"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it"
Aneurin Bevan

Sunday, 13 November 2011

What's happening in the Lords

Yesterday I attended Labour's West Midlands Regional Conference. The day was dominated by a debate on the economy and workshops on developing policy. Notably absent was any session on the NHS: Labour are very quiet about what their policy will be, whether this is embarrassment because they handed the Tories a legislative framework that would enable them to marketise the NHS is unclear.

Anyway, in the final Q&A session, in response to a question on the NHS (just one!) Lord Hunt mentioned the changed voting habits of the upper house. Michael White mentions this too, in the Guardian:

"When Labour was in power, the party's chief whip Lord Bassam could expect to lose one in three divisions if the Lib Dem, Tory and crossbench peers decided to strike down an offending clause in legislation. On issues like 42-day detention of terror suspects, defeated by the Lords in 2008, the unelected house spoke for public opinion. David Cameron's rose garden pact with Nick Clegg has changed the maths. With 170 Tory and 88 Lib Dem peers (the 153 crossbenchers often split 50/50) the coalition partners usually have a de facto majority over Labour's 238. No one party was supposed to have one in the half-reformed system bequeathed by Tony Blair, but no one planned for coalition. Government defeats are down to around 15%."
Yet again, the Lib Dems are allowing this damaging Bill to be passed. The Lords exist to amend legislation, and they have experts who can see the important nuances of the laws and suggest ways to improve bills. The 30% of votes that Labour lost means amendments to make the bill in question better. The 15% figure now means that the government is imposing its view and forcing its peers to vote en bloc. This is political and reduces the effectiveness of the chamber and allows bad bills to be passed.

The Bill sailed through the Commons Committee stage precisely because the Lib Dem members voted en bloc with the Tories. Not one single Labour amendment was passed by the Commons Committee. In fact not one single non-Government amendment was passed, because the Tory whips threatened Tory and Lib Dem MPs telling them that the only amendments that would be allowed to pass the Commons Committee would be those proposed by the government. This is the behaviour of a authoritarian government that believes that it is always right (a very frightening concept). We are finding the same behaviour in the Lords Committee.

If the Tories had not been handed a Coalition, and were now ruling by supply and confidence, the Lib Dem peers would be free to make amendments and make this bill better. Even if the Tories had scraped through the 2010 with a narrow majority, the Lib Dem peers would more often than not be changing this bill. Now they are sitting on their hands. It is very clear: Coalition is bad, and allows bad laws to pass.

1 comment:

  1. Richard,

    Sorry for the off topic post. Speaking hypothetically, if you were preparing a briefing document on the proposed NHS reforms for somebody who was being interviewed on this, what are the 5 main arguments you would use against it?