What do Conservatives want for the House of Lords

The hunt is on to find a solution to the “Lords reform problem” which could command a majority in the Commons based on Conservative and Lib Dem votes.
Based on the 2nd reading vote, the Coalition commands 57 Lib Dems and 197 Conservatives, a total of 254 votes. To have a majority of one overall they would need to persuade 72 Conservatives who either abstained or voted against to vote for revised proposals. 91 Conservatives voted No to the bill, and another 19 abstained, against the advice of a 3 line whip.
The government’s task is made more difficult because the MPs voting against are not a solid bloc, a party within a party, or defined group with a single view of the world. Some are small “c” conservatives. They do not think the Lords is broken, and see no need to fix it. Some are big “C” Conservatives. They see Lords reform as a Lib Dem idea to ensure an elected upper house always requires coalition politics there to get government business through. They see it as a backdoor way of changing first past the post voting, despite the electorate’s decisive rejection of AV in the recent referendum.
Some would like a reformed House of Lords, but do not think this is the right reform. Some are more democratic than the government, and want any scheme put to a referendum of the people first to make sure it is wanted. Some dislike the idea of a stronger Lords, creating a log jam for a future government when decisive action may be needed. Some think the changes will create a weaker Lords, replacing people of experience and knowledge with more party hacks. Some just do not want Parliament to spend many days on this issue at a time when the public wants us to fix the economy and public services.
All this means there is no one simple fix that would win over 72 MPs to the cause. I do not think electing fewer people would take the trick as hoped. That is one thing I have never heard any of the antis ask for. A referendum would probably win over more than most other ideas, but that could not be guaranteed to convince enough.
All the colleagues I have spoken to about this have strong and well argued views. There are as many opinions as there are MPs. Some think the Lib Dems have had too much influence over the Coalition already and want to make a stand. Some think politically and do not see how this proposal helps the Conservative party. Many more try to reason it from the national and public interest.

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82 Comments

  1. norman
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Any who said they are thinking this won’t harm the Conservative Party I suggest you ask them the same question the next day and not a 11pm in the Commons Bar (not that there’s anything wrong with being drunk at that time, just that it’s better come next morning if both feign ignorance of the ramblings).

    What you can’t do is present us with an establishment fix up (15 year terms, closed regional lists) that will be seen by the whole country as you simply feathering your nests and not doing what is best for democracy and the traditions of this country. That you would do this and then, ludicrously, not put it to a referendum as Nick Clegg put it ‘the politicians all agree how you little people should be ran so there’s no need for you to have a say in the matter).

    My preference, 5 year staggered terms (i.e. mid-term in general election) with a house fully elected by true PR, not AV or some other fudge, candidates selected by open primaries. If you want to reinvogirate democracy in this country and give us something to get inspired to get involved that would do it. Not seeing it’s perfect plan, but 15 year closed lists will turn the public off even further. You’re removing our democratic voice one step at a time, whether through central office shortlists, EU transfers, and now this.

    Give us say, you might find we’re not all idiots glued to Jeremy Kyle every day but want to get involoved but with families and full time jobs you’re either excluding us on purpose or making it as hard as possible to feel we can make a difference.

  2. L Edwards
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    How about a multiple choice referendum.

    Give Nick Clegg and any other MPs who care a few months to come up with five or six different schemes, including the status quo, and let the country decide which one we want.

    That eliminates all complaints that it isn’t democratic as well as all complaints that people want reform but not this reform. The only people left objecting will be those who don’t think their pet scheme has a chance of convincing the electorate – which is an irrelevant complaint in a democracy.

    If any proposed reform has to compete with not just the status quo but with a group of alternative possible reforms, we have more chance of people actually thinking the issue through properly, and more chance of finding a good solution.

    • nicol sinclair
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      OMG! That would require two hands to count the fingers of…

  3. alan jutson
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Since the last re-organisation of the House of Lords, we seem to have had more cronyism, more Party Political appointments made purely for Party politics sake.

