Lords reform: David Cameron says it is time to make progress

 

The prime minister says it is 'time to make progress' on reforms of the House of Lords

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Prime Minister David Cameron has called for MPs to support Lords reform, as the government unveils its plans for a mostly elected House of Lords.

He said it was "time to make progress" after 100 years of attempts to transform Parliament's second chamber.

The cabinet agreed on Tuesday to push for 80% of the house to be chosen by voters. The number of peers is also expected to be almost halved from 800.

Mr Cameron is likely to face a rebellion by Conservative MPs.

Many Tory MPs believe constitutional change should not be a priority and up to 100 are expected to oppose the bill.

Labour is backing change, despite opposition from some of its MPs.

The proposals in the House of Lords Reform Bill include:

  • Cutting the number of members from 826 to 450
  • Peers serving non-renewable 15-year terms
  • Elections to take place every five years, with one third of seats up for re-election
  • Members to represent different regions
  • First elections to take place in 2015, then 2020 and 2025, with existing members being "phased out"
  • The remaining 90 members (20%) would be chosen by an Appointments Commission, on a non-party basis
  • The number of Church of England bishops in the Lords to be cut from 26 to 12
  • It would still be called the House of Lords, but members would not have the title "Lord", with parliament to decide on a new name for them

Changes to the Lords were promised by all three main parties at the last general election, but Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his fellow Liberal Democrats are seen as the main driving force behind the coalition government's plans.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron said a majority of MPs and the wider public were in favour of a mainly elected House of Lords and urged MPs to back the government's bill.

He said: "If those who support Lords reform don't get out there and back it, it won't happen. That is the crucial point."

'Constitutional monstrosity'

Mr Clegg said: "The coalition stands on the brink of an historic achievement. After more than a hundred years of debates, cross-party talks, green papers, white papers, command papers and a Royal Commission, we are finally introducing a bill to create a democratic and legitimate House of Lords."

The government had initially intended to cut the number of peers to 300, but this was raised to 450 after a committee of MPs suggested this might make Parliament's second chamber too small to scrutinise legislation properly.

Analysis

All three party leaders support Lords reform. All three parties are being whipped to back it. All three parties included it in their election manifestoes.

So in theory it should be a political cake walk. But, of course, it won't.

History has shown that Lords reform is one of the most divisive, intractable and perilous of political undertakings. This time will be no different.

For Nick Clegg it is a make-or-break moment. Succeed, and he can lay claim to an historic Liberal achievement. Defeat, and dark mutterings will start over his leadership.

For David Cameron the risk is he prompts a major backbench revolt, souring relations with a large swathe of his MPs and possibly seeing his legislative agenda de-railed by endless days of debate on Lords reform.

For Ed Miliband the danger is he risks angering many of his party's old guard opponents of Lords reform and being accused of playing political games by his qualified support for the Government's approach.

But the bigger danger for all three leaders? The public will simply view Lords reform as a huge distraction from the many more pressing problems ordinary families are facing.

But some opponents of the bill, including many on the Conservative benches, argue that elected peers could undermine the supremacy of the Commons by creating a rival chamber.

The bill is expected to receive a second reading in the Commons before MPs rise for the summer recess on 17 July. Ministers aim to complete its passage into law by next May. That timetable is far from certain, however, given opposition in both Houses.

Conservative MP Jesse Norman said he planned to rebel, adding there was "no question whatsoever" that he could support it.

He told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "This a constitutional monstrosity as a bill and it should never have reached the House of Commons."

Conor Burns, another Tory MP, said he would be prepared to risk losing his job as parliamentary private secretary to Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson by opposing the bill.

After the second reading of the bill, MPs will be asked to vote on a "programme motion" limiting the amount of time the Commons can spend debating the changes.

Mr Burns told the BBC's News Channel: "If it is a disciplinary matter to vote in a way that was a free vote in previous parliaments... then so be it. I feel very strongly about this. This is about the constitution of the United Kingdom. We have never before in Parliament guillotined bills of such constitutional magnitude."

He said he expected a "significant" number of Conservative MPs to vote against a time-limited debate.

The prime minister's spokesman said Conservative MPs would be ordered to vote in favour of the government's proposals.

'More voters'

Labour leader Ed Miliband is also said to be facing a revolt from some of his senior MPs over his support for changes to the Lords, with former Home Secretary David Blunkett openly criticising the decision.

Fellow former Labour Home Secretary Lord Reid told the BBC's News Channel: "If anyone thinks that you will create a new class of 450 senators, with a term three times as long as MPs, with constituencies 10 times as big, with no constituency business to do... and that will not become the primary house, they are deluding themselves.

"It will not only rival the House of Commons; it will supersede it."

In the Lords, several peers questioned whether the bill would adequately protect the supremacy of the Commons.

Labour's Lord Richard, who chaired the joint committee on Lords reform, said the government should look at further ways of "buttressing" it as the primary chamber.

Former Conservative cabinet ministers Lord Gummer and Lord Forsyth both criticised the proposal for future members to be elected from a list of candidates, chosen by political parties, saying it would undermine the independence of members.

Labour's Baroness Symons questioned whether new members of the Lords "sent with the backing of millions of votes" from eight large regional constituencies and for 15 years would defer to MPs, elected with fewer votes for shorter five-year terms.

These new members, she said, would be "much more powerful than colleagues down the other end of the corridor".

But Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the House of Lords, defended the bill, saying the government believes a democratic mandate would give the Lords greater legitimacy and enhance its ability to revise legislation and hold the executive to account.

 

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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 702.

    People here clearly don't understand that democracy is not all about elections.

    If there are MPs, the niormal checks and balances on legislation will be lost, and the government will have increased power with the larger number of their MPs in parliament. Moreover, the Lords expertise, which makles them more qualified to scrutinise than MPs, will be lost.

    Keep them appointed.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 701.

    We need to leave the Lords alone, we already have an elected house & look how that's turned out. The Lords NEEDS to retain it's impartiality & be made up of experts in their fields NOT career politicians who just think they know what's best.

  • Comment number 700.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 699.

    Although I accept that many of the Lords will have a high level of education and a good level of overall intelligence, I can imagine that it must be difficult to make the right choices for the good of the people when you're very wealthy. How can you make such important decisions when you really don't have a clue what it's like to be an average person on an average income?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 698.

    1.Lords reform won't happen.
    2.It'll be the end of the road for Clegg as Leader of the Lib-Dems
    3.There'll be an early election
    4.Lib-dems will be wiped out.
    5.Tories will get a working majority.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 697.

    The last thing we need is another load of politicians chasing votes. The Lords should be a place of expertise and experience where proposed legislation can be considered without any need to worry about re-election, and then due advice sent back to the elected Commons, where after all they have primacy anyway.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 696.

    678.bones
    'Is there not an argument for having true independents with no party funding or affliiation?'

    There probably is an argument for that but I'm pretty sure that's not what the reform being proposed is intending from what I can see.

    Do you think that the majority of people who bother to vote would look past red/blue/green if they were on the ballot paper?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 695.

    Yesterday, the BBC referred to the elected lords as "Senators" - yuk!

    Electoral changes like this MUST go to a referendum. This bulldozed bodge-job should be blocked.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 694.

    683.Turix
    "only way an elected House of Lords could work is if it is completely severed from party ties and political agendas" +1

    Unfortunately as designed this is the only way that the house of commons can work too!

    Did you get to vote for PM?

    Is your MP always being whipped by party?

    Even max spending mean a new party could only spend 5p per voter. Not even enough for a stamp.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 693.

    The corrupt Tories and Labour parties would rather appoint their own cronies to the Lords than live in a democracy. The Queen just rubber stamps and does what No.10 wants so I'm not anti-monarchy as such. Getting people to give up vested interests is the most difficult thing in life to change. I'm certainly not a LibDem either just want want a reliable form of government. Stuff the politicians.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 692.

    Those that say this is wasting parliamentary time, also appear to be those who opposed the scrapping of the Hereditary piers and are against better democracy in this country.

    Ignore them - democracy is what we demand and should get. It is our right, and their opposition just shows up their hidden agendas.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 691.

    The sensible solution would be to create an apolitical panel, similar to the Judicial Appointments Commission (who appoint the judiciary), to select and appoint appropriate candidates for "New Life Peerages" - based entirely on merit, with no former MPs permitted.

    Without elections, there can be no dubious electioneering and no chance of mirroring the Commons or challenging its primacy.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 690.

    i agree with 675 in recent years how have mp'sdone in governing this country, sadly not looking at the financial and economic state we are in. recent members of parliment and i think it is obvious self interest was the motive of them being there not the countries benefit, lords work for the country not their pockets. elected lords seem just older mp's wanting to milk the system

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 689.

    We need to reduce their number what ever change is made. At the same time as reducing the number of MPs, this government has increased the number in the HoL by multiples of the MP reduction, and they have changed both for purely political reasons. If the HoL is to be replaced lets replace it with people of real experience, weak political affiliations and no ex-MPs what so ever.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 688.

    I note the usual lefties and anarchists are in full flood today without thinking about what they are saying.
    Do we want a two tier system where the top house is voted in - like the USA? Thus political and social status has no say.
    Do we want the system that Russia has, they claim democratic but the same old same old.
    If its not broke ...!

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 687.

    Surely this is not a time to be focussing on reform of something that, whilst not perfect, does function, indeed, the Lords sometimes seem to have more sense than the Commons. This suggests that Govt is
    out of touch and has a lack of empathy with ordinary people's personal priorities in this financial crisis. How many jobs could be created & businesses supported with money to be spent on reform?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 686.

    It is high time that the number of folk sitting in the Lords was reduced.I care not if they are or are not elected but this is a fine opportunity to get rid of some of the crooks and timeservers who currently sit there,courtesy of the taxpayer.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 685.

    There are officially 650 MPs from Diane Abbott of Labour to Nadhim Zahawi of the Conservatives. I do not see the point of a second elected chamber as it will reflect the views of the first chamber because the electorate are voting on the same lines thus effectively creating a reflection of the HOC. Two elected house systems rarely work as the current US system shows. Maybe a House of Mayors?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 684.

    I think that this isssue is, quite frankly far from the publics collective mind. We are more interested in steps taken and measures planned and in place to tackle the recession and worrying European situtation... PRIORITISE

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 683.

    The only way an elected House of Lords could work is if it is completely severed from party ties and political agendas. Candidates should be nominated by experts in their field, and voted for based on their knowledge and experience.

    Somehow, I don't think that's what they have in mind.

 

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