Gummer’s red bench tenure looks crowded

IN wishing John Gummer well in the House of Lords – will it be Baron Gummer of Eye? – I wonder just how effective this new career of his will be.

The coalition government wants to have a wholly or overwhelmingly elected upper house or senate. These new peers/senators, having the legitimacy of being elected, will obviously take precedence when it comes to speaking in debates.

And with the coalition said to be pressing ahead with appointing an additional 180 life peers – 100 Tories, 80 Lib Dems – the already overcrowded upper house is in danger of becoming as suffocating as the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Suffolk Coastal’s retiring MP was given his peerage in the dissolution honours list, which sees close allies of the outgoing administration as well as long-serving MPs of all parties who did not seek re-election, being elevated to the upper house.

The Lords is in essence a revising chamber. The combined wisdom and legal knowledge of its distinguished members ensures it is able to point out weaknesses in legislation proposed by the Commons and is able to suggest amendments which may or may not be blocked by the Government when a Bill returns to the Commons for consideration before the being enacted.

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The Lords can also vote down Government measures. The coalition does not want to have to wait a year before resubmitting the legislation – which is the method by which the elected Commons asserts its will over the non-elected Lords – and that is why it needs the extra 180 working peers to nod through any contentious Bills, such as the proposed change to votes of confidence in the Commons.

Once these placemen have taken their seats, the coalition will introduce its plans for either a wholly or mostly elected senate, to be elected by proportional representation on regional lists, similar to the process used for choosing British Euro MPs.

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The danger for the Government is that the elections to the senate may result in a chamber of a different political complexion than itself. Thus the Tory and Lib Dem life peer backwoodsmen will be expected to turn up and vote.

Even if no more life peers are nominated once the senate is up and running, it could be more than 30 years before the existing life peers die off. So expect a future Labour government to remove all life peers from the Lords and put our upper chamber in the hands of the people.

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