Liberal Democrat peers: oh dear

No point beating about the bush, if you want to find several handful of Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians who I think are wrong just look to the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords where, as today’s news showed, there is a very large minority opposed to introducing elections for the upper house.

Despite Lords reform having been a long-standing Liberal Democrat (and before that both SDP and Liberal Party) policy, despite the party being in a coalition committed to Lords reform (a pretty remarkable opportunity when you consider the Conservative Party’s traditional view), despite Liberal Democrat party leaders having (perhaps I need to add “supposedly”) made willingness to back reform one of the criteria for appointing people to the Lords, far too many Liberal Democrat peers are massing to join the ranks of those who don’t see a need for democracy in half of Parliament despite the powerful arguments in favour of reform from the likes of Tom McNally and Paul Tyler.

Yet no-one can hold them accountable for this volte-face. There are and will continue to be many heated debates over the votes our MPs have chosen to make since going into coalition – but the MPs can be held accountable, both by party members and the public. But if you think a peer has got it wrong, there is nothing a party members or a member of the public can do. Tough. Under current rules, regardless of what they do politically they have their seat for ever. The very fact that no-one can hold Lib Dem peers accountable for their views on Lords reform is in itself a very good reason for Lords reform.

So it’s no wonder there’s already plenty of chatter amongst Liberal Democrat members about motions to conference and the like. The internal politics of this may yet turn out rather well for Nick Clegg given how popular Lords reform is with a large majority of party activists. But if you also want to try to persuade our peers to change their minds, sign up on Facebook to Liberal Democrats for Lords Reform or sign up to the email list.

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  • John Richardson 31st May '11 - 9:31pm

    That’s a shocking statistic. When you said large minority I was expecting 10% or so but 46%!! Gee. How is that even possible? There must be something about that place.

  • Alisdair McGregor 31st May '11 - 9:38pm

    Given that over 75% of the commons was elected on Manifesto platforms which explicitly stated a desire to reform the Lords, does the Salisbury convention apply?

    If it does apply, then the Lords isn’t going to be able to stop this, only delay or amend. Sadly, the decision to start off at 80% elected as a goal gives the Lords a LOT of wiggle room on what is considered a reasoned amendment, rather than a wrecking one.

  • The trouble is Mark, the system proposed by Clegg is just as bad. Once in place Peers are there for 15 years without election. STV will me pretty meaningless in mega constituencies, and with a list system we will end up with Lord like the faceless euro-mps. Now I’m not knocking euro mps but even the best struggle to ahve any profile.

    add in the likilhood that the Lib Dems will get fewer pears under the Clegg proposals then they do under the present stitch up and what is the point ?

    the problem is that these proposals are darw up by people who want to protect the existing house of commons from reform. That is why you get all the imagine if the lords was elected by PR ad took a different view from the commons – we couldn’t have that, the commons would look illegitimate – so lets ahve a Lords on a different mandate, with unleected bishops and other nonsense.

    And Clegg introduction speach about how marvelous and wise the Lords is, (que hollow laughter) was pathetic, mising the point of reform and agtagonising both pro and anti-reform supporters.

  • David from Ealing 31st May '11 - 10:04pm

    Are they really Liberal Democrats?

  • This is such a key policy and has been for years. I agree with the posters who feel that 15 years is too long, but they can revise this during it’s passage. I also have some sympathy for those that feel that some cross bench expertise and knowledge could be lost. But again revisions can be made to allow non voting ex officio members to contribute amendments etc without altering the fact that any votes will be taken by elected representatives.

    If they actually continue to oppose the whip should be withdrawn.

  • Alisdair McGregor 31st May '11 - 10:27pm


    There’s certain to be provision for a democratic recall mechanism to deselect Peers who need removing – we’re proposing recall mechanisms for the Commons with its 5 year terms, we certainly aren’t going to neglect to have one for the new Peers!

  • @ALisdair – but the recall mechanism proposed for the commons only applies in very very limited cases of wrong doing rather than political disagreements.

    Incidentally what has happened to legislation on recall powers? All 3 parties agreed on this so it shouldn’t be hard!

  • Fling ’em out, this is intolerable.

