A bad omen for ministers

 

The defeat in the Lords is the 29th inflicted by peers on the government

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Last night's well-telegraphed government defeat in the Lords, on the proposed household benefit cap in the Welfare Reform Bill, is a bad omen for ministers as they contemplate the forthcoming orgy of detailed legislating in the Upper House.

This is the 29th defeat inflicted on ministers by their lordships (according to this invaluable site run the the UCL Constitution Unit) and there seems a growing prospect of many more before the Parliamentary year is out. Peers have one more day of report stage debate on that bill, but then it's the Health and Social Care Bill, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill and the Scotland Bill - all bills which where different groups of peers, approaching the legislation from different angles, plan pitched battles.

The first point to note is that this was a defeat inflicted primarily because Lib Dem peers rebelled or abstained - their normally solid voting bloc split into 39 voting with the government, 26 against and 26 not voting. Labour and the Conservatives both managed a respectable turnout of their peers - each group voting the party line, with very similar numbers of non-voters (67 Conservative peers and 64 Labour did not vote).

And the crossbenchers, often a key factor in government defeats, split more or less evenly on this occasion, with 41 voting with the government and 38 against. Five Bishops and a sprinkling of "others" voted against the government as well.

The voting figures reflect Labour's numbers advantage - 239 peers, compared to the Conservatives' 219. When the Conservatives and the 91 Lib Dems combine the Coalition can normally muster a comfortable majority - although it can be trumped by the 187 crossbenchers, on the rare occasions when they all or mostly vote in one direction.

Last night the Lib Dem dissidents included several eminent figures - former leader Lord Ashdown, SDP founder Lady Williams, former SDP leader Lord Maclennan and the former Chair of the Social Security Select Committee (as it then was) Lord Kirkwood. More humble figures rebel with more confidence when they are following such party elders into the lobbies. And, as we know from the Commons, those who rebel once become far more likely to repeat the trick.

So the government's prospects for a whole flotilla of major bills now depends on the Lib Dem whips' ability to re-assert party discipline - and some senior figures seem quite content at what one called "last night's controlled detonation". But the other factor is the possibility of a big net vote against the government by crossbenchers - a distinct possibility when the big votes come at report stage on the Legal Aid Bill and the Health and Social Care Bill. That could result in many more defeats even when the Lib Dems don't split.

 
Mark D'Arcy, Parliamentary correspondent Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 9.

    8.alfsplace1986
    Are you saying that the massive deficit does not exist (or does not matter)on the day it has been established that Britain's national debt has breached £1tn for the first time?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 8.

    4.oldsandbanker
    Perhaps their Lordships are able to see the wood through the trees. They see through the Government lies and creation of mass hysteria.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 7.

    As the article says the number of labour peers is actually more than the conservatives due to Blair filling the House with labour peers. Cameron may need to do the same to reflect the proportion of conservatives in the commons. Alternatively it looks just like political posturing by labour so the government may prefer to leave it so the public can see that labour are just not up for change.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 6.

    Should Scotland gain independence, all this could seem pointless as all these large scale reforms will need overhauling again - at more cost!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 5.

    Having just read the news etc after being away until yesterday it seems that the governments plans in whatever guise are going wrong , NHS , Benefits, Unemployment, Quangos, all appear to be costing more or are now not working at all , if cuts are required at least plan them not the mishmash of knee jerk reactions we have seen thus far ,

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 4.

    It seems to me that their lordships are behaving as if they are oblivious to the need for deficit reduction. I would have expected a much more responsible approach whatever their individual political persuasion.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    When the Lords are reformed(!) will they be able to bring down the government of the day? They will be elected, so can we expect more of this only on steroids?
    As for mistakes, be prepared for more, the Beeb's 'Delivering Quality First' protects managers at the expense of people who actually do stuff.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 2.

    Just as the BBC TV news is now containing increasing number of errors,
    e.g. astronomers described as "astrologers" last night, when the Aurora Borealis was being discussed!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1.

    Does nobody ever proof-read articles at the BBC any more? This is full of errors!

 

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