You’re reading Reaction. To get Iain Martin’s weekly newsletter, columnists including Tim Marshall, Maggie Pagano and Adam Boulton, full access to the site and invitations to member-exclusive events, become a member HERE. 

The government has suffered the highest number of defeats in the House of Lords since the dark days of the 1970s. Peers have defeated the government on 115 occasions since Boris Johnson started his second parliamentary session on 11 May 2021.

This is despite the Conservative Party being the largest grouping in the upper chamber, although it does not command a majority like it does in the House of Commons.

The last time a government was scuppered this thoroughly by the Lords was the 1975-76 session when British democracy hung in the balance during the death throes of Harold Wilson’s second premiership.

Why is the government receiving such a clobbering on the red benches?

Part of the problem is the government’s failure to win support from non-affiliated members, including 184 crossbenchers. Concessions have had to be agreed at the discretion of Lords.

Priti Patel’s Nationality and Boarders Bill has been voted down a staggering 12 times. In January, the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill was defeated 14 times leading the government to reject measures to broaden stop-and-search powers.

But Dr Hannah White, deputy director of the Institute for Government, says bills are being written vaguely so as to avoid line-by-line scrutiny in the Lords. “This could indicate concerns in the House of Lords about the quality of the legislation and the powers that ministers are giving themselves in primary legislation.”

That hasn’t stopped ministers from rejecting Lords’ recommendations and pressing ahead with their legislative agenda. It does not show a healthy bicameral legislature and, in many ways, proves the Lords has become a largely powerless, performative body.