Europe

NI peers oppose Lords reform plan

  • 28 June 2012
  • From the section Europe
Interior of the House of Lords
The number of members of the House of Lords will be almost halved under new plans.

Peers from Northern Ireland have criticised plans to reform the House of Lords.

The Coalition government wants the number of members to be almost halved, from 826 to 450.

80% would be elected and would serve 15-year terms of office, after which they could not run for re-election.

A poll for Lords candidates would be held alongside elections to the House of Commons and the hope is to have the reforms in place by 2015.

It means Northern Ireland would see representation in the second chamber heavily reduced.

There are currently around 25 peers from Northern Ireland in the Lords and under the new proposals nine would be elected.

Supporters of change say that the current unelected Lords chamber is undemocratic and needs to be reformed.

However a number of peers from Northern Ireland have criticised the move.

Baroness Paisley, from the DUP, has branded the changes "ridiculous " and said the plans would change the "character and usefulness of the House of Lords ".

Priorities

She said she had no intention of standing for election. Her fellow DUP Peer Lord Morrow believes the entire agenda for change is "being driven by the Lib Dems".

He said he was not against reform but there were other political priorities that should be considered before constitutional reform.

It is an argument backed by the former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey.

He believes that constitutional change should not be the government's priority during a recession. He said he was not against looking at reform but was worried that this "was not good change".

He has major concerns about the 15 year term of office being given to newly elected members. He told the BBC that the period of office was too long and created "somebody who is entirely unaccountable ".

His party colleague Lord Maginnis of Drumglass also opposes Lords reform. He believes an elected second chamber would become a "third rate legislature".

He said an elected Lords would simply be a chamber for those who failed to get elected to the House of Commons.

Necessary

He said the Lords needed "experts" and it was important it was a "more mature house".

However the former Alliance leader Lord Alderdice who sits as a Liberal Democrat peer says change is necessary.

He supports a partially elected upper house and he says the reforms are "a start but need quite a lot more work".

He told the BBC that he is pleased the reforms mean people will still be appointed to the Lords as well as being elected. He accepts many people have "substantial reservations ".

The government is facing considerable opposition to the changes particularly among Conservative MPs and there are reports that many could rebel.

Conor Burns, a parliamentary aide to the Northern Ireland Secretary has said he will vote against Lords reform even if it costs him his job in the government.

The Conservative MP who is parliamentary private secretary to Owen Paterson told the BBC that if he lost his job then "so be it".

Leader Ed Miliband has promised to support the proposals in the bill, but to oppose the "timetable" motion limiting the length of debate.

The Labour leader also says the reforms should go to a UK-wide referendum.

The government wants the first round of House of Lords elections to happen in 2015, when the general election is due to take place. It wants to get the bill through Parliament by May 2013.