When did the Tories stop supporting Lords reform?

From all the debate and angst within the Tory party over the issue of House of Lords reform you’d imagine the plan to inject an element of democracy into the UK parliament had been foisted on David Cameron by sneakily obsessive Liberal Democrats.

Yet the reality is somewhat different. The Coalition Government’s pledge to overhaul the revising chamber (after Labour’s successive, botched failures) built on Tory promises to the electorate over a decade or more — recognising perhaps that such reform is in fact in their own interests.

Here’s what the Tory manifesto said as far back as 2001:

In changing the way Parliament works our overriding objective will be to strengthen the ability of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to hold the Government to account. We will strengthen the independence of the House of Lords as an effective revising chamber by requiring new members to be approved by an independent appointments commission. We will set up a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament in order to seek consensus on lasting reform in the House of Lords. We would like to see a stronger House of Lords in the future, including a substantial elected element.

By 2005, this Tory pledge of Lords reform had become firmer still:

proper reform of the House of Lords has been repeatedly promised but never delivered. … We will seek cross-party consensus for a substantially elected House of Lords.

This reforming pledge was repeated in 2010:

We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current house of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence.

With such a track record of commitment to Lords reform small wonder that the 2010 Coalition Agreement made an almost identical pledge to the Tory manifesto:

We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.

So the question really to Tory MPs about Lords reform is this: why have you stopped supporting your own party’s manifesto commitment?

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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12 Comments

  • Given this, and the supposed commitment to Lords reform from Labour, I don’t understand this argument that reform must dominate Parliament’s time; if everyone agrees, can’t we just pretty much wave it through? Unless of course (a) the Tories don’t believe in democracy and (b) Labour puts petty partisan point-scoring ahead of modernising our political system. Ah, I think I may have answered my own question.

  • I would think the tories have given up on early lords reform due to they need govt more stable after mid term results. Any further major overhauls now would only destabilise govt? Can’t think of any other plausible reason.

  • I think this is why there needs to be acceptance of a referendum on the issue. Every quote above talks about consensus, there has been a cross party committee that has recommended a referendum therefore if that is the proposal then Tories voting against would be going against their manifesto.

    If the proposal differs from the recommendation then they will simply, and sadly with justification, be able to state they wanted a cross party consensus, supported the result of that, but cannot support the Government as they have ignored a central plank of it’s recommendations…

  • LondonLiberal 9th May '12 - 12:31pm

    i don’t think the tories ever supported this in their hearts, if indeed they ever knew it was in their manifestos. most grassroots ones think it’s a liberal elite concern foisted upon them by modernisers. i suspect that they think the same about the equal pay act, same sex marriage and other such ‘dangerous’ measures…

  • What London Liberal said.

  • Alisdair McGregor 9th May '12 - 10:33pm

    It’s hardly surprising the Tories are backtracking on Lords Reform. It’s shocking Labour are doing the same.

  • Perhaps what some MPs are hesitant about is the fact that Lords Reform was a part of all three major parties’ manifestos, while being virtually ignored in the lead-up to the election. The vast majority of the public probably did not know that they were voting for it, and even if they did would have felt they had no choice if their vote was to count for anything. Without there being any differentiation between the parties on the issue of Lords Reform, there was no way for it to have any leverage on the result of the election.

    I agree with Stephen W, that the reform should not try to do everything in one jump, but this is also because I believe that a move towards a majority elected Lords is a dangerous mistake. Fixing the major flaws within the current appointed system first would ensure that a decision against elected lords was not taken as a decision in favour of the status quo. I believe that there is a good case for de-politicising the selection process and providing a means for Lords to be removed if they no longer contribute when necessary (perhaps through renewable terms). However, I believe that having the Lords elected simply increases the influence of the Parties (through campaign organisation and funding; they’ll pick whoever gives them the best return in loyalty for their support) and disadvantages genuine experts relative to experienced politicians.

  • Oh for heaven’s sake!.. 100 yrs and still finding excuses to delay it. Opinion polls, for all their slanted innaccuracies, have repeatedly shown that the vast majority of the population want reform of the Lords, so just get on with it! and the pathetic talk of a referendum goes with asking for a report to be written or calling for an enquiry, just another delaying tactic. A referendum just hands it over to the media to distort the whole question, and gives an open door to opponents to manufacture a myriad of lies, as they did for the AV referendum(where equally some 75% of voters had said they wanted change)

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