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27 January 2011

Guillotine the Lords!

Prescott and his mob in the House of Lords must not be allowed to hold the Commons to ransom.

By Olly Grender

No one won the 2010 general election, but one thing is certain: Labour definitely lost. It would appear, however, that the hobnail-booted, ermine-wearing bovver boys in the House of Lords didn’t get the memo. Perhaps it’s because they can’t vote! They do not seem to pause to consider the irony of an unelected chamber holding up proposals to modernise the electoral system.

Instead, Labour’s lords believe they can carry on as they did when in government, as if nothing happened last year. Not even Ed Miliband can control their wrecking-ball tactics on AV legislation – something Miliband personally supports, unlike Tony Blair, who had no time for it, or Gordon Brown, whose deathbed conversion convinced nobody.

Labour’s wrecking-ball tactics, however, might end up smashing the House of Lords instead. Perhaps this is “Lord” Prescott’s brilliant and ingenious kamikaze strategy to destroy from within the House of Lords, though I suspect not.

The result of all this: we must introduce a guillotine on the debate in the Lords. As Gary Gibbon says:

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The government has got the Lords’ clerks to draft the equivalent of the nuclear weapon – a timetable motion, a guillotine by any other name.

For those of us who believe that Labour should have fulfilled its endless manifesto promises long ago and reformed the place, this is not a big deal.

But, for many in the Lords, this changes the very nature of what the upper house is there for, and moves it from being an “amending” to a “legislating” body. This is causing concern among the crossbenchers and some of the Lib Dem Peers, especially the lawyers among them.

So, how else will this stalemate be resolved?

The Lib Dem Voice editor, Mark Pack, points out that Lords Tyler and Rennard on the Lib Dem side have been working to ensure there are compromises.

The two changes are ones that the Liberal Democrat peers Paul Tyler and Chris Rennard have been pushing for, namely giving greater consideration to existing constituency boundaries and to ward boundaries.

It is likely that this will not be enough for Labour, however – especially for peers like John Prescott who are so adamantly opposed to a change in the voting system in the first place. Surely this is the moment for Ed Miliband to step in and drive forward something he believes in?

This bill has now been discussed for 14 days and nights – more than just about any other in the House of Lords’ history. Two lords have been hospitalised from exhaustion. This is no civilised way to scrutinise legislation. It is time for the business managers to call their bluff. Go for the guillotine. Manage the timetable so that nothing else is discussed between now and mid-February.

Prescott and his mob must not be allowed to hold the Commons to ransom from an unelected post. He should have thought of that when he dragged his heels on reforming the place for the past 13 years.