It is hard not to laugh at the notion of an entirely unelected body telling a wholly elected body that they do not have the mandate to effect constitutional change. Yet that is exactly what we have heard from the House Of Lords this morning, as they attempt to water down the bill to enact fixed-term parliaments.
The Lords last night backed an amendment to the Fixed Terms Bill which would mean that any parliament after the current one would not be bound by the law to have a fixed-term. Such an amendment essentially means that the bill is reduced to nothing more than a complete waste of time and paper.
Lords Pannick, Butler and Boothroyd have all been keen to tell us that they are somehow trying to protect the freedom of parliament, whilst apparently completely ignoring the fact that their amendment simply helps to solidify the strength of the executive, which has grown significantly under recent administrations.
I would prefer to see four-year fixed terms, and I supported the amendment put forward in the Commons by Jonathan Edwards last year, which was defeated by the government. That vote could certainly be said to have been made by the government for political expediency; under the current circumstances it is not difficult to see why they would want this term to run five years.
However, for the Lords to use the same argument of ‘political convenience’ to block a permanent change is completely disingenuous. The ridiculous filibustering tactics, over the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill were bad enough. I watched part of that ‘debate’, and I thought I was watching and episode of The West Wing for a while. It is simply not acceptable in this day and age for the Lords to continually attempt to negate attempts at modernisation of our political system.
After the AV debacle, it is time for David Cameron to show us he is serious about constitutional reform. Ensuring strong support from the Tory benches that this amendment is stripped out when it returns to the Commons, and if necessary, forcing this bill through the Lords if they decide to play hardball would be a good start.
After all, if he can’t be trusted to do this, then what hope do we have when it comes to the real battle over House Of Lords reform?