Lords Reform: Nick Clegg faces the music…

House of Lords. Photo: Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of ParliamentYesterday, the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill Joint Committee met for its last public session before retreating into report writing mode. And, as a special treat, they got an opportunity to savage the midwives of the proposed reforms, Nick Clegg and Mark Harper.

It was perhaps unfortunate that their evidence was somewhat overshadowed by an interview given by Lord Lee of Trafford to the Financial Times, in which he claimed that, “There is absolutely no public demand for this at all, and pretty much zero support from serious political commentators.” He predicted Mr Clegg would suffer a “long, bitter and bloody battle” if he insisted on pushing through plans to make the upper house totally, or predominantly elected. Indeed, if the Daily Telegraph is to be believed, as many as twenty Liberal Democrat peers are minded to vote against the proposals.

However, a remarkably perky Deputy Prime Minister gave a decent performance in the face of some hostility from members of the Committee who appeared to forget that they had been asked to do pre-legislative scrutiny, rather than a hatchet job on the Bill (there will be plenty of time for that later, one suspects). Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean was her usual abrasive self, attempting to put both Clegg and Harper off of their stride with a series of interruptions, whilst the likes of Baroness Andrews demonstrated that, whilst their Party manifesto might be in favour of reform in theory, in practice they would rather not see it happen any time soon.

So, what did we learn? Firstly, it is still the view that the Government is committed to the use of the Parliament Act to force reform through, Clegg claiming that it would be incomprehensible if peers chose to disrupt other Lords business, including other bills, to block the introduction of an elected second chamber. It also became clear that the question of powers and primacy would be resolved using the Parliament Act if necessary, but that it was expected that conventions and the balance of power would be expected to be resolved in an evolutionary way, rather than by statute now, a view entirely, it seems, in line with the findings of the Cunningham Committee on Conventions in 2006.

But, for a view on how important this really is, here’s what the Independent has to say on the subject;

Not only is the Deputy Prime Minister to be applauded for sticking to his guns. He is also absolutely right on the substance. If Lords reform is not an issue which grabs the public imagination, it should be. That there are still 90 peers voting on British laws on the basis of birth alone is an inexcusable anachronism that stands in direct contradiction to our claims of democracy. That attempts to remedy the situation have been batted back and forth for more than a century is testament to the sclerotic power of vested interests shamelessly unwilling to vote down their arbitrary privileges. The sooner such outdated arrangements are brought to an end, the better.

The broadcast of the Joint Committee’s session can be found here. Be warned, it lasts for more than two hours. Make cocoa first…

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8 Comments

  • Do we really believe that an article in the Indy really shows how important this is? Ask the bloke on the street how important it is then you will know. Then ask yourself, do you really think this will promote the image of the Liberal Democrats as a party who deliver for the people of this country or will we seen to be just a bunch of self interested politicos?

  • Yep, apathy, low voter turnout, a constant feeling even amongst those who vote that their votes do nothing, a belief that only certain people can get into politics, a simple principle of democracy… To me, the apathy of which you (David) speak, is precisely the reason why we need an elected House of Lords.

    Plus, it isn’t really a) that self-serving or b) likely to take up too much parliamentary time. If anything, it would be rather nice for Parliament to stop re-organising and ‘waste’ a bit of time on democracy instead.

  • @ David – I doubt the clamour on the doorsteps to legalise sex between men in 1967 was deafening, yet the way the world was before that seems unimaginably bizarre now. Governments should lead as well as follow.

  • That’s fine guys, we are all entitled to our opinion, that’s liberalism. The only problem is that when we lose another few hundred councillors in May and a more the year afterwards, and we have used up every last drop of political capital we have accumulated over 30+years, just remember the reason people didn’t vote for us was because in a time of massive austerity and an ever widening gap between rich and poor, we wanted to spend our time doing things that were totally irrelevant to their needs. That’s democracy.

  • Funny how “the public don’t care” is trotted out for voting reform or the Lords changes but the same test isn’t applied to Tory gerrymandering of the Commons boundaries.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 29th Feb '12 - 12:10am

    David,

    I agree, to the ‘man in the street’, Lords Reform is probably likely to generate an almost complete lack of interest. Local government finance tends to as well. And that got us the poll tax… The question is, how much time is being spent on Lords Reform relative to, say, welfare reform. And the answer is, that most actual effort on Lords Reform is done in a committee of thirty or so, whereas all of Parliament has been debating welfare reform.

    But, in truth, I’d like to think that our local campaigners are focussing on local issues and, if the national picture emerges at all, tax and the Pupil Premium are probably worth a shout or two…

  • David Evans 1st Mar '12 - 10:44am

    Ed

    I’m sure you have a point there, but your comment is a bit obscure, so I can’t tell whether what you are agreeing with.

    Mark V

    I’d like to think that our local campaigners have the time to point out where those in the higher echelons are wasting the opportunity to do something that would support local campaigners by getting things in the national news that people can say “The Lib Dems are doing something clearly useful”. The £10,000 tax break is one, but we need lots more. Lords reform is deckchairs on the Titanic time.

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