Peers are turning out en masse to scrutinise Brexit legislation, providing a good opportunity for some political triviaby Matthew Purvis / April 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
The House of Lords has been back in the headlines in recent weeks. In case you missed it, the Lords has been debating the government’s Withdrawal Bill. The central purpose of the Bill is to provide legal certainty and prevent gaps in the statute book by preserving European Union law in domestic law after exit day. The Bill is not, however, without contention. It did not have a smooth passage through the Commons, where the government has a slim majority. The Bill has now hit its critical stage for votes in the Lords, where the government has no majority.
To date, the government has been defeated seven times, with peers turning out in record numbers to agree changes to the Bill. The biggest turnout was for Conservative Peer Viscount Hailsham’s amendment (former MP Douglas Hogg) which would allow Parliament a “meaningful vote” by determining what the government would do were, amongst other scenarios, the House of Commons to reject the government’s deal with the EU. Previous divisions have seen numbers voting totalling 573, 570 (twice), 531, 520 and 503. These rank in the top 23 biggest votes recorded in the Lords.
Significantly, the 23 largest votes—those where over 500 peers voted—have all taken place in the last seven years. It could be argued the high numbers voting follows the growth of the size of the House since 1999: more members means more who can vote, and there are now around 800.
However, this is too simplistic. Between 1911 and 1999, the Lords more than doubled in size from around 600 to nearly 1,300. Divisions did not garner regular big turnouts. If we look to key votes on momentous constitutional bills in years gone by, they often mustered less than half the numbers we have seen in recent weeks. Indeed, whilst those peers able to vote in 1972 on the European Communities Bill, which paved the way for the UK’s membership of the then EEC, numbered around the same as those eligible to vote today, votes drew around 200 peers voting in divisions on the Bill.
“The 23 largest votes—those where over 500 peers voted—have all taken place in the last seven years”
Even earlier, the Parliament Bill in 1911—the legislation that was to be the culmination of a constitutional row between the two Houses about the Lords’ powers over legislation—saw just under 250 peers voting on the decisive…