The girls were out last night, so I could watch BBC Parliament without stinting. It just happened be the Lords Reform debate on. A golden back of the net moment.
Ok, there was the normal procession of dinosuars from both sides of the chamber: Laing, Jenkin, Pound, Bell etc. And the normal element of Clegg-bashing.
But amongst all that, there were three reasons for optimism for Lords reformists:
1. Chris Bryant, Labour’s spokesman on these matters, is full square behind reform. His bookend, Sadiq Khan, is rather anti. But Bryant, to give him his due, is full on in support:
I hope that everyone unites to improve the proposals, because they certainly need improvement. If the Government are too intractable, the measures will die. However, let us not lose sight of the unsustainability of the present arrangements. Surely, if one wants to tell other people how to live their lives, which is in essence what a Member of a legislature does, the least one can do is to put oneself up for election. (my bolding)
His speech was music to my ears. As was David Miliband’s. So it’s a tick in the box for Labour support, notwithstanding the Bells and Pounds.
2. The main thrust of opposition to the proposals was around the Commons losing supremacy to a strengthened Lords. This argument was repeated endlessly. But it was rebutted very soundly by a Tory. Yes. A Tory. Step forward Laura Sandys. A breath of fresh air:
Obviously Parliament is not just this House, but it appears that this House, the legitimate House, is the House that lacks confidence in itself. The big fear is that giving more legitimacy to the House of Lords will diminish powers here, but the reforms that we are discussing, which will mean greater legitimacy for the other place, give us an opportunity collectively to hold the Government to greater account: to examine, cajole, petition and more effectively, not less effectively, ensure that there is greater scrutiny of Government. We need to claim back more powers collectively, and with a legitimate other place we can add to Parliament’s powers without any erosion of the powers in this Chamber.
3. One of the things I have most feared about this reform initiative, is that it has, so far, got terribly mixed up with Clegg-bashing. Fortunately, last night, that changed. David Miliband emphasised, albeit patronisingly, that Labour should not concentrate on “small fry” (Clegg). But more significantly, Mark Harper, the Tory at the Cabinet Office, did an excellent job at winding up the debate. There was no sneering, booing or hissing while he talked. And he is a Tory. He re-iterated the government’s commitment to introducing the reforms in time for the first elections in 2015. It was very reassuring to hear an unhissed Tory saying this.