Thursday, 1 August 2013

Is Dave Really Packing The House of Lords?

Today saw the list of working peers announced. Now, these are not political honours - peerages are rarely given as honours these days - but people expected to do work there.

One principle is that (from the House of Lords own website:

No one party has overall control in the House of Lords. Since 1999 Peers have been appointed roughly in proportion to the share of votes cast in the most recent General Election. Coalitions must be built across party groups and ‘cross-benchers’ in order to avoid or inflict defeats.

In an earlier post I dealt with the issue of whether the House of Lords will ultimately grow too much. If we look at the current composition (and remember this list gets updated):

  • Labour - 216
  • Conservative - 208
  • Crossbench - 183
  • Liberal Democrats - 89
  • Bishops - 25
  • Non-affiliated - 21
  • Minor parties - 13

As we see, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition Government has 297 of the 755 members of the House of Lords. That is a "majority" of minus 161, with the Government having just 39.34% of the seats in the Lords.

Here Labour is becoming disingenious. Labour peer Oona King tweets:

Govt already has a de facto majority in Lords: 298 coalition peers compared to 216 Labour peers. Oh go on Dave, pack it some more

The thing is, it doesn't have this "de facto majority".

The list of working peers includes 14 Conservative, 10 Liberal Democrat, 5 Labour and 1 Green. This expands the House of Lords by 30, to bring it up to 785. And the new composition is:

  • Conservative - 222
  • Labour - 221
  • Crossbench - 183
  • Liberal Democrats - 99
  • Bishops - 25
  • Non-affiliated - 21
  • Minor parties - 14

This gives the Government 321 of the 785 members. Put it another way, a "majority" of minus 143, with the Government increasing to just 40.89% of the seats.

And then we get this tweet from Labour peer Steve Bassam:

New peers list will give Govt a political majority of roughly a 100. No Govt has sought to dominate the Lords in modern Britain like this

One thing to note is that, in all the years I have followed British politics, I have never, until today, come across these terms "de facto majority" and "political majority". They have been drawn up to enable Labour peers to stamp their feet, say it's unfair and to accuse Prime Minister David Cameron of packing the House of Lords.

Do their claims stack up? Well, no is the simple answer.

Look at what the House of Lords website says again. We should aim for the number of peers to reflect the share of the vote at the May 2010 general election. And if we have 542 peers from the 3 main parties, we should expect them to be this:

  • Conservative - 222
  • Labour - 178
  • Liberal Democrat - 142

So, the Conservatives have the same number of peers as they are entitled to, Labour has 43 too many, and the Liberal Democrats have 43 too few.

Rather than packing the Lords with Government peers, Cameron has chosen to limit the number so that Labour is over-represented.

If Cameron made the decision to allow Labour to have no more working peers when the next list is drawn up, and to abide by the principle that party strength in the House of Lords should reflect general election votes, then we would be looking at 1 peer per 38,597 votes. That would mean the Conservatives would be entitled to 275 peers (an increase of 53) and the Liberal Democrats 175 (an increase of 76).

What about the Labour complaint that when they formed a Government they didn't have a "political majority" in the House of Lords? Well, when they were in power, they faced 2 Oppsition parties.

We are now in the world of hung Parliaments and coalitions. And, unless a fourth party appears on the scene (hi, UK Independence Party), then there will be a Government of 2 parties and one Opposition party. And simple maths tells you that if you only consider the Governmet and Opposition, then one of these will have over half the combined Government and Opposition seats.

So, what do Labour want when they put their toys back in the pram? To have party strengths proportional to the share of the vote - in which case they either need to say whether they will ask 43 of their peers to take a leave of absence or urge Cameron to create 129 new Government peers asap. Or do they want to have a "political majority" in the House of Lords? What's it gonna be?

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