23 Apr 2012

Lords reform ‘Bermuda Triangle of British politics’

I’m in what Lord Peter Hennessy called the “Bermuda Triangle of political reform” House of Lords reform – currently in a committee room listening to a press conference for a “minority report” on the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform Bill.

Minority reports aren’t actually allowed by Lords convention. And there seem to be 12 peers/MPs here whereas there was only one peer at the “majority/agreed” report press conference across the corridor a few minutes ago.

(There were 26 in all on the joint committee but one – Bill Esterson MP – didn’t attend and take the chairman, Lord Richard, out and this is evenly split.)

Baroness Gillian Shephard says an elected Lords/Senate will cost a fortune – shades of Joyce Grenfell as she rebuked a journalist for not looking at her while she answered his question (he was taking notes). Baroness Liz Symons says an elected second chamber is incompatible with Commons supremacy.

All say they are unimpressed by David Cameron saying on Radio 4 this morning that the country shouldn’t spray money on a referendum on Lords reform. The government’s bill, they say, would massively increase the cost of the second chamber.

Perhaps the most significant line David Cameron uttered on R4 this morning on this subject was when he talked of needing all-party cooperation and consensus for successful Lords reform. He sounded like a man rehearsing an argument we’ll hear again one day as the whole reform attempt clatters to the ground.

I suspect the most significant line fellow journalists will take away from the Lords reform press conferences this morning is Lord David Lipsey’s estimate that an elected House of Lords would, over 5 years, cost half a billion pounds.

This was meant to be the day the PM re-launched his mission and put the last couple of months behind him – the date chosen in part becauseĀ of the Murdochs’ appearance at the Leveson Inquiry, potentially Tuesday to Thursday.

Instead, we have Lords rows, Nadine Dorries calling the Chancellor and the PM (not for the first time) “two arrogant posh boys”, a possible clash this afternoon between George Osborne and Tory MPs over the IMF/Eurozone saga and lines from the Radio 4 interview about whether the PM will cut off contacts with individuals who practice aggresive tax avoidance.

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