Labour could have stopped the Illegal Migration Bill in the House of Lords. They chose not show up.
The Illegal Migration Bill finally got through the Lords yesterday as the Conservatives turned up to vote and 40% of the Labour peers didn’t. For me this shows the flawed logic of an appointed second chamber and that we need an elected body that will put the brakes on any government enacting authoritarian law.
I hate late nights myself and the idea of starting debates after 10pm turns law making into less a battle of ideas and more of a competition about who can stay awake longest. The peers, many in their 70s and 80s, a few in their 90’s, who turned up to oppose this nasty piece of legislation deserve our applause, but this is their job and the Lords is not just a retirement project.
So why did so many not turn up? It was scheduled as two long nights of voting as the Commons and the Lords engaged in ping pong, with amendments going from one end of the house and being rejected by the other. And that is the point. For all those long hours of late night voting, the government had made clear it would not make any concessions and the Labour Party had made clear that the elected MPs, and therefore the government, had to win the game. I think many Labour peers thought, why bother missing good sleep when the final result was already decided?
As one Conservative peer commented “It was clear to me that, unusually , the House and particularly Labour wanted us to win on this Bill.”
Without denying the passion of many individual Labour peers, the party as a whole had decreed that they would not use the double insistence power of the Lords to force a stalemate by voting for the same amendment twice. This would have stopped the Illegal Migration Bill from progressing and forced the government to spend at least a year to invoke the Parliament Acts to force it through.
It is perfectly okay for the Lords to use this double insistence power when the legislation lacks the electoral mandate of a manifesto commitment and peers feel that the government is doing something exceptional, such as breaking international law.
The Illegal Migration Bill met the criteria for a Lords rebellion and we did actually have one a couple of months ago when the Lib Dems tabled a motion that the Bill should not be taken. With the Bishops and others keen to stop this legislation destroying our anti-slavery rules and detaining children, we could have stopped the government then – if Labour had only backed us.
All of this is a textbook example of why you need a second chamber elected via proportional representation with people operating in a modernised parliament that has sensible working hours. The current system works for no one. It provides a House full of expertise but without the authority to get those voices heard by government. It has conventions that are regularly twisted by the people at the top to fit their own political needs. It even allows new conventions, like the ability of Ministers to overturn a vote in parliament by decree, to be agreed by the government and official opposition, without a major public debate.
Our country needs a new parliament; a new constitution and above all, a new determination to restore democratic rights and practices.
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Image credit: Simon Dawson / Number 10 – Creative Commons