Tim Farron MP writes…Liberal Democrats will work with anyone to reform the House of Lords

Yesterday, the news was released about the latest tranche of appointments to the House of Lords.  The Liberal Democrat peers will be, as they always have been, constructive and conscientious. Where we agree with the government we shall support them and where we don’t we shall work to amend and if needs be oppose.But the principle matters, Liberal Democrat peers were appointed on the pledge ‘to abolish themselves’.

The Lords has two functions. To revise and to hold the Executive to account. The first it does quite well, the second it does not at all – how can it when, by definition, it is a creature of the Executive?

The Lords is wholly undemocratic and will never have the legitimacy it needs for a healthy democracy until this is changed.

Every party in their manifestos hints at reform or abolition of the second chamber, but the Liberal Democrats are the only party committed to it. So today we recommit our party – and its new Peers – to working actively for the reform of the House of Lords and ideally its abolition in favour of an elected second chamber. We urge the other parties to join us in this effort.

There is a simple reason for this and it is called democracy; the people’s laws should only be made by those whom the people have elected. They should not be made by cronies appointed by the Prime Minister.

We Liberal Democrats attempted to bring about reform in the last Parliament. But it was scuppered by a lack of political will by both Tory and Labour leaderships in the Commons, loudly applauded by their backwoodsmen in the Lords.

Now is the time to try again. This time, we call on them to join us and make our second chamber fit for purpose as part of a modern democratic system. The Liberal Democrats stand ready to work with anyone, in any party, to create a wholly, or at the very least, mainly elected second chamber. Our new Peers in the Lords will add weight to our voice and our ability to make this happen.

The Lords was already the largest legislative assembly in the world outside of China and costs taxpayers around £100 million a year to run – even before yesterday’s announcement. There are 56 two-chamber Parliaments in the world. The overwhelming majority are properly elected. Britain, in the dubious company of Belize, Burkina Faso, Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago, is one of the disgraceful exceptions.

We send our soldiers abroad to fight (and sometimes die) for democracy. But we do not yet even have it fully in our own Parliament.The time to put this right is now. To delay further in the face of recent abuses would be an affront to our democracy and to our country.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Refugees and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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48 Comments

  • On a day when almost all newspapers are condemning “Cameron’s Cronies” I believe a dignified refusal to add to this ‘club’ should have been the best response…

  • If we took the view that we would not have representation on any body chosen by a method we disagree with then we would not stand any candidates in general elections. A peerage is not just for one day it is for life [currently]. There are times when you need every peer you can lay your hands on – for example in 2006 when the Lords was resisting Blair’s plans to make us carry ID cards. So given that the conservatives’ favourite electoral system under-represents liberal views in the House of Commons we should grab the opportunities to maximise our representation in the Lords.

  • Max Wilkinson 28th Aug '15 - 2:30pm

    Merely proclaiming that we are against the Lords is no longer good enough. People just think we’re being disingenuous. We need to firstly show our contempt for the institution, then show we are principled.

    Here’s a good action plan that would demonstrate our point and demonstrate that we practice what we preach.

    1. Proclaim the Lords illegitimate.
    2. Announce that we will only accept having a number of peers proportionate to the vote share we got at the previous election and challenge all the other parties to follow.
    3. Disrupt the Lords for a couple of years, ignoring all conventions and blocking lots of Tory stuff (while we wait for 4)
    4. Hold a vote among the general public to decide which of our peers stay and which go.

  • Max Wilkinson 28th Aug '15 - 2:33pm

    Our biggest problems at the moment are that people don’t trust us and people are ignoring us. What I suggest above would get us heard and help to win back trust.

  • David Hollingsworth 28th Aug '15 - 2:35pm

    Looking at the list of 50 odd peers .
    Dodgy donors,
    A reward for long service in the House of Commons perhaps instead of getting a gold watch . A nice little earner when to old and have had enough dealing with constitiuents and having to get elected.
    A reward for MPs kicked out at the General Election. Their electorate don’t want them but you get them anyway.
    Party hacks who are well in with the3 leader or other important people.
    A wonderful political system we have..

