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Oh dear Lords

And the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth

Once upon a time, there was Labour Government who disagreed with the idea that some people were born to rule over others just because of who their Daddy was. So they set about trying to abolish an institution called the House of Lords, which included some people who were entitled to be their because of who they were born to.

Abolishing it entirely though, wasn’t as easy as they thought, and the Government only ended up by abolishing most of the hereditary peers, keeping the house as a second chamber into which it could promote those it felt the need to ennoble.

So, what exactly is this House of Lords for? According to its own House of Lords website, its three main roles are making laws, in-depth consideration of public policy and holding government to account.

Ah. Now were talking. It’s this latter function which has recently brought the Lords into their own. During the Lords Report Stage of the Housing and Planning Bill, the House administered a surprise blow to the Government’s zero carbon homes amendment. The defeat – by 48 votes – could see the reintroduction of Zero Carbon Homes, the on-site carbon compliance standard, which the Government scrapped out of the blue last July. Don’t forget, this is, more or less, the same administration which promised us ‘the greenest Government ever’.

This all comes pretty soon after the Lords also tripped up the tax credits plans and voted for amendments to the Housing Bill to limit the discounts available on starter homes amid fears they would be beyond the financial reach of those on low incomes (that sounds like it doesn’t make sense, but if you look at the reasoning here, it does).

So all good then? Well yes and no. In terms of the Zero Carbon defeat, there’s a clearly still much faith in the benefit of the Zero Carbon Homes standard. We are still not building houses that are energy efficient enough for our future purposes – the odd Grand Designs or Passivehaus project notwithstanding. We are certainly not building them in sufficient quantity in any case.

However, all the defeat means in the short term is that the Bill will now go back to the Commons where it could get stuck in Jarndyce-like to-ing and fro-ing with both Houses trying to get their version of the Bill through.

Still, what’s positive about all this is that there are clearly, still some parts of the Establishment that are prepared to stand up to the Government and not let ridiculous ideas pass through on the nod, just because they happen to be in the pre-election manifesto.

If the Lords could just perform a similar trick with regard to the SATS tests and the junior doctor’s contracts, that would be good.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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