By Tim Montgomerie
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In day two of yesterday's debate in the House of Lords about reform of the Upper House, Lord (Michael) Forsyth was in very good form.
"I wonder whether your Lordships remember the Austin Allegro. The Austin Allegro was probably the worst car ever built. It was completely unreliable, it had a totally underpowered engine, and its big selling feature was that it had a square steering wheel. This car was designed by the management for political reasons. They ignored the people who knew about cars and design and it was meant to save British Leyland. It was the management's answer. In fact, they were so convinced that it would save the company that it was nicknamed the "flying pig". I do not know whether noble Lords can see the parallel that I am drawing here, but it seems to me that this Bill, which has been so comprehensively filleted by the Joint Committee, has many similarities to the Austin Allegro in so far as the Deputy Prime Minister believes it will save the Liberal Party at the next election. It was conceived for political reasons and without any recognition of the needs of the consumer and the customer-in this case the wider electorate."
He then addressed the two "fibs" that the Tory manifesto and Coalition Agreement committed the Government to the course it is now on (something Paul Goodman has already done):
- "The first is that this was a Conservative manifesto commitment. It was not a manifesto commitment. Our commitment was to seek a consensus on Lords reform. One has only to listen to the chiding given by the chairman of the Joint Committee to the excellently produced alternative report to realise that there is no consensus. A casual reading of the committee's report will show that we have failed to reach consensus. So as far as I am concerned, as a Conservative, we have discharged our manifesto commitment."
- "The second fib which is told is that it was part of the coalition agreement. The agreement was that the Deputy Prime Minister would convene a hand-picked committee to look at this issue with a view to producing a Motion by December 2010. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointed out as a member of that committee, it failed to do so. In fact, it failed to reach any agreement at all, to the point where the committee stopped having meetings because it was impossible to make progress. So on both of these counts, the obligations of the coalition agreement and the obligations of the Conservative manifesto have been discharged."
"For the Government to say that the House is too large and to continue to make additional appointments to it will bewilder the electorate as it bewilders me. Sometimes, I think that the Government are behaving like Caligula, who appointed his horse as a consul. Everyone said, "He's mad". But he was not mad: he appointed his horse as a consul because he wanted to discredit the institution. By making more and more appointments while doing nothing about the size of this place, the Government are trying to have it both ways and are undermining its integrity and effectiveness."