In 1997 the Labour Party manifesto outlined that under a Labour government the House of Lords would be reformed so that “the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute…“. It was clear that change appeared to be on the agenda and the House of Lords Act 1999 provided changes to the rights of Hereditary Peers, removing the right for members to inherit their seats. This was achieved via a compromise which ensured 92 hereditary peers would remain in the House on an interim basis.
Although these were necessary baby steps, it was not until after the 2001 General Election that a public consultation on Lords Reform took place. Over 1,000 people took part and there was much debate sparked in Parliament. However, even after all this buzz there were no concrete measures taken to reform the House of Lords. Even when a vote was put to Parliament in 2003, the Commons and the Lords voted to ensure that any Peers would be Appointed and not directly Elected. To show how overdue Lords Reform is you only need to recognise how long it has been talked about. Even as far as back as 1911, under the Parliament Act, the Liberal Party underlined a need for reform and that the Second Chamber itself should be “constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis“. Although it was noted that such changes could not be achieved with any great immediacy, would I not be right in saying that 100 years is more than long enough for the sort of reform talked about by the Liberals in 1911?
Without stating the obvious, it does not take much of a mind to realise that the political landscape is very different to 1997, let alone 1911. But if now is not the best opportunity for Lords Reform, that actually shakes up Parliament, then when is? Public trust in politics is not in great shape and we need to give the electorate a lifeline to show that finally the men and women behind the suits that stand on a platform of “democracy” are actually listening. The Coalition agreement is the first step. It outlines that there are intentions to work towards a mainly, or wholly, elected Upper Chamber. My take is that although there is a desire to see a fully elected House of Lords, we should not turn away from the opportunity to see a “mainly” elected Upper Chamber. As Nick said recently, 80% is better than 0%. It must not be ignored that there will be great opposition to this. Even when looking at the 1997 Labour manifesto, on the issue of Lords reform, the party had to reiterate that they were opposed to abolishing the monarchy! To think that such ridiculous claims have to be refuted, it is worrying that Lords Reforms may well be halted by ludicrous arguments and the overhanging worry that the Lords themselves may oppose such moves. But this is no reason to back down. If the case is put clearly and loudly, the people will unite behind this. The Prime Minister is said to have given his backing so it seems that there is only a matter of time. Quite frankly, we owe it to the electorate if we wish to uphold the foundations of a liberal democracy.
*Josh Dixon is a member of Liberal Youth and blogs at Liberal Insight
* Joshua Dixon is Chair of Hillingdon Lib Dems, and Membership Development Officer for the Social Liberal Forum