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Aug '15 - 2:38pm

    I despise the House of Lords and it doesn’t have legitimacy in my eyes. Unlike the Monarchy, I can’t see any support for the status quo. If I sent a bill to the Lords and they tried to tell me that I couldn’t do it I would tell them to do one.

    I’m sure it does good work, but it usually gets overruled in the end anyway, so what is the point of it?

    Yes I don’t mind a second chamber, but let’s sort it quick. Even if it is elected via FPTP, just get rid of the status quo.

  • Simon Shaw 28th Aug ’15 – 2:27pm ……… What is your answer be to the obvious question, “Why, when you are committed to reforming the HoL, are you adding to the problem with more lords than you have elected MPs?”

    As to your question, I would have answered, “Rome wasn’t built in a day; this is just the first step!””I am the new leader of the LibDem party and this is our policy”

  • Simon Foster 28th Aug '15 - 2:45pm

    Good stuff to hear this Tim – it’s one of the reasons I campaigned and voted for you.

    A question however for the long term: In the light of this, and that we’re stuck with the House of Lords, what do you propose to do about future Liberal Democrat appointments to the Lords? You’ve made an excellent start with a Lib Dem shadow Cabinet team that’s been the most diverse ever. Will you continue this if you are allowed to nominate future Lib Dem peers, in particular with regards to women, but also with regards other minority groups? And what are your thoughts on the party’s electing a panel of peers for you to appoint – will you pay full or partial attention to this?

    Note that I don’t expect an instant answer. However, this will need a response before the next round of Lords appointments is made, as any reform is unlikely for the time being whilst Conservative backbenchers continue to block plans for an elected second chamber, leaving us as a neo-democracy, rather than the full democracy we deserve.

    Best wishes – Simon

  • Simon Foster 28th Aug '15 - 2:49pm

    Clarification – the above reads in the middle paragraph as if women are a minority group. Which of course women aren’t, hence campaigning groups in America like the Feminist Majority.

  • The House of Lords is part of the system of patronage and cronyism which taints British public life. The whole lot needs sorting . With one new Tory peer it’s time to cast the mote out of our eyes.

    For starters I want a categorical assurance from Tim at Conference that honours will not be given to donors. Max is right in his second posting that it undermines public trust in the party.

    The whole absurdity of Orders, Members, Commanders of the ‘British Empire’ is a farce. The Empire is long gone thank goodness – what’s left is mostly tax havens such as the Caymans. (What happened to that promise in 2012 to get rid of them, Danny ?) At least the Danes have a sense of humour with the Order of the Elephant.

    In Scotland we could have the Order of the Panda (sponsored by Fiat ?). Wee ‘Eck ought to be the first recipient.

    PS Next time you’re in Northampton, @Simon Shaw, watch out for the statue of Walter Tull.

  • John Tilley 28th Aug '15 - 3:28pm

    Well done Tim Farron.

    Now we have the leader of The SNP, the leader of PC, the likely leader of The Labour Party (Corbyn), the MP for The Greens, and our own leader Tim Farron making statements about getting shot of the Gibert and Sullivan Farce called the Upper Chamber of our Parliament. This could be the start of something positive.

    I think even the one UKIP MP would be in favour of reform (although it is difficult to tell what UKIP policy is because it often changes half way through a sentence by the BBC’s favourite politician Nigel F—–.)

    I hope this consensus continues to grow.

  • @ John Tilley

    Much as I love and cherish the BBC, John, I have to agree that the Faragista keeps popping up like a bobbing cork on the water. It’s lazy journalism and Tim ought to (discretely) kick a few shins.

  • peter tyzack 28th Aug '15 - 5:04pm

    entirely agree, Tim, but will you, this week, remove the whip from those of our peers who are against the changes we want to see?
    Will you call for anyone who breaks the rules(ie ends up in prison) to have their peerage removed, forthwith.?

