New peers fail to end Lords' defeats
Despite the tilt in favour of the government following the influx of 29 new peers (14 Con, 10 LD, 5 Lab), last night's government defeat on an amendment to the Energy Bill demonstrates that the House of Lords remains a hung council, and one that shows no sign of abandoning its willingness to defy ministers.
When all the new peers have taken their seats, the arithmetic of Their Lordships' House will be Conservatives 222, Labour 221, Lib Dems 99, Crossbenchers 183 (plus the 23 Bishops, 21 non-affiliated peers, and 14 from "other parties.")
So while the Coalition parties can comfortably outvote Labour - the "political majority" Labour peers are prone to moan about - there are more than enough Crossbenchers and Others to swing a vote, especially if the government can't carry all its peers, as often happens.
Last night's Energy Bill vote, to toughen up pollution controls on Britain's dirtiest coal-fired power stations, is a classic of the genre. Labour turned out 155 of its peers for the amendment, and they were joined in the Aye Lobby by 43 Lib Dems, one Conservative and 30 Crossbenchers - which gave a comfortable majority of 44 against the government. On the No side - the government position - there were 26 Lib Dems and 18 Crossbenchers. So that defeat is added to the vote in June on the Offender Rehabilitation Bill (to require a further vote of Parliament before changes were made to the Probation Service) and the vote in October on an amendment to the Care Bill (on the applicability of human rights law to private care providers). Compared to the devastation inflicted to other Bills in this Parliament, this may be a fairly modest batting average, but the legislation is rather less controversial to start with. Up to now.
Today the government has offered a temporary pause in consideration of Part 2 of the Lobbying etc Bill (the bit about restrictions on election-time campaigning by pressure groups) to avoid defeat on the three month pause being proposed by Crossbencher Lord Ramsbotham. The government looks very vulnerable on this measure, not least because of the number of peers with strong connections to charities and pressure groups, and there's already talk of this bill getting the kind of treatment meted out to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill and and the Legal Aid etc Bill, in the last session.
And then we come to the Banking Bill, which is currently in the no-man's land between committee and report consideration, and will come back either very late this year, or early next. Report stage is the point in the life cycle of a bill at which amendments are usually attempted, and the massed forces of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards are poised to attempt a significant re-writing of key parts of the Bill. They have feet in every camp in the Lords - among the Crossbenchers (Lord Turnbull) and the Bishops (in the form of Archbishop Justin Welby) as well as on the Conservative (Lord Lawson) and Labour benches (Lord McFall) - although they have lost Lib Dem Baroness Susan Kramer, whose new job as a Transport Minister precludes her involvement in any challenge to the bill.
There's a half serious suggestion out there, that preventing amendments to the Banking Bill is the real reason for the influx of Coalition Peers. If it doesn't work, ministers could be in for some stinging defeats.