills'. The timescale, it seems, is to curb their lordships by 2007 so time is left to push bills through unhindered before the next election (which must take place before May 2010).

The ability of the Lords to delay legislation by a year from the second reading of a bill in the Commons, is often minimised as a feeble residual power from the chamber's halcyon days in the 19th century. But as time runs out for a government and the next election approaches, a delay of a year becomes an effective veto. So it's understandable Blair should wish to emasculate further the unelected part of our legislature. But, given his lack of 'political capital' in terms of trust and support, both in his party and the country at large, I suspect he will find this no easy task. Another thought which might worry Gordon Brown is that this initiative suggests a Blair who is planning to keep on legislating rather later than the summer 2007, the time which, says a large segment of the current received wisdom, when he is likely to vacate Number 10.

Reforming the Lords - without a simultaneous reform of how the Commons is comprised - would be a legislative disaster. It is a political cliché that the executive is disproportionately powerful in the lower house. The current precendent of Blair's willingness to create new laws on a whim, and indeed his "sofa" politics, would be exaggerated beyond estimate, should the Lords lose its effective "throwing out" veto.
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