  • Richard Underhill 28th Aug '15 - 5:28pm

    AndrewMcC 28th Aug ’15 – 4:38pm Please be a little careful with the imprisonment.
    Firstly it should follow conviction for a criminal offence, some people are remanded in prison on suspicion and acquitted.
    Secondly please set a minimum length of sentence.
    Thirdly are there any unjust laws? One person opposed identity cards in peacetime and found himself in prison. The law was changed. There is a statue to him in the National Liberal Club. There can also be wrongful convictions, even now.

  • It may be remembered that Lord Kagan (of Gannex fame) was charged with tax evasion, though the charges were styled as “theft” and “false accounting”, to comply with extradition treaties which did not cover tax offences. After a stay in Israel, he was arrested in Paris. On December 12, 1980, he was convicted of four counts of theft. He was fined £375,000 and served a ten-month sentence. He lost his knighthood but his peerage could not be forfeited. When released he returned to the House of Lords and spoke on prison reform.

    Not sure what the rules are now, but no doubt someone will tell me if they have changed..

  • Richard Underhill 28th Aug '15 - 5:45pm

    Previous debates over the years have shown that the House of Commons also needs reform, as Simon Hughes MP said at conference in Glasgow. At the time he was a minister at Justice. Both the method of election and the procedures of the Commons need reform. Unicameralism without reform would be unwise and possibly dangerous. Try asking a peer why expertise is needed in Parliament? Could experts attend committees of the House of Commons on subjects where they are expert, thus avoiding them being entitled to vote on other subjects?

  • “Liberal Democrats will work with anyone to reform the House of Lords”

    What a shame then they wouldn’t work with Labour in 2012 to come up with a timescale that everybody was happy with, instead of Clegg presenting his rushed scheme as a complete fait accompli. Not that it would have made much difference to the outcome. The real reason the 2012 reforms crashed and burned was not because the Tories welched on a deal (as Clegg claimed at the time), but because the coalition agreement never committed the Tories to actually do anything at all beyond set up a commission – which they did. The fact is that the Lib Dems played party politics with this just as much as anybody else, and they did so ineptly. If Farron were really serious about this, he’d stop doing the same thing now.

    @Eddie Sammon
    “I despise the House of Lords and it doesn’t have legitimacy in my eyes. Unlike the Monarchy, I can’t see any support for the status quo.”

    Well, polls taken in 2012 showed a large majority in favour of elected Lords, but only a tiny minority thought this should be any kind of priority. The public’s judgment on the importance of the Lords was probably about right.

    Personally, I can’t see the point of an elected HoL. Either (a) such a second chamber would continue to be as subservient to the Commons as the current one – in which case, why does it remotely matter why they are elected or not? Or (b) an elected second chamber would have real powers – in which case we’d likely end up with the kind of deadlock and chaos that often occurs in the US. Again – what’s the point?

    I don’t want a second chamber with strong powers – one is plenty. But if the second chamber is to continue purely as a low-grade revision chamber, I’m not remotely bothered whether it’s elected or not – why should I be? In fact I’d prefer it to contain no party politicians whatsoever. The Commons is grossly unrepresentative of the population and contains people whose chief skill is simply to get elected. We need a second elected chamber like a hole in the head.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Aug '15 - 5:53pm

    No Stuart, the reason Lords reform didn’t go through was because Labour wouldn’t vote for the programme motion. If they had, the bill would likely have passed. When Nick Clegg asked Ed Miliband what he would need to do to secure Labour support, the Labour leader made it clear that it wouldn’t be forthcoming in any circumstances. Truly appalling gamesmanship by Labour. We could have had a reformed house by now.

  • I thought Clegg’s reforms were very disappointing and wouldn’t achieve what was needed. David Steele, with his proposals, on the other hand, showed pragmatism and common sense and just got on with it.

