Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

Now is the time to reform the Lords (and the Commons) Mr Clegg. That's right Mr Cameron ... now

Published Monday 13 August, 2012

It was John Humphrys, in a recent interrogation of some poor, hapless Coalition Government Minister, who asked if 400 more paid, full-time, unsackable politicians was the answer.  What exactly was the question?

Rarely have we seen such inept political handling of an issue as we witnessed with the Liberal Democrat's attempts to introduce the recent Bill to abolish (let's call it for what it was) the House of Lords; we were also treated to a hissy fit by their Leader when the doomed initiative to champion an ill-conceived, poorly drafted, unworkable Bill inevitably hit the buffers.

The failed attempt would have: -

  1. Removed the UK Legislature's only block of any critical mass that is independent of party politics. The crossbenchers would be extinct. The real essence of a revising, advisory chamber (a non-executive director for the Nation, if you like) would be lost; at least there are experts who know what they're talking about in the Lords! 
  2. Replaced Prime Ministerial patronage with Political Party Leader patronage by nominating to a party list for election by proportional representation. (No wonder the Liberals wanted that!)
  3. Given the newly elected "Senators" a 15-year non-renewable term. Elected dictatorial, non-accountable sinecure or what?!
  4. Told the Commons that their (totally right, because of their democratic mandate) current omnipotence will be challenged on a daily basis by an Upper House with similar democratic legitimacy.  
  5. Refused to give the British electorate a referendum on such a major piece of constitutional reform ... and they wonder why they failed to persuade some 90 Tory MPs to vote with them!

It is an unfair accusation from the Liberals that their Coalition partners broke the Coalition Agreement; the promise was to introduce legislation; not one word on what that draft legislation had to contain and turkeys don't vote for Christmas!

There are too many MPs; a billion Indians elect 500 MPs every four years; why 62 million of us need to elect 650 of them is beyond me.  Many of them sit in seats that are no longer equal in population to others. In this technological age, we really can move towards 400 Parliamentarians in each house.

So NOW (in the midst of political, marital strife and a need to kiss and make up) is the time to push through much-needed reform.

Messrs Cameron and Clegg, I urge you: -

  1. to vote through the Boundary Commission changes (this would show serious political maturity by the Deputy Prime Minister) to effect some reform of the Commons.
  2. to take the Bill languishing in the Commons' waiting room,  having been introduced by Lord Steel of Aikwood many moons ago,  and use some of the time you'd set aside for the doomed Bill to pass urgent legislation to reform the Lords. I reckon you'd need a morning in the Commons and an afternoon in the Lords to get it (with a few amendments) through virtually nem con.
  3. accept or amend the current draft Steel Bill to reflect the following much-needed five requirements:-

    a) abolish the position of Hereditary Peers in the House. b) introduce a compulsory retirement age of 75.

    c) expel all Peers convicted of a criminal offence punished by a custodial sentence.

    d) remove the appointment of all Peers from the patronage of the Prime Minister (or any party political leader for that matter) and give it to an Independent Commission.

    e) expel Peers who do not attend and participate in debates or committee work (as opposed to voting, unless there is much-needed reform of how voting takes place) to an agreed standard of frequency.

Implementation of the above would automatically bring the number of Peers down from 800 to 400. Just what's required. 

All of that could be achieved before Christmas, Gentlemen. There would be little or no opposition in Parliament or the Country. The Liberals would be able to claim some degree of victory in their quest for reform; the rebellious Tory backbench could come into line with no loss of face for them or their leader; oh! and the reform that is badly needed would be achieved for the good of the Country ... and isn't that why they're all meant to be there in the first place?

So get back to sorting out our economic problems Mr Cameron; remember why the Country has you helping to form a Government Mr Clegg. It sure isn't to be self-indulgent and petty in equal measure.

Hopefully now we CAN reform Parliament, effectively and quickly, now that "reforming the House of Lords" is over.