The Lib Dem Lords Paradox

Inigo Thomas

There was no election for the House of Lords last week, obviously, so no surprise to wake up to on that front, but that doesn’t mean there’s no surprise at all. The numbers of the House of Lords are as follows:

Liberal Democrat101
Other parties15

The difference between the crossbench and the non-affiliated peers is that crossbenchers have a convenor, who briefs them on what’s going on; the non-affiliated peers really are individuals on their own. There are other lords who aren’t there: those that don’t go because they’re members of the judiciary or because they have taken a leave of absence (e.g. Conrad Black). One peer remains suspended, Lord Hanningfield: he went to prison for abusing his expense allowance and served a quarter of his sentence. Michael Ashcroft remains to the world Lord Ashcroft, despite his resignation from the house prior to the election. He’s entitled to do so, there’s status left in titles, though less than there ever was.

There is not one SNP peer; the party wants the Lords abolished. Mind you, Cameron might become more sympathetic to the Sturgeon view. Before the election, the coalition of Tories and Lib Dems formed the largest block in the Lords; now the Tories can’t count on even a third of the house. Cameron could make a large number of new peers – that’s what Blair did after 1997 – but until he does so, or something else changes, Labour and the Lib Dems could unite to hold up legislation passed on from the House of Commons. The irony involved in that alliance might prove too difficult for its members to go along with. And how can the Lib Dems in the House of Lords carry on anyway? The party that’s made a point of demanding constitutional reform and an elected House of Lords now has a presence in the unelected second chamber more than ten times its presence in the elected House of Commons. How do they justify that?


  • 12 May 2015 at 8:08pm
    cufflink says:
    The big issue for the Upper House will be Scotland and the break up of the UK. Everyone is forgetting the outline pledges and promises made to them to secure the No vote; and with the Establishment wish through the Royal interest that a United Kingdom must continue as a realm. This will entail not just a transfer of powers to Scotland but substantial placating subsidies or share-out. Perhaps just a one-off payment and allocation next year to get the Scots' parlous economy straight; but a continuance of these favours would create unprecedented upheaval in England and engender similar claims from Wales and NI. We shall have to refurbish Coldstream and retake Harlech. Of course the Lords battalions won't be much good, merely lead soldiers.

  • 13 May 2015 at 7:37pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    A question from a citizen of a former colony (or 13 colonies, now known as the USA). Does the House of Lords have any functions other than ceremonial ones? For instance, is it possible for the House of Lords to actually stymy legislation emanating from the Commons, and, if so, can their veto be over-ridden? Other than for the social-status recognition of its members, what are they there for?

    • 13 May 2015 at 9:24pm
      Sean Whitton says: @ Timothy Rogers
      Yes, all legislation must be voted on by the majority of members of both houses. The House of Lords often proposes amendments and then send the bill back to the commons. However, the House of Commons can overrule the House of Lords eventually though the process is lengthy.

    • 14 May 2015 at 2:34pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ Sean Whitton
      Thanks to Mr. Whitton and Mr. Carley for the information; it's never too late to acquire a basic education.

  • 14 May 2015 at 9:31am
    Michael Carley says:
    History might rhyme, if not repeat. The Parliament Act, removing the power of the Lords to block legislation came about when Asquith threatened to appoint enough new peers to give the Liberals a majority. It was then used to force through Home Rule for Ireland.