house of lords

The government was defeated by just four votes yesterday afternoon in the House of Lords despite peers being threatened with the ultimate sanction: the loss of some of their treasured summer recess.

The government has been eaten alive in the Lords,” is how one Tory MP put it to me. “It was extraordinary.”

The topic may sound a bit dry. Ministers wanted to refer part of the financial services bill to a grand committee – while allowing peers to debate the (relatively) exciting bits involving the Bank of England in the upper chamber. Read more

The House of Lords authorities are refusing to hand over officials’ estimates of how much it will cost taxpayers to replace the chamber with a mostly elected senate, prompting anger from Tory politicians.

Officials have rejected a freedom of information request by the Financial Times, saying that the relevant information was produced “solely” for the joint committee on Lords reform. “A decision was taken by them not to publish it as part of their report,” they said in their response.

David Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said there was a “clear-cut case” for the cost estimates to be put in the public domain.

There is a very clear argument for this,” said the influential former frontbencher. “It will be very hard for them to refuse to do it.” Mr David predicted that the question would be put to Nick Clegg: “What’s he going to say? ‘We don’t know?’ He can’t do that can he?

Another Tory MP told the FT: “This is a genuine public issue how can we reach a decision about its merits when we have no cost-benefit analysis?

The issue comes to a head on Wednesday when Lords reform is part of the Queen’s speech setting out the legislative programme for the forthcoming parliamentary Read more

Lords reform is widely seen as a hobbyhorse of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats –yet it is a Tory minister whose task is to push through the legislation to transform parliament’s upper house.

Indeed, aides to Mr Clegg have jokingly referred to it as “the Mark Harper bill” in their attempts to downplay the idea that the deputy prime minister is obsessedby removing the unelected peers.

Mr Harper has a delicate task in front of him; steering through a full shake-up of the Lords which has evaded other politicians for a century.

A press officer warns the FT that the minister keeps his office at a low temperature: but this habit may not prepare him for the frosty reception he will face in parliament during next year’s legislative marathon.

Peers and MPs of all parties have already lined up to oppose the bill. Even if it passes through the Commons without mishap it is likely to be ambushed by the combined forces of Tory, Labour, and even some Lib Dem peers.

There could be a repeat of the filibustering and all-night sittings dominated the Lords in the spring of 2011 over the alternative vote bill.

Nick Clegg has threatened to use the Parliament Act to force it through, but weeks of debate are expected, taking up large amounts of next year’s political calendar.

Mr Harper tells the FT that bill should not take up a “disproportionate” amount of time: but warns potential trouble-makers:

I don’t think the public would understand if people told the public they don’t care hugely about this legislation but then let it (in-fighting) damage the rest of the programme,” he says.

Even David Cameron once said he saw Lords reform as a “third term issue”, implying it was a very low priority. But Mr Harper says the prime minister is fully signed up to the Read more

House of LordsThe comments by Lord Lee in today’s FT are quite extraordinary. The Lib Dem peer opposes the coalition’s plan to reform the House of Lords to such an extent that he has threatened to quit his role as a Lords whip if it pushes ahead. He said:

There is absolutely no public demand for this at all, and pretty much zero support from serious political commentators.

He added that the coalition faced a “long, bitter and bloody battle” if it pressed ahead.

Lord Lee is not alone: we have now learned that 14 Lib Dem peers wrote a letter last year to the party leader outlining their opposition to his plans for an 80 per cent elected chamber.

In the letter, the 14 said:

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House of LordsMany commentators have been asking why the Liberal Democrats are still in the coalition, given they have now lost major battles on tuition fees, electoral reform and Europe.

Philip Stephens, writing in today’s FT, suggests:

With trust gone, the coalition is now much more a transactional affair. Anything beyond the shared goal of reducing the deficit is the subject of intense negotiation.

Clegg, when asked today in the Commons, said that the main reason to form the coalition, and to stay in it now, was to bring down the deficit. But if there is one issue that might seem distinctively Lib Dem, and on which Clegg might be able to score a victory, not least to placate his own backbenches, it is on reforming the House of Lords. Read more

Council and privately owned housesThe Commons is dead at the moment: with little legislation to debate and no mandatory votes left, many MPs have drifted away to their constituencies (or further afield) for Christmas. But the Lords has plenty to do, and peers are making their presence felt.

