Opinion: Presidents, mops and turkeys – The future of House of Lords Reform?

Whilst recalling the successes of the 1997 General Election, in which the Liberal Democrats earned a net gain of 28 seats, Paddy Ashdown brought his speech at a commemoratory reception hurtling into the present with talk of the now embattled Lords Reform Bill.

In a manner delivered only by a character such as Paddy, he proclaimed that the current proposals were of Lincolnian proportions in that they existed to produce a Parliament “of the people, by the people, for the people”. In the hope of Paddy not minding me quoting him, although I’ve heard that phrase somewhere else before, he is most definitely correct!

The House of Lords is long past its sell-by date, in fact, no one would want to buy it even if we tried!

It’s an institution of patronage and hereditary succession consisting of a silent majority against the expert and productive few. It’s clear that it needs significant reform, but despite having 462 MPs vote in favour of such a radical principle, only a minority are likely to reach a constructive consensus.

We now have the prospect of Cameron diluting the Bill in order to satisfy and quell his own rebels. If this Bill were a glass of orange squash, you’d have to take a second look at the label to see whether it had any orange left in it. These watered-down plans will leave no prospect of Labour support, as they claim to want a wholly elected second chamber. I say “claim”, as I suspect the inclusion of Lords Reform within the other two parties’ manifestos to be one of political populism without much political will.

I see us at a fork in the road now. We can choose to accept Cameron’s cloudy water or battle for Sunny Delight. Either way is going to cause significant friction in both the Coalition and Parliament itself. There’s always the possibility that the rebels will ignore these new proposals. Cameron has now told his party’s 1922 Committee that he is prepared to lose both Lords Reform and Boundary Changes if that becomes the case.

If that is to happen then the prospect of fairer politics, forever championed by our party, and bought into by the others after the expenses scandal, will be yet further away. The inadequate Steel Bill may see the light of day or we look forward to the prospect of a House so stuffed, it will become the stuff of poultry nightmares!

No matter what happens, we should heed the advice of our President, Tim Farron MP. Neither this point in time nor this issue warrants a ‘hissy-fit’. We entered the Coalition for the economic merit of the country and its future. That has and should always be our primary and core focus. Despite this though, we have to continue to walk the fine line of coalition cohesion and bashing our fists for what we believe to be right for this country’s future.

The mop and buckets are still out, attempting to wipe the political slate clean for a fairer politics. Let’s hope they don’t get squeezed dry and put away into the same cupboard in which Suffragette Emily Davidson hid from the 1913 census. That would become just another example of extended suffrage being denied to the people and hid into dark corners.

* Greg Judge is Campaigns Support Officer for Dignity in Dying. He also coordinates the Disabled Activists for Dignity in Dying (DADiD) - a campaign group led by disabled people for a disabled supporters group for assisted dying for the terminally ill.

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  • Daniel Henry 16th Jul '12 - 7:24pm

    I hope we don’t accept a weak compromise. I’d prefer that we left the house in a mess, made it clear that it was the fault of the other two parties, and hopefully that would increase the political will for it to be sorted in the future.

  • Daniel Henry 17th Jul '12 - 1:18am

    That is, if the Tories don’t keep to their end of the deal, we shouldn’t throw a hissy fit, but Cameron won’t be getting his boundary changes.

  • Brilliant piece Greg, though Sunny Delight did make some kids sick and its popularity waned when people started to read labels.
    And so what if the mops do get put in the cupboard, the Suffragettes won in the end, and so shall we.!

  • Malcolm Todd 17th Jul '12 - 9:01am

    “final choice made by Appointments Commission who are themselves appointed by the Queen” — yes, that would be a real blow to hereditary power… :-S

  • Denis Cooper 17th Jul '12 - 9:33am

    But the current proposals are a mess, and it would be better to go back to the drawing board and start again.

    You want each member of a new second chamber to be the product of a popular election, but you agree that this must not call into question the primacy of the Commons.

    And some of your opponents fear that later you’d try to wangle whatever electoral method you’d got accepted for the second chamber into the Commons as well, when they’re utterly determined that the Commons must be elected by raw FPTP forever, even vehemently rejecting the idea that it could be refined through AV.

    One advantage of replacing the present Lords with a second chamber made up of the parliamentary candidates who came second in their constituency polls would be that the democratic legitimacy of the second chamber would be upgraded from its present zero legitimacy to a sufficient degree of legitimacy for active and determined opposition, but obviously it wouldn’t be equal to the democratic legitimacy enjoyed by the candidates who came first and became MPs.

