In Saturday’s Daily Mail, David Davis MP warned that the Government’s Lords Reform Bill could create a more “politicised and partisan” upper chamber.
Described by one constitutional expert as ‘truly stunning in its apparent ignorance of history, the impact of electoral systems and political reality’, it is fair to say the Lords Reform Bill is not universally popular.
The Bill will see 80 per cent of peers elected using a form of proportional representation – a system designed to favour the Lib Dems and give them a pivotal position in all future elections.
At the moment, the Government’s whole approach to Lords reform is wrong. Nobody understands why it is being discussed now.
There are more pressing issues – such as the economic crisis – than reforming the House of Lords, pictured
In 2009, with Britain in recession and the financial crisis raging, David Cameron described House of Lords reform as a ‘third- term issue’.
At a time when Britain needs jobs and growth, seeing MPs devoting day after day to a fiddly constitutional issue will leave voters baffled.
Historically, it is the Lords, not the Commons, which has stood up to overmighty governments when they acted in a way which threatened our traditional rights and freedoms.
But if the Deputy Prime Minister gets his wish for a new, mostly elected upper chamber, the Lords would become more politicised and partisan, with little reason or desire to defy any government initiative, however misguided.
A unique check on excessive government power would disappear.
Nevertheless, it is said that the Government proposes to use the Parliament Act to force through the reforms. This is an improper approach for a coalition government to use.
It has always been accepted that elected governments should eventually have the right to force through clear manifesto commitments. But the Coalition Agreement is not a manifesto commitment; it is a deal between the leaderships of two parties, neither of whom won the election.
Now the Lib Dems are threatening to block the review of constituency boundaries if they don’t get their way on Lords reform.
It’s no good the Lib Dems trying to rewrite the rules of the Coalition at this stage to suit their own political careers. The boundary commission and the Lords were not linked in the original coalition agreement and this just demonstrates desperation on their part to find positions to put their future ex-MPs.
I am not saying the House of Lords works perfectly, which is why I would support sensible proposals for reform. In fact, I do not object to some Lords being elected.
But the proposal should be more balanced. The Lords has in its ranks many distinguished men and women with vast experience and expertise from the worlds of business, science, law, politics, academia, religion and the armed forces. If we elected 80 per cent of peers, we would run the risk of packing the House of Lords with party hacks, defeating its purpose.
If some Lords are to be elected, we should not use the proportional voting system being proposed in the Bill. This is nothing more than an attempt by the Lib Dems to boost their presence in the upper chamber by rigging the electoral system in their favour.
In last year’s AV referendum British voters emphatically endorsed first past the post, so that is the system we should use.
If the Bill became law, would the reformed House of Lords be as well-informed as our current House of Lords? Would it be as independent?
And could a reformed Lords hold to account future governments as well as it has done previous governments? I fear, under the current Lords Reform Bill, the answer to all three questions will be ‘No’.