Lords reform - a win

A Liberal leader has got Lords reform through! No, not Nick Clegg, but David Steel.

The wily Lib Dem patriarch has secured an unopposed third reading in the House of Lords, for his modest reform package to the Upper House. No (shudder) elections, just a retirement mechanism and a system for removing peers convicted of serious crimes. Labour's Lord Hunt of Kings Heath gleefully suggested that this could form the basis of an alternative to the Clegg proposals, although it is a very minimalist alternative.

Lord Steel has attempted to get this bill through on four or five occasions in recent years - and along the way he has been forced to ditch some of the more radical components from his original package. There is now no Appointments Commission to choose non-party peers. His plan to remove the remaining 92 hereditary peers was scuppered by the hereditary Lord Admiral of Scotland, Lord Caithness, who threatened to filibuster the bill unless it was dropped. And what is left is a tidying-up exercise.

It will now go to the Commons as a private member's bill - and may meet the same fate as the previous version, which languished low on the order paper, without any priority for debate, until humanely killed by the end of the parliamentary session.

Lord Steel kicked up a fuss at the time, and secured a deal to reincarnate his bill and fast track it through the Lords. That has now happened - but does the deal include some assurance of Commons time? Lord Steel's been enigmatic about that….

But without some kind of assured debating time, it will be déjà vu all over again. Last time round, Scottish Lib Dem Alan Reid stood ready to pilot the bill through the Commons, but never got the chance.

Watch this space...

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