    And another advantage would be that there could be no fear that the electoral system used for the second chamber could later creep across to the Commons, because members of both chambers would be elected simultaneously through the same poll, with the election of each member of the second chamber being no more than an adjunct to the FPTP election of the MP for that constituency.

  • “That is, if the Tories don’t keep to their end of the deal, we shouldn’t throw a hissy fit, but Cameron won’t be getting his boundary changes.”

    What I don’t understand about this threat is that the Lib Dems have been telling us all along that reducing the number of MPs and equalising the constituencies is self-evidently the right thing to do – and that anyone who thinks otherwise must be some kind of pinko scoundrel – but now it seems that it’s just something the Tories want for their own benefit, that the Lib Dems have only agreed to it as a quid pro quo for other things that might benefit them, and that if the Lib Dems don’t get their reward they’ll retaliate by voting against it.

    I don’t think this is the kind of thing that’s calculated to raise the public regard of politicians.

  • Old Codger Chris 17th Jul '12 - 11:27am

    Although I’m not impressed with the current proposals I think an upper house consisting of runners-up would be instantly branded “House of Losers”.

  • Denis Cooper 17th Jul '12 - 11:37am

    It would be and indeed it has, especially by those who don’t want any reform at all, or who alternatively would prefer to reconstitute the Lords on a medieval basis.

    But then by definition most of those elected to the second chamber under any system of PR would also be “losers”, insofar as they wouldn’t have been elected under FPTP.

  • Ok – if we’re putting forward our own alternatives, here’s my three point plan:
    (1) 100% of Lords to be elected by STV at each general election
    (2) Powers of the Lords to remain as they are now
    (3) No one who has served as an MP in the outgoing parliament to be eligible for election to the Lords.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 17th Jul '12 - 12:42pm

    As someone that is firmly on the side of Lords Reform, and turning the Upper House into a totally elected chamber, I am wondering where exactly do our Party members of the Lords sit on this issue, I would hope that we have only selected people who are committed to radical change?

  • Denis Cooper 17th Jul '12 - 2:16pm

    Chris, if you suggest “100% of Lords to be elected by STV at each general election” then you’ll get it in the neck from all sides.

    Some will say that STV is a fiendishly complex and undemocratic and expensive system which would also undermine the concept of the local constituency link, in fact even worse than that other terrible idea, AV, which was resoundingly rejected by the electorate last year.

    At the same time, others will say that it would encourage the members of the second chamber to think that they had more democratic legitimacy than the Commons and so would inevitably lead to a constitutional crisis.

    Others again will raise fears that introducing STV for the second chamber is just part of longer term LibDem plan to get STV for the Commons, when we all know that the only valid electoral system is our traditional FPTP, and if the Lords are to be elected it should be by FPTP, but then it would either replicate the Commons or its members would start to challenge the Commons over primacy …

    So in response to these criticisms it would become much less than 100% elected, and for longer terms so that the MPs could claim a more recent mandate – but then the elected members of the second chamber would no longer be so accountable to their electorates – and isn’t that more or less where the present Bill has got cornered, except that it’s semi-open list instead of STV?

    And that would mostly be from people who say that they actually support the principle of an elected House of Lords, on top of which there would be those who openly don’t want it to be popularly elected.

  • Charles Beaumont 17th Jul '12 - 3:01pm

    Surely part of the problem is creating an Upper House that is similar to the Commons, which then allows fears of competitive legislatures. If proposals pushed for a really small Senate (like the USA ?) we would be able to demonstrate that one chamber is very different from the other. The issue about expertise is nonsense – you can request any expert to brief either house at any time, the idea that every field of human knowledge needs to be represented, at an expert level, on the benches of the House of Lords is meaningless.

  • The US senate is not a revising chamber for the House. It is there in order to have one chamber with equal representation for each sovereign state of the union so that their voices will not be lost by being less populous than others. The Hill as a whole is part of the tripartite checks and balances. Indeed the Senate has only been elected by state plebiscite for just under 100 years. Prior to the 17th Amendment it was appointed by state legislatures or executives. Anyway, the point is that we cannot really use the US Senate as a model as it represents a different thing. Better that we <a href="abolish the Lords completely.

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