  • The Government had a majority so it could have passed the reforms. Labour is there to oppose and really I don’t think Clegg’s reforms deserved to pass, they were a bit of a mess . It’s not as though the Lib
    Dems have clean hands when it comes to playing games is it so I don’t think you folks can claim any moral high ground here.

    We even had Lib Dem Lords voting against their own amendment at one stage. It’s realpolitik.

  • Tim, perhaps you should put a motion to the next Lib Dem conference that says that the Lib Dems will not send anymore Lib Dems to the undemocratic unelected House of Lord and instigate a freeze until it is sorted out, and let the Lib Dems vote on it. At least if this is not resolved by the next time people get appointed at least you won’t be sending anymore Lib Dems to this place and join with the SNP who already dont send people and Labour who are going to support a freeze.

  • bobbing cork on the water. It’s lazy journalism and Tim ought to (discretely) kick a few shins.

    Simon Shaw 28th Aug ’15 – 5:01pm

    @expats
    “What is your answer be to the obvious question, “Why, when you are committed to reforming the HoL, are you adding to the problem with more lords than you have elected MPs?””…..That’s easy. I would say that you really need to ask the Conservative and Labour Parties why they failed to follow their 2010 manifesto pledges in favour HoL reform, when Nick Clegg brought forward the House of Lords Reform Bill 2012.

    Not so easy…Next question, “They mustcan speak for themselves. I am interested in the LibDem response.””So, I’ll ask you again, why, when you are committed to reforming the HoL, are you adding to the problem with more lords than you have elected MPs?

  • @Caron
    “the reason Lords reform didn’t go through was because Labour wouldn’t vote for the programme motion”

    So how come Nick Clegg and numerous LDV writers – none of whom are averse to blaming Labour for things – put most of the blame squarely on the Tories at the time? See :-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19149212

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/date/2012/08

    It’s certainly a novel idea that when a government with a big majority fails to get legislation through, it’s all the fault of the opposition.

  • On a proportional basis the Liberal Democrats would have 52 out of 650 members of the House of Commons and 65 peers out of 826 – a total of 117. There are 112 peers and 8 MPs at present giving a total of 120. I do not think we should be ashamed to take seats in the House of Lords as we cannot change it by ourselves. It is established by law and conventional until it is changed by Act of Parliament and we should challenge claims that we are over represented there as this partially balances the under representation in the more powerful House of Commons.
    As Stuart says there is not much point in electing the Upper House unless it is given the equal powers it had before 1911 and which the US Senate has now. In Europe only Italy has an elected Senate with completely equal powers. Other democracies which have elected Second Chambers usually place restrictions on their powers of veto. The French Senate is elected by “notables” – elected members of local government bodies such as departmental councils etc.
    Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Sweden and Finland do not have a second chamber. As stated above democratically elected second chambers are a recipe for conflict, delay and political impasse as in the US and Italy.

    Members of the Second Chamber should be appointed for a fixed term by a completely independent appointments commission which could invite recommendations or propose members itself. Party leaders should have nothing to do with this process. Some members could be elected by regions similar to those used for the European Parliament based on proportional representation with a top up as used used by Germany but without the threshold to give smaller parties a chance of at least one seat. There should be a separate vote for the Second Chamber but elections could be held at the same time as elections to the House of Commons. There should be no more than 300 “Senators”

  • @Simon
    The idea of labour supporting a freeze is what most of the Labour leadership contenders proposed in their election campaigns, I think you will find that these were nominations already in the pipeline from the ex leader Ed Milliband, similar to your ex leader Nick Cleggs nominations for Lib Dem peers, I do not think anybody in either parties at this stage could have stopped them. Of course House of Lords not a problem for SNP regarding peers as they do not nominate anybody to that place.

  • The notion that the two-chamber system in use in the United States is “a recipe for conflict, delay and political impasse ” is mistaken. The real impasses arise from conflicts between the legislature and the executive. Within the legislature, however, there are well-established procedures for resolving differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives, namely, conference committees which work out differences between Senate and House legislation and make sure that the same bills are passed by both bodies. The spectre of irreconcilable differences between an elected British Senate and the House of Commons is simply a bogeyman used to preserve the status quo.

