Naturally I cannot share the glee of fellow contributors to this blog that the Coalition’s Lords Reform plans have been dropped, after neither Labour nor the Conservatives were able to sow sufficient unity among their MPs to implement clear manifesto commitments shared by all three parties. I have been involved in the campaign for reform all my political life, and particularly while Shadow Leader of the House of Commons from 1997-2005. I have long been a supporter of David Steel’s Bill, but always as a down-payment on progress towards democratic elections. It is not an alternative, and David has never suggested it could be.
Let’s get back to the facts:
Fact 1: elections to the Lords has been a Conservative policy since their 2001 Election Manifesto
Fact 2: February 2003: David Cameron and George Osborne were among the prominent Conservatives who voted for 80% to be elected
Fact 3: all the main features of the present Government Bill were foreshadowed in Jack Straw’s White Paper, supported by a cross-party group, in July 2008
Fact 4: all three major parties promised the country democratic reform of the Lords in their May 2010 Election manifestos
Fact 5: both parties to the Coalition Agreement of 2010 naturally then included this commitment, with no dissent
Fact 6: in their 2011 White Paper David Cameron and Nick Clegg both stated: “We are both strongly persuaded that this is a unique opportunity for our country to instil greater democracy into our institutions and are fully committed to holding the first elections to the reformed House of Lords in 2015.”
Fact 7: the Joint Committee of MPs and Peers voted by 13 to 9 (9 MPs to 1 MP) to recommend that “the reformed second chamber of the legislature should have an elected mandate”
Fact 8: the Coalition Cabinet unanimously supported their Bill at their meeting on 26 June.
Fact 9: MPs gave the Bill its Second Reading on 10 July 2012 by 462 to 124 votes, an overwhelming majority and a majority in each of the three main parties
Fact 10: opinion polls consistently show substantial majority support for the reforms outlined in the Government’s BIll, with complete abolition the next favoured option and maintaining the current fully appointed House firmly last
So much for the facts: now here’s a comment. The demise of the Coalition Bill does not alter the situation. All three parties promised reform in their manifestos. Its provisions were not “a nonsense”, or “ill-considered” and did not deserve such epithets. The Bill had been very carefully worked out, across the parties over more than a decade, following a century of debate.
Short-term tactics and self-interest may have won the day this week, but this issue will not go away. Ignoring this, as some Peers of all parties and none seem desperate to do, merely encourages those abolitionists in their perception that Members of the Lords are self-absorbed, self-congratulatory and self-interested.