Phil Hunt asks what now for Lords reform?
Now that the Coalition’s proposals for Lords reform have humiliatingly bitten the dust, is there any prospect at all of change for the Second Chamber any time soon?
There has been some hope in the Lords that the government would be prepared to run with former Liberal Leader, Lord David Steel’s admirable Bill which would bring immediate incremental improvements.
Already through all of its stages in the Lords, the Bill would allow Peers to retire as well as dealing with a long-standing blot by removing from membership those who have been convicted of serious criminal offences.
When the Deputy Prime Minister announced to the Commons on 3rd September that he was giving up on Lords reform, he was quick to reject his predecessor’s Bill. Indeed, Mr Clegg was disparaging about its contents and complained it would barely trim at the margins, the size of the Second Chamber.
His negative attitude was replicated by Lord Strathclyde, Lords Leader in response to a question yesterday from Lord Wakeham who chaired the Royal Commission on Lords reform. It was an ideal opportunity for the Lords Leader to map out the Coalition’s intentions. Instead, he rather unkindly referred to the Steel Bill as languishing at the back of the queue of Private Members Bills and doubted support in the Commons for it.
Lord Strathclyde has already stated that pending reform of the Lords, peerage appointments will be made by the government with the objective of creating a Second Chamber that is reflective of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.
So we have the ultimate irony of a government critical of the size of the Lords yet making no commitment to halting the appointment of more Peers. Rumours are rife in Westminster that the Coalition plans to put dozens more supporters on the red benches to swell their voting performance. This is something I am challenging the government on today in the chamber at our daily question time.
Already, the Lords effectiveness as a revising chamber has been weakened by the impact of the current government. Whilst the last Labour government lost about a third of all votes, the Coalition is losing at a rate of half that.
It seems that the government feel they are entitled to win every vote. But, without defeats, or the fear of defeats, they won’t make changes to their legislation. That makes a mockery of the role of the Lords as a revising chamber and weakens Parliament as a whole.
In the end, all that will be left from the tatters of Lords reform will be a hugely bloated House less credible because it will be less able to hold Ministers to account.
Lord Phil Hunt of Kings Heath is Labour's Deputy Leader in the Lords
Published 9th October 2012