Tuesday, May 15, 2018

MPs reject attempt by unelected House to force government to break manifesto promise

The House of Lords has done good work in the past as a revising chamber.

It is an appointed body, not accountable to anyone but whose members have usually shown restraint in the past, whose job is to check legislation passed by the elected chamber. the House of Lords is  not supposed to attempt to frustrate either directly or through wrecking amendments, measures which the electorate have voted for.

Some of the recent House of Lords votes on the legislation implementing the electorate's decision to withdraw from the EU have been pushing the envelope of what is acceptable within the traditional role of the unelected chamber and you don't have to either go along with the more excitable tabloid headlines about "traitors in ermine" of even be a rabid Brexiteer - I voted Remain - to be concerned that the upper house is in danger of going beyond it's reasonable powers.

The behaviour of the House of Lords in respect of Brexit is challenging enough, but on press regulation they have now twice this year attempted to force the government to do something which the governing party had made an election manifesto promise not to.

The 2017 Conservative manifesto promised not to hold a further "Leveson 2" inquiry into the press. In January the House of Lords tried to force the government to break this election promise through amendments to the Data Protection Bill. These were taken out of the bill by the House of Commons a couple of months later.

Last week a group of MPs moved similar amendments to the data protection bill to those previously put forward by the House of Lords, which in my humble opinion would have seriously damaged the ability of the press to write anything controversial or expose wrongdoing. By a slim but clear majority of nine votes, the House of Commons rejected the first of these amendments and a further, particularly damaging proposal was dropped without a vote.

That should have been the end of it, but on Monday the unelected House made yet another attempt to force the government to break its election promises about press regulation, passing a further proposed amendment calling for a new inquiry. In the words of the Guardian,

"Although often described as being equivalent to the abandoned part two of the Leveson inquiry, in reality the proposal debated by parliament would have gone further and considered the use of personal data by newspapers, the role of social media companies, and governance issues at media groups."

Today MPs again rejected these proposals, by a slightly larger majority of 12 votes.

“I support the convention that if something is in the party of government’s manifesto and this house passes it, then the Lords should be very, very careful about sending it back,”

said the culture secretary, Matt Hancock.

There is a good explanation of the case against another press inquiry or further regulation by Emily Dinsmore in Spiked which you can read here.

An appointed upper chamber is increasingly looking like an anomaly in the modern age. I fought the 2010 election on a Conservative manifesto which included proposals to replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber.

Had I been elected I would, like the majority of Conservative MPs, have backed the attempt by David Cameron and Nick Clegg to implement this. Unfortunately it was defeated by an "unholy alliance" of Tory rebels and Labour. Ironically a substantial proportion of the rebels who killed the proposals for an elected second chamber were strong Brexit supporters who have found this bad decision coming back to haunt them.

The case for replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber looks even stronger to me today than it did during the 2010-2015 parliament.

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