By Jonathan Isaby
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Yesterday's Times (£) reported that the peers being put onto the joint committee of both House of Parliament to examine the draft bill on House of Lords reform were overwhelmingly sceptical about an elected second chamber.
The full list of peers being proposed to sit on the joint committee has now been published and is as follows (though it is still subject to formal approval by the Lords):
- Baroness Andrews (Lab)
- Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield (Cross Bench)
- Bishop of Leicester (Bishop)
- Lord Norton of Louth (Con)
- Lord Richard (Lab)
- Lord Rooker (Lab)
- Baroness Scott of Needham Market (Lib Dem)
- Baroness Shephard of Northwold (Con)
- Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab)
- Lord Trefgarne (Con)
- Lord Trimble (Con)
- Lord Tyler (Lib Dem)
- Baroness Young of Hornsey (Cross Bench)
In terms of where those peers are coming from, Roland Watson explained in the Times (£):
"All four Labour members — Lord Rooker, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean and Baroness Andrews, along with Lord Richard — have opposed elected peers in the past. So too have three of the four Tories: Baroness Shephard of Northwold, Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Trefgarne. Lord Trimble has no voting record in the Lords on the issue. Of the two crossbench peers, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, the constitutional expert, has recently changed his mind to support appointed peers."
The list of MPs who will sit on the committee is yet to be published, although from the Conservative benches I can reveal the names of three MPs set to be nominated to serve on it:
- Gavin Barwell – A member of the 2010 intake who serves on the 1922 Executive and is in principle broadly in favour of reform, but whose pragmatic instincts would only want parliamentary time and energy expended on a proposal that could command enough support to have a reasonable chance of being passed.
- Oliver Heald – A one-time shadow secretary of state for constituonal affairs under Michael Howard, confusingly he voted in 2003 for a fulled elected second chamber, only to vote against the same proposal when it came before the Commons again in 2007. Instinctively leaning towards a predominantly elected second chamber, but concerned that the Commons should remain the predominant chamber.
- Eleanor Laing – Chairman of the Conservative backbench constitutional affairs committee and instinctively the most resistant to change of this trio. She voted to retain a fully appointed second chamber in 2003 and in questioning Clegg when his proposals were published last month, she outlined her fear that an elected second chamber would end up competeing with the Commons for democratic legitimacy.
The Joint Committee is supposed to be reporting back by the end of February 2012, but I wouldn't wonder if that deadline gets put back as part of an exercise effort to kick any prospect of changes into the long grass.
Indeed, as Lord Tebbit blogged only last night:
"It is not just the usual suspects, but a lot of usually loyalist Tories who are talking of joining the Opposition in delaying tactics on other legislation to derail the Lords Reform Bill. Nor is the bolshiness confined to the dyed-in-the-wool opponents of any reform at all. There is widespread support, even among Ministers, for the view that the Bill is poorly conceived and poorly drafted. The trouble is that what the Bill proposes is not reform of the House of Lords, but the abolition of it (other than in name) and the creation of an entirely new chamber."
The Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde, appears already to be indulging in managing the expectations of those who want an elected second chamber. The FT's Beth Rigby blogs of her interview with him in today's paper that whilst he states that he favours an elected House,
"his mood music will give reformers little cause for celebration. The junior coalition members may have hoped for a spirited backing for reforms from Lord Strathclyde, instead the peer painted a more nuanced picture — proffering up a number of pitfalls that threaten to derail the project."
Returning to yesterday's Times (£), even those around Nick Clegg seem to be preparing for a climbdown, with the report suggesting that "some Liberal Democrats are growing uneasy at the scale of the opposition [to the draft bill] in both the Lords and the Commons and want to ensure that Mr Clegg does not become wedded to something he cannot win — particularly after the crushing defeat in the Alternative Vote referendum."
Needless to say, there will be much interest in the discussion on the floor of the Upper House next Tuesday and Wednesday, when the Lords is holding a two-day debate on the draft bill.