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
    +5

    Comment number 822.

    Reform the Commons first please. Nobody to be allowed to become an MP until they have had 10 years experience working in the real world

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 821.

    784.A_from_Oxford
    I'm not saying I don't think Lords can't be improved just that current proposals no hope of this.

    "each candidate submits a short statement to be sent out"

    This leads to policies but we want 2nd chamber to have genuine debate & review.

    Often need complex Sci to understand issues.

    "deposit threshold that's achievable"
    IMHO should be 100 voters' signatures no £s

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 820.

    @Jo (812)

    "The house of lords is a collection of veterans from across all walks of life "

    __

    Walks? Why walk when Jeeves is on hand to drive the Rolls?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 819.

    Another farce to provide the veneer of democracy when what we have is really just a sophisticated form of feudalism. It's just like mandatory voting; a legalistic way of forcing consent so that when they push private, international agendas and screw the public, they can say ''but it's democratic, it's democratic..!'' That hypnotic word has made people tolerate the intolerable for far too long now.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 818.

    @808

    Well, the Fox-Hunting debate should have been time limited, in the large order of things it was pretty irrelevant to a vast majority of the public.

    I DO agree, however, that the argument is how, not if, the Lords should be reformed, but I do think that this is something that needs a much larger consultation than is currently taking place, since it impacts the way the whole country works.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 817.

    I also fully support a 100% elected second chamber. I don't want to create more career politicians, but unfortunately it's the best way. Far better than inherited privilege and I'm amazed that some on here can't see that. I don't know what criteria a person standing for the Lords should be, whether along Party lines or as complete Independents. My gut feeling is as Independents.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 816.

    If it's elected, it's not the House of Lords. If you're killing the institution, do away with the pretense. However, from that I've seen, the Commons has done more a disservice to the people of the UK than the Lords have, and the Commons should be toned down.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 815.

    Jo
    I take it you are not a big fan of democracy?
    As part of the electorate I find your comment deeply offensive

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 814.

    793. PatBenatar

    You were arguing that MPs were ignoring the majority of their constituents. I was merely pointing out that for most topics the MPs had no reliable way of determining that view. That is why we are a representative democracy not a delegatory or consultative democracy. You might wish it to be otherwise but as others keep saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it".

  • Comment number 813.

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

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 812.

    Unfortunately democracy breeds short termism where kicking a problem 4 years into the future or more is a result.

    Also the electorate is largely too ignorant and too ill informed to be able to choose the best options collectively.

    The house of lords is a collection of veterans from across all walks of life and I believe act in the nations best interests unlike the elected.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 811.

    No reform required just abolish it obvious.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 810.

    "Winkernet
    As with the EU - when all three party leaders agree on something you just know it must be wrong. "

    Why? Just because you disagree with policy doesn't mean it's wrong.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 809.

    Tinkering around with our current system is pointless. Politics is utterly corrupt, unresponsive to normal people and totally out of touch with the population. The best thing that could happen to both chambers would be some form of natural disaster.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 808.

    "Pdibbs
    I just do not agree that we should vote once every 4-5 years and then bury our heads in the sand to what happens until the next election comes along. That's not how it works."

    I wasn't suggesting you did. But they have a mandate to reform the HoLs. The debate then becomes HOW, not IF. But too much "help" in legislating risks something like the Fox Hunting legislation debacle.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 807.

    As with the EU - when all three party leaders agree on something you just know it must be wrong. A waste of valuable time and a disservice to the electorate.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 806.

    "The electorate have already decided by 90% voting for parties with manifesto commitments to reform the HoL."

    If every party with a cat in Hell's chance of getting elected has the same view on a policy, it's stupid to imagine that the electorate agrees with their stance purely because they vote for them. Most of us vote either for the least worst party, or against the worst.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 805.

    I do believe we need a second chamber. But their power should be curtailed. And for that I think it's about time the UK had a written constitution because we still don't have one. The second chamber should vote on bills passed up from the Commons, but the voting power should be about one third of the commons. So any bill blocked by the Lords would need a huge majority of votes from the Lords.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 804.

    @Sisyphus9 (791)

    "Voters possessing sufficient knowledge to be entrusted with such an awesome political responsibility constitute a tiny minority."

    __

    I know, let's have a committee decide on a suitable minimum level of knowledge, and an army of civil cervants to certify which citizens have this superior knowledge so are eligible to vote.

    No, on second thoughts, 1 person 1 vote will do nicely.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 803.

    We do not need appointed rulers within a closed system of privilege, awards, entitlement and deference. We are better than this. When are the people of this country going to achieve a modicum of self-esteem and self-confidence and stop assuming that they always need the approval of those who insist that it is their right to give it?

 

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