Published on 23 Apr 2012

Lords reform ‘Bermuda Triangle of British politics’

I’m in what Lord Peter Hennessy called the “Bermuda Triangle of political reform” House of Lords reform – currently in a committee room listening to a press conference for a “minority report” on the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform Bill.

Minority reports aren’t actually allowed by Lords convention. And there seem to be 12 peers/MPs here whereas there was only one peer at the “majority/agreed” report press conference across the corridor a few minutes ago.

(There were 26 in all on the joint committee but one – Bill Esterson MP – didn’t attend and take the chairman, Lord Richard, out and this is evenly split.)

Baroness Gillian Shephard says an elected Lords/Senate will cost a fortune – shades of Joyce Grenfell as she rebuked a journalist for not looking at her while she answered his question (he was taking notes). Baroness Liz Symons says an elected second chamber is incompatible with Commons supremacy.

All say they are unimpressed by David Cameron saying on Radio 4 this morning that the country shouldn’t spray money on a referendum on Lords reform. The government’s bill, they say, would massively increase the cost of the second chamber.

Perhaps the most significant line David Cameron uttered on R4 this morning on this subject was when he talked of needing all-party cooperation and consensus for successful Lords reform. He sounded like a man rehearsing an argument we’ll hear again one day as the whole reform attempt clatters to the ground.

I suspect the most significant line fellow journalists will take away from the Lords reform press conferences this morning is Lord David Lipsey’s estimate that an elected House of Lords would, over 5 years, cost half a billion pounds.

This was meant to be the day the PM re-launched his mission and put the last couple of months behind him – the date chosen in part becauseĀ of the Murdochs’ appearance at the Leveson Inquiry, potentially Tuesday to Thursday.

Instead, we have Lords rows, Nadine Dorries calling the Chancellor and the PM (not for the first time) “two arrogant posh boys”, a possible clash this afternoon between George Osborne and Tory MPs over the IMF/Eurozone saga and lines from the Radio 4 interview about whether the PM will cut off contacts with individuals who practice aggresive tax avoidance.

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3 reader comments

  1. Saltaire Sam says:

    In the past my inclination was always for an elected HoL but now I’m against it.

    It hit me that HoL is not a policy making chamber, it is there to scrutinise legislation and the last people you want to do that is another bunch of politicians, their views tied to the party whips. The thought of the HoL becoming an echo of the current shambles in the commons is appalling.

    I would much rather have, for example, Joan Bakewell picking over legislation that affects the elderly than someone wanting to keep in with the government of the day.

    That doesn’t mean I’m in favour of the current, bloated and mainly politically appointed Lords bolstered by a few bishops. And the hereditaries have got to go – we can all see how that works out with our disfunctional royal family.

    The ideal, to my mind, would be about 200 people with intelligence, wisdom (not the same as intelligence) and experience, a mixture of faiths and no faith, ethnically diverse and with at least 50% women.

    How we arrive at that promised land is beyond a simple brain like mine but rule one would be that political parties play no part in the appointments.

  2. Julian Ellison says:

    For a more radical approach, why not populate the second chamber at random according to a lottery akin to jury service? The difference would be that anyone between the ages of, say, 40 and 80 could opt in to be selected at random to serve for a three year period. There could be 600 members, with 200 new members selected each year and 200 retired. There could be provision for members to vote on-line, with a requirement to attend a minimum number of days in person. There would need to a salary and accommodation expenses, with perhaps a bonus for those serving on committees. Oh, and a key requirement would be that no current or former MPs could be on the list. Now I have little expectation that such a system would ever be introduced, but if we want to involve ‘ordinary’ people in politics, and make use of the wisdom of those of retirement age, this offers a benchmark of how this could be done. It worked for 5th century Athenians!

  3. Robert Taggart says:

    If Blighty must have a Bi-Cameral parliament then their should be some hint of democracy about the whole thing !
    The Commons, as one understands things, be concerned about the potential ‘clout’ an elected Senate (?) would have.
    Solution – a ‘selected’ Senate – no more than four hundred members (this being in addition to the to be six hundred Commoners) based upon a party list system. The proportion of seats allocated would correspond to the last General Election result (%). This means no one party will ever be likely to have a majority.
    The Salisbury Convention (supremacy lies with the Commons and Manifesto commitments can not be blocked indefinitely) could be written into the new ‘constitution’.
    Sorted ! ?

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