The Upper House may have a decisive role to play in this sorry sagaby Peter Kellner / September 14, 2020 / Leave a comment
Here is a sentence I never thought I would write. Britain’s global reputation, its hopes of economic recovery and a vital constitutional principle could depend on the actions of the House of Lords. That any, let alone all, of these three things are in jeopardy is bad enough. For their defence to be in the hands of unelected legislators with no democratic mandate doubles the nightmare.
We may hope that this grim scenario will be avoided. Maybe enough Conservative MPs will rebel this week and kill the Internal Market Bill, or amend it to make sure that Britain will continue to abide by a treaty that parliament ratified as recently as January. Maybe Boris Johnson will back off: U-turns have become a way of life for him. Maybe the EU will buckle.
Hope, though, is not enough. We may hope that Arsenal will win the Premiership, that Crossrail will suffer no more delays, and that the rain will never fall till after sundown. Hope lifts the spirits but can be a fickle friend. Suppose the bill is approved by the Commons this week. What then?
The battle will move to the House of Lords. Since the Conservatives returned to office in 2010, the Lords have defeated the government 268 times, often on Europe. However, peers never defied the Commons outright on a major issue. Either the vote was an expression of opinion rather than a vote on a piece of legislation; or the Lords voted, in effect, to ask the Commons to think again—usually on a specific issue rather than a point of principle—and MPs agreed to do so; or the Commons held its ground and, in the end, the Lords gave way. None of the 268 votes blocked a bill that the government was determined to pass and for which it had a majority in the House of Commons.
We should bear this in mind when we hear that the Lords will oppose the Internal Market Bill. Peers might well vote it down once, or even twice. The question is, will they use their power to block the bill altogether?
The Lords have specific, but limited, powers. Under the Parliament Act, peers have no say on money bills, such as the…