Lord Strathclyde is Leader of the House of Lords.
Whilst the Commons may head home just after 10.30pm on most Monday evenings, the Lords is a little less predictable.
The Lords, unlike the Commons, (rightly) doesn’t possess what some may see as the luxury of a guillotine to end the day’s business. Nor are there motions to programme its business. Labour is still the largest single political party in the Lords. Business is therefore enacted on the basis of consent and agreement between the main parties and with the crossbenches. And so the key to getting a Bill through all its stages in the Lords is an agreed timetable and respect for historical convention. And with the passage of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill this week, that’s where the problem lies.
This Bill, a flagship part of the Coalition Agreement, delivers two key pledges. First, that a referendum should be held on 5 May 2011 to allow the people of this country to determine which system they would prefer to be in place at the next general election to elect MPs. Secondly, that at that general election, the number of MPs should be reduced from 650 to 600. Both provisions relate to the same future election. Both provisions draw on the coalition government’s key commitment to democratic renewal. Both provisions are therefore contained within the same Bill.
Exceptionally in the case of this Bill, Labour has refused discussion about timings. The Bill having passed through the Commons is being delayed in the Lords by a clique of self-interested, go slow Labour ex-MPs. They are determined to look after their old friends, determined to retain the inbuilt advantage for their own party in the current status quo, and determined to fight the principle of equal constituency sizes, and with that, fair and equal votes.