The idea of a consensus in favour of overhauling the upper chamber has just been blown open by a surprise minority report published by 12 rebel members of the joint committee on Lords reform.
I’ve just come back from the press conference and this was not a dry document listing minor changes to sub-clauses of the main report or the original bill.
Instead the members have sought to blow a hole in the very argument for an elected (or mostly elected) upper chamber.
The public would not stomach the “dramatically higher” cost of replacing the House of Lords with a mostly-elected upper house, they have said.
“We are sceptical that there will be ready public support for a new tier of full-time, salaried politicians,” the minority report said. “It is clear that the costs of establishing and running a fully-or partly-elected House of Lords compared with the current House would not only be higher, but would be very substantially, and in fact dramatically, higher.”
Baroness Symons, a co-author of the minority report, said the issue of costs was particularly important “at a time of austerity”.
Baroness Shepherd, the former Tory minister, condemned the government for refusing to even outline costings for an elected House of Lords, despite being in possession of estimates.
She said that the best estimate was from Lord Lipsey, who had given evidence that the reforms could cost £177m in their first year and £433m from 2015 to 2020. “We believe that the public has a right to see such material in considering the issues involved in further House of Lords reform,” the minority report says.
(You can see the line that any anti-reform group might take if a referendum is held after all.)
UPDATE: Except that having checked the Lipsey evidence it’s clear that his calculations have been overtaken by events. For example, he includes £220m for “transitional peers”” salaries – even though they won’t get one. The authors of the minority report have asked me to talk to Lipsey and he’s unreachable.
FURTHER UPDATE: I’ve reached Lipsey and he admitted that his figures could be out by more than £100m. He is going to go back through his calculations (he didn’t realise they would be used by the rebel committee members) and update them against the recommendations of the joint committee.
I asked Lord Richard, chair of the wider joint committee, about the cost issue at the earlier 11am press conference for the main report.
He admitted that members had not discussed costs as they did not have any government documents on the matter. The group accepts that the new members of the reformed upper house should have both salaries and second home allowances – in contrast to the current system of daily expenses for peers. It’s not clear why the committee did not ask the government a little more persistently for those documents.