Last week, ministers were given a bloody nose when peers voted to nullify plans to cut housing benefit by up to 25 per cent for people who live in council houses with spare rooms. The department for work and pensions says the policy is designed to free up housing stock. A spokesman says:

It’s not fair that people to continue to live in homes that are too large for their needs when in England alone there are around five million people on the social housing waiting list and over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded conditions.

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The FT reports this morning that Michel Barnier, Europe’s top financial regulator, has shelved plans to rein in the credit rating agencies. Barnier, who is internal market commissioner, had to bow to objections elsewhere in the EU. We report that Barnier still unveiled proposals to transform the business model of the big agencies but has ordered some last-minute “technical work” that amounts to a ceasefire.

Both Barnier and the rating agencies were discussed in the House of Lords last night, where former City minister Lord Myners was on scathing form. First the Labour peer (a former chairman of Marks & Spencer) criticised the “flawed thinking” from the European Commission on the issue. He then continued:

I worry very much about Mr Barnier. I met Mr Barnier when he was a Minister. He came to see us at the Treasury. He came down the corridor and I was watching him. I am a great fan of art and I was rather impressed that he stopped to look at every painting. I thought this is a man with whom I share a common interest-until I realised he was actually looking at his reflection in the glass on every painting, and adjusting his hair or his toupee. This to me is a man whom we should treat with a very long spoon. I hope the Minister will take due care in working with Mr Barnier because we have been forewarned that this man intends to seek even more powers than those he announced today. He said he wants to return to the issue of censoring

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The Telegraph and the Mail have today covered the story that the government will unveil a new universal state pension in an imminent green paper. The £140/week pension (rising to £155 in four years’ time) is roughly as anticipated when the story first broke last autumn. It is a less complicated system than the current basis state pension which can be topped up with additional benefits such as the pension credit.

What has barely been noted, however, is that the coalition nearly endured a defeat in the House of Lords on Wednesday night over its long-standing plans to lift Britain’s retirement age. Read more

I’m told there is a strong chance of the coalition losing a vote this afternoon in the House of Lords. Not on tuition fees, which will be debated in the evening.

Instead a cross-bench peer, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, has proposed an amendment to stop the coalition scrapping the post of chief coroner in its Public Bodies Bill (otherwise known as the bonfire of the quangos). Labour have a three-line whip on its peers to back Finlay, who also has the sympathy of many other cross-benchers. Read more

Here is a link to the judgments. And here is the Press Association:

Three peers were facing lengthy suspensions from parliament today after sleaze inquiries found they had wrongly claimed tens of thousands of pounds in expenses.

In damning judgments, the House of Lords Privileges and Conduct Committee said Baroness Uddin, Lord Bhatia and Lord Paul should repay nearly £200,000 between them. Read more

The official announcement has just come through. There are 56 new peers entering the House of Lords. There are 29 Labour, 16 Tories, 9 Lib Dems, 1 DUP and 1 cross-bencher.


John Prescott (pictured): Croquet-playing, Tweeting, sentence-mangling former deputy prime minister.

John Reid: Scottish former defence secretary (and home secretary, and health secretary) who now chairs Celtic football club

Margaret Wheeler: Unison, director of organisation

Michael Williams: former adviser on foreign affairs

Des Browne: Scottish former defence secretary

Quentin Davies (pictured): former defence secretary who crossed the floor from the Tories and put his bell tower on expenses

Bev Hughes: Former immigration and prisons minister

Sir Jeremy Beecham, former chair of Local Government Association

Rita Donaghy, former chair of Conciliation and Arbitration Service

Tommy McAvoy: Former senior whip in the Commons

Hilary Armstrong: North-east MP who remained loyal to Blair until the end.

John Hutton (pictured): Blarite former defence secretary who resigned last summer but did not knife Gordon Brown Read more