Is the Lords becoming more liberal than the Commons?

43995I have in a previous post drawn attention to the change that took place in the House of Lords on the issue of same-sex marriage.  The House has moved over the past decade from being resistant to measures designed to advance gay rights, such as lowering the age of consent and repealing Section 28, to being willing to endorse change and to do so by a substantial margin.  I reflected in that post of why the House had changed so notably over that period.  However, it strikes me that the change is notable not only in a historical sense (the change over time), but also in a comparative sense.  The comparison is with the Commons.

The Lords used to be resistant to attempts by the Commons to achieve change.  The lowering of the age of consent, for example, was achieved by use of the Parliament Act, the Commons getting its way over the resistance of the Lords.  However, consider the position today.  The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill got through the Commons by 400 votes to 175, although more Conservative MPs voted against it than voted for it.  In the Lords, it was carried by 390 votes to 148.  There are two points of comparative relevance.  First, the majority in the Lords was not only substantial, but higher than that achieved in the Commons.  Second, every political grouping in the House produced more members voting for than against.  This included the cross-benchers as well as the Conservatives.

Now fast forward to this year and the Assisted Dying Bill.  A Private Member’s Bill, it was debated in the Commons earlier this month. It was rejected by 330 votes to 118, a majority of 212.  When introduced in the Lords last session by Lord Falconer of Thoroton, a vote took place on an amendment that was seen as designed to frustrate the Bill by opponents.  The amendment was rejected by 180 votes to 107, a somewhat unexpected victory by supporters of the Bill.

One has to be careful in reading too much into two votes, but the contrast merits reflection.  In the 1960s, the Lords was seen as a liberal House: the law to decriminalise homosexuality could be seen as having its origins in a motion moved by the Earl of Arran and peers somewhat unexpectedly endorsed the decision of the Commons to abolish capital punishment.  As Peter Richards wrote of the social reform legislation of the period, ‘the Lords, on balance, have assisted rather than impeded reform’.  After going through a rather conservative era, is the House reverting to what it was half-a-century ago?

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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6 Responses to Is the Lords becoming more liberal than the Commons?

  1. tizres says:

    Lord Norton:

    Well, yes and no. It hardly needs saying here that many factors are in play for any particular vote; without wanting to be Lord Tyler-ish, might ageing peers have had their minds more keenly focussed on the Assisted Dying Bill than their younger neighbours? But that’s not what you’re getting at.

    it might be that an individual parliamentarian of the not-so-long-ago is more likely to have acquired a pass for the Palace because of a personal sense of duty than the arrivistes, those joyless careerists already being rejected by some of the electorate.

    • Lord Norton says:

      tizres: There appears to have been a change in the Lords on assisted dying, just as there was on same-sex marriage. May be influenced by changing membership, but not by fact of being an elderly House, which is not a new feature!

  2. maude elwes says:

    A return to common sense rule can often be seen as a backward step when the power of the wayward wanes. They squeal like stuck pigs once the influencer of their so called ‘new thinking’ becomes a tiresome bore. Which ususally follows examples of disastrous leadership failing abysmally, as those espousing it cling ardently to refusal of their wrong footing.

    You could say the Lords found it easier to accept the changes to homosexuality and the laws of so called, equality, because so many had first hand knowledge, said to be prolific in their midst. Likewise the Assisted Dying Bill being age related.

    However, as an outsider looking in, it appears the shift in the Lords coincides with a growing connection to the will of the people. Take the shock of the out of touch Labour party to their rank and file constiituents, which they continue to confuse with only a few hard left pretenders. Had they had their ear to the ground over the last 20 to 30 years they would have known full well true Labour policies were once again the prime mover and shaker of the people. What they simply refuse to accept, though the Tories are more open to it, is, the lurch against rampant migration, which is the major policy keeping Labour in opposition. And the lunacy of it is, even with a mass influx in the open door experiment, the migrants themselves don’t want ruinition of their new found aspirations pushing them toward a replay of that they fled. So, a massive rethink on this encouraged invasion is paramount if they want to lead again.

    Frankly, I’m surprised at the turn toward embracing democracy, with the understanding that, rejecting it leads to unrest and social collapse but at the same time, I’m proud of their courage to reject what so far they have followed without deep thought. What is taking place is very exciting an, étude socialogique. Which is a soul connection that cannot be impeded by misplaced rhetoric.

    • maude elwes says:

      Reading through my above post implies I have changed my views on SSM, I have not. And will not whilst the WWW is continually swept to remove any opposing views. And I know they exists as I have seen them one day and not another. Funny that. And still I hasten to add most European countries have rejected it and appear to be more avidly against then for.

      Here, below, is a good read on the matter. Often pooh poohed as it is written with a RC view. I though, embrace all views, for and against, and nowhere have I seen anything close to a realistic leaning toward two men or two women being a coherent marriage partnership, in the traditional sense of the meaning.

      http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/why-same-sex-marriage-arguments-are-so-terrible

  3. maude elwes says:

    On the issue of a more liberal Lords than Commons. I wonder if having a conscience is classed as more liberal than conservative thinking?

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tax-credits-conservatives-could-suspend-house-of-lords-if-peers-kill-off-cuts-in-vote-next-week-a6700671.html

    I do hope Chancellor Osborne is ready to accept his fate should an organisation bring against him a charge of ‘Murder in Trust’ or ‘Murder under Trust.’ Should all those so called ‘hard working’ families, the implication being the others are undeserving layabouts, find they are facing starvation, after having had their tax credits removed to the point of annihilation.

    And, I also do hope our second chamber is fearless enough to go with its conscience in these and all matters.

    PS: Ridiculous is a government that claims it wants growth whilst at the same time turns the tap off the financial ability of those who can and do create growth by spending. The more they have the more they spend, The more thay spend the hotter the growth. Austerity is ruination for any fighting economy. But then our politicians eyes are too close together as their main concern is to keep an eye on their noses whilst they repeat ‘we have no inflation.’

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