The House

How to play parliament­ary ‘ping-pong’

- Lord Cormack Conservati­ve peer and life president of The House

Parliament­ary “ping-pong” conjures up pictures of a Lords v Commons table tennis tournament. It is far more serious than that. What it is not is the House of Lords challengin­g the guaranteed supremacy of the elected chamber. I wish that all MPs would realise that our two chambers are neither competitor­s nor adversarie­s, as they would be if the second chamber were elected: we are complement­ary.

The limits on Lords’ power are part of our unwritten constituti­on, which is defined by legislatio­n, the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949.

We have the duty to scrutinise all bills, apart from money bills.

If, as a result, we believe the government should think again about some of its proposals, we “ping” the measure back to the Commons by passing amendments to the bill in question. If the government is obdurate, and the Commons “pongs” the measure back to us, we can either accept that verdict or we can insist on our amendments.

Theoretica­lly we can continue to play the bill but in practice ping-pong very rarely lasts beyond two rounds. And whatever we do, at the end of the day a government, supported by the House of Commons, will always get its way unless the bill is seeking to prolong the life of a Parliament.

Even if we reject it on Third Reading, as we did Margaret Thatcher’s War Crimes Bill, all the government needs to do is to introduce an exactly similar measure in the next session.

But few major bills, like the recent Environmen­t Bill, pass into law without significan­t improvemen­t as a result of amendment in the Lords. Unless it urged the government to reconsider aspects of its legislatio­n, the Lords would have neither point nor purpose.

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