  • John Tilley 29th Aug '15 - 8:16am

    Simon Shaw
    Who said said that Nick Clegg’s bill to reform the House of Lords was —
    (a)…workable?
    (b)…supportable ?
    (c) … a well drafted piece of legislation ?
    (d) … the most wonderful Reform Bill since 1832 ?

    Anyone other than Nick Clegg?

    If you look back at Hansard for both Houses and the Committee you will find people from all parties (including our own) who were far less complimentary.

    Of all the Coalition years this was probably our most embarrassing hour. Clegg had styled himself , the Minister for Constitutional Reform. Go back and read his grandiloquent speeches about what changes he was going to deliver.

    In reality. — It was a car crash, a train wreck, a dog’s breakfast all rolled into one.

    Of course nobody wanted to vote for it because it was the worst drafted, worst prepared bill put before either house in decades. If it had been deliberately designed to scupper Lords reform for a generation he could not have done worse.

    No wonder he has never talked about the subject since.

    Even if it had been voted through it would have been subject to so much legal challenge (as was threatened) it never would have been implemented. Even if there had been no legal challenge and something ike the proposals had come to pass they would have taken lifetimes to put into place. It wasn’t just that Clegg had taken his eye off the ball, he had thrown the ball away at the committee stage and let others run with it. As they were arch opponents he might have guessed what would happen next. Apparently he did not.

  • John Tilley 29th Aug '15 - 8:20am

    Edward McMillan-Scot 28th Aug ’15 – 11:08pm
    “….For Lords reform, it’s essential that it gets a similar support there before the necessary democratic changes can be introduced and adopted by the Commons. It is do-able.”

    Exactly! The fundamental error of Clegg’s approach was to make enemies and ignore growing discontent and division on the major principles before his bill was introduced into parliament.
    We should learn from mistakes past.

  • @David-1
    “The notion that the two-chamber system in use in the United States is ‘a recipe for conflict, delay and political impasse’ is mistaken.”

    No, it’s completely accurate. Congress “deadlocks” all the time, often without any help from the executive. For a good example from recent weeks, google the Highways Bill.

    Can anyone offer a single reason why two elected chambers are better than one?

  • John Tilley you are 100% correct – that’s how I remember it too. I think Nick Clegg had good intentions but was simply inexperienced at negotiating and power went to his head. He alienated people, for no good reason, very early on when he could have adopted a more generous, consensual style in the way that Charles Kennedy or Ming would have done.

    Of course it didn’t help his cause that his reforms were embarrassingly flawed.

  • Neil Sandison 29th Aug '15 - 11:20am

    Actions speak louder than words .When will our new Lordships and leadership be putting down the first motion to radically reform The house of Lords and the Commons and scupper the boundary changes the conservatives want until those reforms are delivered. Both houses of the Palace of Westminster could cope with around a 1,000 members to cover both chambers. both should be elected .

  • It would be good if at least the new Lib Dem peers speak up in the Lords up and says that this unelected undemocratic place is a disgrace and until it is either scrapped or reformed and that all the Lib Dem peers will give the money they are entitled to claim in expenses to food banks, this would set a precedent and example for all peers in other parties to follow, It does not look good when Lib Dem peers could be claiming up to £300 a day whilst people outside in the real world are facing severe hardship.

  • John Barrett 29th Aug '15 - 12:26pm

    Sadly, in recent years, we have changed from being the party who, for decades, could honestly stand up and criticise Labour and the Conservatives who were both guilty of packing the Lords with donors, ex MPs, and friends of the leader, to a party who has regularly stuffed the already bloated Lords with donors, ex MPs and friends of the leader.

    Now that the unelected Lib-Dem Peers outnumber our elected MPs by more than 12 to 1, we are in the crazy position where we have more retired MPs and rejected MPs in the Lords than we have elected MPs in the commons.

