Saturday, January 11, 2014

In the House of Lords

It is some time since this blog paid any attention to the Upper House but things have been happening there. Today saw and heard the Second Reading of the EU Referendum Bill that had been introduced by James Wharton and cleared the Commons last year. (Here are the various related papers for those who are suckers for punishment or suffer from insomnia.)

There were 75 speakers in the debate and, once it is published in Hansard, I shall try to comment on it. In the meantime, people might like to read the temporarily published text.

There has been a great deal of excitement about the Bill with a good many people not understanding that this is merely the Second Reading in which the Lords make general speeches and points about the piece of legislation before them. They do not divide, as a rule, after the Second Reading but commit the Bill to a Committee, in this case to that of the whole House. Whether they will get through that stage, the Report stage and the Third Reading in time, remains questionable.

The excitement seemed a little misguided. In the first place, the idea of having a referendum before the end of 2017 with the date announced in 2016 seems, all things considered, a daft one. This blog has never been in favour of a premature referendum whose result would probably be the wrong one, that is to stay in. One of the many difficult aspects of the eurosceptic movement is the ease with which people have been diverted from the real issues to the phony one: campaigning for a referendum as if that, in itself, were the purpose.

Nor am I terribly impressed by the snide comments about unelected peers deciding on "democratic measures". Plebiscites are not necessarily democratic and the unelected House of Lords has, on many occasions, done sterling service in controlling the overweening ambitions of the elected (each member by a minority of voters) House of Commons. Most recently, they did so by blocking a particularly noxious aspect to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. (Full debate here.)

Would they have done so if they had been an elected House and thus controlled by the party machinery and the Whips? I think not.

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