“Speaking rights only” for unelected peers – Hames

Another barnstorming speech on Lords reform, this time by Duncan Hames MP in last night’s Commons debate.

Duncan reiterates the suggestion he made earlier in the debate, that unelected peers should have speaking rights only:

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that bishops voting in the House of Lords adds in any way to the expertise they are able to offer through what they say in that Chamber, and might they find it easier to remain in that Chamber if they were to desist from taking part in Divisions?

The speech in full:

It is a privilege to follow Rory Stewart, not least because I can hope that the reason for our disagreement is that he has not yet had the chance to hear my speech.

I do not trust Governments—not this Government, not the last Government, nor any I have known. I am, after all, a Liberal. If, in common with many of my constituents, one distrusts Governments, then one must think it important to have checks on their power that protect people from their tyranny, be that a tyranny of the majority or, as is often the case in this country, a minority—of the old left and the old right as Mr Leigh described them earlier.

Chief among those checks on power in our country’s proud history has been the strength of Parliament, and in this debate we hear much about the relative strength of each House of Parliament. I do not want to see an end to the primacy of the Commons, but it is more important to rebalance power between the Executive and Parliament as a whole and to do so in Parliament’s favour, as argued by my neighbour, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and more strongly by Mark Durkan.

I, for one, appreciate the valuable work done by members of the House of Lords, and recognise that it is most unlikely, and in certain cases most undesirable, that those from some walks of life, whose wisdom or expertise is cherished there, would stand for election to a reformed second Chamber. For that reason, I can see how I could support the continued presence of a group of unelected members of a second Chamber, so that they could attend, advise, speak and no doubt persuade elected Members with the force of their argument. So powerful would these contributions be, however, that I see no reason why these unelected Members would need to cast a vote when the House divided.

The contribution of the House of Lords as a revising Chamber has been both welcome and necessary, but we cannot afford to leave it at that. I suspect its ability to be a revising Chamber is dependent on the powers with which it can persuade this Chamber to accept its revisions.

Parliament’s second Chamber needs the political legitimacy confidently to act as a brake against the unfettered power of an Executive who wield a majority in the House of Commons that they dominate first by their presence and then by their patronage. The Public Administration Committee noted in its recent report the increasing size of the “payroll vote”, as it is not entirely accurately called, to 141 MPs, which is already half the votes the Government have needed to win most of the Divisions in this Parliament. That dominance might grow further when the total number of MPs is reduced for the next Parliament.

It is an unwarranted concentration of power to have a second Chamber that is primarily appointed by the leaders of the political parties, at least one of whom will be at the head of the Government, as well as a Commons Chamber in which a quarter of MPs owe their roles in government to a similar process—and in which many more hope to. Such power is felt not just during Divisions in the Commons, but through programme motions that guillotine debate and through influence via the Committee of Selection in the appointment of Members to Public Bill Committees and those that decide on delegated legislation.

Some say that turkeys will not vote for Christmas and that that means we cannot hope to persuade the House of Lords to accept reform, but I say that for that same reason it is even less likely that this House will ever escape the dominance of the Executive. Our best hope of strengthening Parliament in the face of the Executive is to reform the Lords and to let the people decide who is to go there and vote on the laws of this land, a case that was made eloquently by John Stevenson, my hon. Friend Dan Rogerson and the hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Crawley (Henry Smith). In this way, party leaders can be made to cede power to the voters and the second Chamber can grow confident in the use of its existing powers, with greater public acceptance. Parliament will again be able to stand tall before the Executive.

You can read the whole debate over at the House of Commons Hansard.

Paul Walter has also blogged last night’s debate – read his three reasons for optimism.

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This entry was posted in News, Parliament and Speeches.
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4 Comments

  • John Bryant 28th Jun '11 - 1:22pm

    The idea of having Lords with speaking rights but without votes can be extended to the independent peers that would be appointed if an 80% elected house is the final compromise. I think this is worth pursuing by LD MPs.

  • I’d prefer a 100% elected upper house, but if Duncan Hames’ suggestion is made then effecitively any elected / appointed split would become moot as the appointed peers wouldn’t be able to vote.

  • A sensible suggestion allowing expertise and advise to be offered but allowing only those democratically accountable to vote. I suggested similar on this site recently. The only other issue I have is that the term is far too long. A voter just too young to vote in one election will have to wait until they are 33 to have a say on that particular member. 5 years is plenty…

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