Leaders: Coalition must stumble on despite failure on Lords
FAILURE to secure sufficient support on the Conservative back benches on the timetable for the bill on House of Lords reform has the potential to bring an increasingly fraught coalition to a calamitous end.
For the Liberal Democrats, House of Lords reform is not only a deep article of faith, but an issue fundamental to their support for their Faustian pact coalition with the Conservatives and their submission to other coalition measures that they deeply dislike.
So frayed have relations now become between the two parties that it is not hard to see the reality within the warning from senior Liberal Democrat MP David Laws yesterday, that failure by Prime Minister David Cameron to secure the backing of MPs could set off a chain reaction of coalition unravelling. Indeed, it is this prospect that explains the evident commitment of both Mr. Cameron and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to honour the pledges made on this issue. The alternative of breakdown – and a possible snap election – would be deeply undesirable. Not only would there be a heavy political price to pay, but adverse reaction in markets to the prospect of economic policy instability could strip the UK of its coveted triple-A rating.
However, even the most ardent supporter of Lords reform would surely have recognised that the difficulty would come, not over the principle of Lords reform – this secured an impressive majority – but over the legislative timetable. Constitutional reform requires great care in consideration, time to debate amendments and precision in drafting. Suppression of any of these risks an outcome that may not long stand the test of time. What then would have been the point?
Reform to create a second chamber at Westminster has to reconcile many different and complex cross-currents. The case for greater accountability is powerful, but it cannot be a second elected chamber whose powers and competencies would undermine the authority of the Commons. It also has to reconcile the compelling case for the second chamber to be federal in character if Scotland rejects independence and opts to remain in the Union. A further issue is how to preserve the attractive features of the Lords – in particular its ability to draw on experienced advice and expert opinion, which has brought an undoubted quality and authority to the scrutiny of legislation in the Lords and its select committee reports.
So fractious have relations now become within the coalition that it is unlikely Mr Cameron will be able to make much headway on this issue with his 91 rebels. He will thus need to explore ways of cutting a deal with Labour. That may offer a route out of the cul de sac he is now in. But coalition life is likely to be even more fraught than it already is. Only the prospect of a snap election in which both parties could suffer is keeping this bouncing, disputatious caravan on its rocky road. It needs to bounce along a little more.
Care for elderly is cause for concern
FOR Scots, the announcement yesterday of proposed changes in care of the elderly in England would have occasioned some pride, but also some apprehension. The proposals mark a significant step towards a system for England that moves a little closer to the “free” care for the elderly programme now well established north of the Border. It offers the prospect of an end to the forced sale of homes by older people to pay for their care and a system of loans from councils to obviate this deeply unpopular resort.
However, the government has said it requires more time to examine cheaper options to a proposed £35,000 cap on care for individuals. Meanwhile, the demographic dynamics driving these changes – the biggest, the government claims, since the 1948 National Assistance Act –will give cause for concern here in Scotland.
Here is the nub. According to figures from the Office for
National Statistics, the number of healthy retirement years is not rising in line with the increase in life expectancy. If the average person only has just under 60 per cent of healthy years in retirement, then the other 40 per cent will be spent needing some form of care. And as people live longer, the number of years people will need to be cared for increases.
The open-ended cost of Scotland’s system thus begs searching questions as to not if but when a similar Andrew Dilnot style appraisal will be needed here.
Yesterday, England’s local authorities responded critically to what they saw as delay and prevarication on how the care budget would be funded long-term. It is the hottest of political potatoes, whatever the government finally decides to do.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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