Devolution and the House of Lords

Robert Henderson

There is one important aspect of the devolution mess created since 1997 which receives little or no attention in the mainstream media or from mainstream politicians, namely, the role of the House of Lords.  As things stand  all legislation which affects England goes through the Lords,  while ever increasing swathes of legislation affecting Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland avoid such scrutiny  because the legislation is initiated, debated, amended and either passed or not at the will of the three devolved assemblies. Yet another instance of how England is grossly disadvantaged by the unbalanced devolution in Britain.

Many will shrug their shoulders and say what does it matter, isn’t the Lords just a talking shop with no power?  The answer is an emphatic no. Government ministers sit in the Lords, the House  can initiate their own Bills, amend   or strike down completely  Bills  sent to them by the House of Commons ,ask  questions orally and in writing, including questions of ministers,  sit on  their own select committees and on  joint committees of the Lords and Commons . Members also have the great privilege of a national political platform to get their views to the public.

The power of the Lords to delay

The sharpest power  the Lords has is to delay.  This can be achieved   by being tardy over  their examination of Bills sent to them by the Commons, by heavily amending Bills sent to them by the Commons (this means they have to go back to the Commons for re-consideration) and  by refusing outright to pass Bills. (There is one important exception to the power of the Lords to amend or refuse outright to pass  Bills from the Commons and that is what are called money Bills, legislation  which involves   the collection or spending of money by the government. Such Bills have to be signed off as Money Bills by the Speaker. )

If the Lords does refuse to pass a Bill from the Commons in its entirety or in part, the 1949 Parliament Act allows the Commons to force through a Bill regardless of the wishes of the Lords in the  session of  Parliament in which the Bill was originally introduced into the Common. This procedure    typically  results in  a delay of  around a year.  When the Bill is reintroduced it is passed without the Lords having any opportunity to delay it further. This is a very rare procedure with only seven Acts have been passed in this way either under the 1949 Parliament Act or its 1911 predecessor.

Being able to delay Bills sent from the Commons is a  powerful weapon  because  government legislation may be lost for want of Parliamentary time if an election is looming or a session of Parliament (which normally lasts a year)  is coming to an end and other government business takes priority in the new session.   Even if time is not absolutely pressing, governments are generally anxious to get their legislation through quickly and will often accept a Lords’ amendment to Bills sent from the Commons simply to get the legislation passed quickly.

The political composition of the House of Lords

“As at 16 December 2014, the total membership of the House of Lords was 847. However, excluding those currently ineligible to sit (such as members on leave of absence or those holding particular posts), the ‘actual’ membership was 791. The average attendance of the House of Lords in the 2013–14 session was 497.”

The  791 Members eligible to sit in the House of  consisted of 679 Life Peers, 86 ‘excepted hereditary’ Peers and 26 Bishops.  Their political allegiances, where declared, were:

Conservative  230

Labour  216

Liberal Democrat  105

Crossbench  180

Bishops  26

Even on the declared allegiances  the House is heavily tilted toward the liberal left who are instinctively anti-English.  Not only do Labour and the Libdems  have a majority together over the Conservatives, those  who take the Tory whip  will more often than not have much the same politics  as the Labour and LibDem peers .  As for the officially politically  non-aligned, it is reasonable to assume that  most  of  the Bishops will also be of liberal left  because  the upper reaches of the Anglican Church has long shown themselves to be consistently  left of centre with their unwavering support for political correctness .  The crossbenchers   will also have a healthy component from  the liberal left  simply because  they are selected by those who generally subscribe to political correctness  with  the consequence that they  will do the very human thing of selecting those who resemble themselves.

The geographical spread and size of the  of the Lords is very  important. Peers can come from any part of the United Kingdom and there is no limit to their number.   This means that the Lords could easily become imbalanced, if it  is not already so, by the creation of disproportionately large  numbers of peers who were not English. Moreover, because peers are not elected , in principle,  a government could create any number of new peers to push through  legislation which is damaging to English interests, for example, to Balkanise England with regional assemblies regardless of the wishes of the English.

Less dramatically, because of the power to delay and force compromise from a government, it is easy to see how a House of Lords which was  against England controlling its own affairs could cause considerable difficulties if  the Commons voted , for example, to  end the Barnett formula or to set up an English Parliament  simply by delaying matters, for example, if General Election was due in less than a year’s time and sufficient numbers in the Lords thought there was a fair bet that the election would result in a change of government.

If England had English votes for English Laws

Would English votes for English laws solve the constitutional imbalance?  The idea  raises many problems such as how to define what is English only legislation while the Barnett Formula is in place because the Formula  determines what Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland gets from the UK Treasury  because it is linked to government  spending in England.  But the  Lords adds another complication because the proposal  as it has been suggested to date makes no mention of removing from the Lords’  the power of  scrutiny of any House of Commons Bills which are deemed English only Bills. If that were the case then there would still be the anomaly   that the Lords  could interfere with English only legislation while having no power to intervene over the equivalent legislation for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland .

The difficulty could be surmounted by giving English only laws the same status as money Bills but in reality, only an English Parliament and a truly federal constitution for each of the four home countries will permanently solve the problem of the imbalance of the present devolution settlement.

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3 Responses to Devolution and the House of Lords

  1. david brown says:

    sorry this comment is unconnected to Devolution . Recall the politically motivated persecution of Emma West. Apart from the first hearing all cases before Croydon magistrates court had one of Croydon Crown Prosecution Service Nigerian born prosecuters present the case. Get the show trial effect. Her is a case where the Crown again did the same thing ensuring for show trial effect that the judge was a Muslim http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/index.php/street-preacher-convicted/

  2. Pingback: Devolution and the House of Lords (Robert Henderson) | The Libertarian Alliance Blog

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