Downing Street has announced that Lord Strathclyde, a former Leader of the House of Lords, will lead a review of the conventions surrounding the House of Lords with a view to “protect[ing] the ability of elected governments to secure their business.” This led a reader to ask if I thought this would result in a reduction of the Lords’ powers.
To be honest, I think this is little more than an exercise in face saving. Ministers want to look like they’re doing something, but they don’t really have a lot of options at their disposal. In the short term, all David Cameron can do is ask the Queen to create a large number of Conservative peers, but that appears to be off the table for now. That’s probably a good thing–it would be hugely controversial, and it would have longterm repercussions for the upper house.
Lord Strathclyde’s review lets the Government look decisive while simultaneously kicking the issue into the long grass. (It may be significant that No. 10 hasn’t outlined a timeframe for the review.) Even if the review comes up with actionable items, I’m not sure the Government could get them onto the statute book. Ministers really need to obtain cross-party consensus on something like this or else they’ll open themselves up to accusations of constitutional gerrymandering. But it’s not clear that Labour or the Liberal Democrats will cooperate. One could argue that it would be hypocritical for them to frustrate the Government given their stated support for Lords reform, but that’s politics for you.
If the Government tries to clip the Lords’ wings without cross-party support, they will almost certainly have to use the Parliament Acts. But as I’ve discussed elsewhere, they are not a legislative ‘easy button,’ and Ministers would face a grueling battle to get their changes onto the statute book. A lot of Tories might be disgruntled at the moment, but will they still have the stomach for a lengthy battle a year or two from now?