I return to the subject of what is in the Coalition Agreement. There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the agreement, not least claims it has been broken, but usually without reference to what it actually says. Section 24 on ‘Political Reform’ includes a commitment to ‘legislate to make provision for fixed-term Parliaments for five years’, to ‘bring forward a referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies’, and to ‘bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall’.
Notice a pattern here? ‘legislate’, ‘a Bill’, ‘early legislation’. And on the House of Lords? ‘We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010’. No reference to the Government bringing forward legislation.
Now I know some people claim that it is clear or implicit that the Government planned to introduce a Bill in the light of the proposals, but if that was the plan it needed to be spelled out in the same way as other proposals. On the referendum Bill, for example, it was made explicit: ‘We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the position parties will take during such a referendum’. In other words, provision was made to anticipate and deal with expected opposition from MPs and peers. There was no such provision for what was predictable opposition to proposals for an elected second chamber.
The Coalition Agreement is not some ancient document written in an obscure language discernible only by learned scribes who have to tell us mere mortals what it really means. We communicate through a shared understanding of the meaning of words and, as far as I am aware, the Coalition Agreement is written in English. The provision on the Lords is clear ‘We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals…’ That commitment has been met. To employ a quote from Tim Loughton ‘End of’.