On Tuesday night I sat watching the debate in the Commons on the Lords Reform bill with considerable interest. Sure, the debate itself wasn’t hugely interesting and for the most part it seemed like many MPs wanted to waste time and repeat the same points as everybody else had already done. At the end of the session the motion to send the bill for a second reading was sadly passed. I say sadly since this is an abominable idea, much like many others coming out of the Liberal Democrat party. It is bad for the country, it is bad for our political system and it is bad for us as the people. In fact the only people who will benefit from these reforms to the Lords are the Liberal Democrats.
As may be clear from the previous paragraph I am vehemently opposed to reform of the Lords, I disagree with the changes Tony Blair made in 1997 and I can see even less requirement for the changes being proposed now. This isn’t a unique view, many MPs believe this to be the case and while the public may support some form of reform they would much rather the government focus on the important issues like getting the economy working again and leaving further constitutional meddling to another day.
So what is this reform proposing? As I understand it, the Lords will no longer be named Lords but perhaps ‘Senators’ who will sit in the ‘House of Lords’. On its own this isn’t a particularly large issue, who really cares about a name? Another proposal is that the number of members of the upper house be cut to around 450, again this is a good thing since governments on both sides of the house have gone a little overboard on appointing Lords, meaning that it is difficult for them all to sit in the house and to conduct their business. The next point is where the proposal for reforms becomes more egregious. These ‘senators’ would be elected, meaning they would have a mandate leading to the upper house becoming filled with professional politicians who are less interested in performing the revising role of the upper house and more interested in pushing their own agenda. Some have worried that this would challenge the primacy of the Commons, however this at least would not be the case. If the upper house attempted to block legislation the Parliament Act 1911 could be used to assert the will of the Commons. The fear is however that this would become the de-facto final step in the passage of legislation rather than an exceptional and rarely used step.
Given the elected aspect of the new house, let’s revisit the language used to describe the houses. While the language is ancient and needs to be interpreted to reflect modern society, it still provides an important distinction. Why is the commons named as it is? Because it is the house of common people, that is not to say lower lass, but not of the nobility (the Lords.) Conversely the Lords were originally the upper classes, born into the title rather than elected or appointed to it. Obviously that wouldn’t was today and as such the majority of the Lords today are appointed. That doesn’t change the purpose of the Lords though, they are supposed to be a ‘better people’ above the grime of party politics, using their collective expertise and experience to scrutinise and revise legislation coming from the government in order to ensure it is in the best interests of the country. Electing professional politicians to the Lords does nothing to achieve these aims.
If that wasn’t bad enough, members would also be elected for a single non-renewable term of 15 years. This is a poor choice in virtually every way, those bringing expertise to the house which is not easily replaced would be lost when they could contribute for many decades. More importantly though, this proposal allows for massive incompetence on the part of the members; why would a member need to listen to the electorate when they don’t have to worry about getting re-elected? Coupled with the political nature of the new members, the length of the terms would also present issues. Under this system members elected at the same time and with the same political views as Tony Blair in 1997 would have just finished their terms, and in the meantime would have been able to oppose potentially four different governments, regardless of what the electorate thought.
Nick Clegg says that we have been trying to reform the Lords for over 100 years, that’s simply not true! We did so 15 years ago, and while I don’t personally support the changes, it did render the need for today’s change moot. So why the discussion? Let’s come back to Nick Clegg, leader of the perpetual third place losers in British politics. Clegg has delivered the first taste of power since the Second World War and now, like a third world dictator, he doesn’t want to relinquish that power. We first saw this with the referendum on the Alternative Vote. Had this succeeded, it is highly likely that many more Liberals would have been returned as second preferences at a general election meaning it would be virtually impossible to form a majority government and the Liberal Democrats would be perpetual junior coalition partners spreading their stupid ideas year after year. His plan for the Lords is similar with members being elected via proportional representation, giving undue power to minority parties such as the Liberals who would then be able to spend 15 years disrupting government work which doesn’t fit with their party principles.
I agree with the MPs that called for this bill, should it ever make it to the end of the process to be put to a referendum where it can be given the ultimate test, that of public approval. If the public say yes, then there is little that can be said against reform. The likelihood though is a resounding no. If this is the case then things can go on quite nicely as they do at the moment.