  • This is ridiculous. There is no argument not to have an elected House of Lords. And that’s if we really need one, and I’m not really sure about that.

    We won’t lose any expertise as it’s perfectly normal for the government to hire specialist advisors. In any case those with expertise who feel they have a vital role to play in parliament can always put themselves up for election, if they care enough to.

    We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be blackmailed by the House of Lords.

  • David, Twickenham 1st Jun '11 - 8:54am

    Turkeys. Christmas.

  • I’d like to hear from members of the House of Lords precisely what are their arguments against reform. Without this information we are behaving as though there is no opportunity for debate or willingness to hear alternative views from those directly involved in the system.

    I find it odd that our MPs failed to discuss this with our members of the House of Lords before wading in or even perhaps adjusting/revising the details before going public. A barely democratic position on our part…..There is a wealth of expertise, experience and wisdom in the Upper House – that’s why many were put there! We should use it to get a better system.

  • Kick them out of the party. It may hurt but if you are a Liberal Democrat peer, you need to be pro-HL reform or get lost quite frankly.

  • Paul Webbewood 1st Jun '11 - 9:59am

    My first requirement for a Liberal Democrat peer is that they do not think it OK to call people chavs.

  • Denis Cooper 1st Jun '11 - 10:18am

    It’s not acceptable to have appointed life-time legislators.

    If the problem was just the life tenure, then that could be solved by saying that the honour was for life but the seat in Parliament was for only the first 5 years after elevation to the peerage.

    But that would still mean that the general population would have no say on either the installation or the removal of a law-maker.

    It could be that very few people wanted person A to be involved in making our laws even for 5 years, while many people were content to have person B doing that and regretted that he couldn’t carry on doing it.

    On the other hand it has to be said that some systems of popular election can very easily become systems for appointment and re-appointment dressed up as elections, the most obvious example being the closed party list system used for the election of MEPs.

  • This is quite simply outrageous. They should be identified, and all named and shamed. all future Lib Dem appointments from here should be done so only with a signed commitment from the would-be Lord that they will support an elected Lords in all votes. And yes, a motion to Conference on this telling them who’s boss is required.

  • @MBoy – there is something the party could do. Make it clear that this is considered as a “three line whip” and that failure to support the policy will result in the immediate withdrawal of both the whip and party membership. I find it difficult to believe that a former party leader is now openly opposing a policy he strongly supported in the 1980s and 90s. At least Paddy Ashdown got it right when he made clear that the only reason he accepted a peerage was so that he could vote to shut the place down.

    Incidentally, with an unwritten constitution, how can an elected House of Lords / Upper House be “unconstitutional”?

  • Can we be sure that the poll is accurate? That was my first thought, to be honest.

    If not – how was it even possible to find several dozen Liberal Democrats who disagree with Lords Reform, or could be made to change their mind so completely?

    The mind boggles….

  • conservative 3rd Jun '11 - 4:07pm

    An elected house of lords would be a disaster – why do we need an elected second chamber when we have an elected first chamber. It is very refreshing to have individuals who scrutinise legislation who are not beholden to the party whip, populism or indeed have the power to overrule the house of commons. They do a fine job with a variety of expertises including General Lord Dannett and Professor Lord Winston – how can anyone think it is a good idea to replace these men and put career (more!) politicians in their place? At least some of the Lib Dem Lords understand the importance of this part of our legislature having been a bastion of defence against 90 days and various other infringements of our civil liberties when the Commons did nothing.

  • Leekliberal 7th Jun '11 - 8:26pm

    I rarely say this but I completely agree with ‘Conservative’ on this. In a revising chamber we need expertise that can often only come from Cross-benchers and they need to be appointed. My nightmare is swopping a theoretically indefensible Lords which actually brings great breadth of experience to the scrutiny process, for a revising chamber full of young elected researchers from the 3 main parties who have no experience outside academia. Let”s get rid of the inherited peers but in the absence of a written constitution let’s not not tempt the Upper House by virtue of it’s elected element to think it can legitimately challenge the Commons. Finally on a partisan point can I point out that in the absence of PR the balance of powers in the Lords usually more accurately reflects the politacal reality than does the Commons!

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