    It is time for the party to stop appointing any more people to the Lords and the current crop of 8 MPs could lead the way by stating that they will not go to the Lords if they retire or are defeated at the next election.

    The reality is that for every influential Lib-Dem who supports Lords reform, there are two or more who would like to be there.

  • John,

    I agree with you…. I must say though that the doling out of outdated “honours” to Party donors and a very specific group of Party workers, councillors and “advisors” is even more embarrassing. At least I believe the likes of Lynne Featherstone can do some good in the House of Lords, but I really thought that the Liberal Democrats of all parties were above “cash for honours” and blatant patronage.

    The whole Honours system in Britain is a foolish anachronism, but at least the Birthday Honours go to people who have done something recognised by society as a whole. That can certainly NOT be said for people who helped Nick Clegg get re-elected in Sheffield Hallam, or gave large sums of money to his campaign. I am afraid it just goes to show the extent that our former leader went a bit mad on the trappings of power…… Very Rose Garden, and electorally very, very foolish.

  • >Can anyone offer a single reason why two elected chambers are better than one?

    Much much easier for lobbyist’s and business interests to have an effect! Currently you only really have one group needing election support every five years, with two elected houses, there is a second opportunity.

    More cronyism! With two sets of elections, the ugly head of election expenses rears it’s head (see another LDV article), this can only increase the need for “funding agencies” aka political parties who in turn will need more funds and will increasingly become dependent upon grace and favour from wealthy backers.

    What is there to not like? It is sadly amusing that so many intelligent people think that simply having two elected chambers will magically result in greater democracy and a more equal society and in so doing ignore the lessons of history…

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th Aug '15 - 8:30am

    I fully support Tim’s approach here. We should always work with others for Liberal outcomes. However undemocratic and anachronistic the HoL’s is, until reformed we should use the powers it provides to further Liberal Democrat aims, block illiberal reforms and to press for its fundamental reform.

    While it exists, not to use it in some stand of high principle would be a mistake.

    I should however like to propose that future Lib Dem ‘appointments’ to the Lord’s are elected by the party membership as they were in recent pre-Nick Clegg days. This was the process by which Tony Greaves and others were enobled. Yes, the PM of the day has an effective (un)constitutional veto but there is apparently nothing to stop us electing our party nominated appointees.

    If Tim were to announce this as a new policy pending democratic reform, it would be internally and externally popular and be a public marker of future intent. I could easily see such a move also being adopted by the Greens and a Corbyn-led Labour Party. This would at least be a step in the direction of reduced Westminster and party leadership patronage.

  • Roland,

    What is your solution then? Dictatorship, thus allowing the most direct access of donors to the levers of power?

    How about state funding of parties on some formula related to votes cast, with no political donations allowed whatsoever?

    I think what is clear is that we do need two houses because the amount of work required to get Bills right is too much for one

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th Aug '15 - 5:53pm

    Simon Shaw30th Aug ’15 – 1:26pm

    Simon, I am sure a noble Lord whose name must not be mentioned on LDV wrote stating this to be the case in a previous thread discussing membership of the HoL.

    I will check and post the info.

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th Aug '15 - 11:00pm

    Simon
    Having received clarification, the approved list was indeed not a result of a membership vote but of a Conference decision taken towards the end of the Ashdown period seeking to control who a leader could ‘elevate’. A motion was passed setting up an election to a panel from which the leader ‘should’ choose candidates.

    Conference added the names onto a panel in time for Charles Kennedy to select his names for a list. Tony Greaves headed the election by some margin. Charles included Tony in his list.

  • Simon
    I am surprised you say this – there have been several rounds of elections for Shadow Peers. Possibly what happened was that you tried to pick up the book containing all their biogs and claims to be all the things we ever wanted in a Peer, and were so stunned you didn’t manage to get round to trying to read it all (and possibly dropping off to slee…..zzz)

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