    The idea that re-organisation would be good for the Country, or to serve as a check on the House of Commons seems to have been the last consideration, as it would probably make life more difficult for any Government to get Policies through the system.

    I wonder if it is just a coincidence that in the last 10 -15 years we have also had a dogs dinner of new laws, regulations and policies passed which seem to have been ill thought out.

    To my mind the last re-organisation was done rather too rapidly, with too little thought, by a government that could do what it wanted because of a huge majority, and thus did so with self interest in mind.

    If we are going to alter a huge part of our democracy, this needs to be done with clarity of purpose, with sensible and detailed argument, where all sides can discuss the options and eventual make up before asking the people to decide with a referendum.

    The last thing we need is more change made with a political stitch up, behind closed doors.

    The second chanber is surely in place to hold the government to account, to ensure that proposed law is good law, it can only do that if Party politics is set aside from its make up.
    If the second chamber is going to be run simply on Party political lines, with Party representitives put up by the Party’s in the House of Commons, who are then to be elected by the people, then what is the point, it simply duplicates what we have in the House of Commons, so we may as well abolish it.

    The problem with abolishing the House of Lords, is then we really would have a true elected dictatorship, with no check and balances.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      I’ve been reading about George III, who’d been advised by his father that he should try to minimise the effects of party politics on the government of the country.

      So when he came to the throne in 1760 he wanted ministries made up of honest, wise and non-partisan statesmen who would only be concerned with the welfare and progress of the nation, but he soon found that to be impossible.

      I think our best hope is that the different parties will hold each other in check and prevent each others’ worst excesses, and making sure that no single party can have a majority in both Houses of Parliament would be part of that.

  4. Mike Stallard
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    If you take a question like, for instance, “Should we have an immediate referendum on leaving the EU?”, the House of Commons could easily take a vote which would clear the whole thing up one way or the other.
    From what you say, there are so many possibilities and different views on this one that it is a very good thing this has been kicked into the long grass.

    What you didn’t say is that it is fun to see all those people in their red robes standing in front of Her Majesty the Queen in Pugin’s palace. The EU hemicircle (or whatever) is in no way fun.

    Thank you for a really good breakdown, however. Much appreciated.

  5. lifelogic
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    The Lords reform is far from a priority and should certainly be put to a referendum before any changes are forced on to the electorate. As indeed all EU and voting changes development should have been. Then we would not have had to suffer them.

    The coalition has under three years left to do something useful. Nearly all actions, so far, have been in totally the wrong direction. The Lib Dems policies of more government, more tax, more EU, more quack green policies, party lists, more regulations, anti business, and more power for Lib Dems are all a complete disaster.

    I am delighted to read that the Gates foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates seems to be doing excellent things with birth control, funding genetic engineering for food production and disease research/control. I assume this is to make up for their hugely irritating and time wasting software that they have inflicted on millions. If only our political leaders had a more of a sensible vision for the future. A vision of advance through science and engineering and tackling real problems that affect us now with real solutions – rather than pushing their personal interests, the green religion, an ever expanding parasitic sector, happiness and equality nonsense and getting more power and money for themselves.

    We were promised £1M Inheritance tax thresholds when Brown foolishly bottled his early election. It was very popular, needless to say we have not been given it and now they seem even to be putting a new death tax in place for long term care. (only for those who have saved responsibly of course). One more signal that it is better to be feckless and that promises made by Osborne and Cameron are worthless.

    These mad distortion of the market, in employment, green tosh, Spelman’s idiotic flood insurance, transfers to the feckless, the NHS and countless other areas are hugely damaging to the economy.

    Reply Microsoft offered software which many wanted and bought willingly – it was not inflicted.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      Actually John the ECJ ruled that Microsoft was abusing it’s dominant position by only including its own version of web browsing software with its operating system. This is why several versions of Windows include non-Microsoft web browsers.

  6. Kevin Ronald Lohse
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    This farrago is an almighty waste of Government time when there are far more important things for the HoC to be concentrating on. It is. of course, a back door attempt to reintroduce a form of PV,roundly rejected by the electorate only 2 years ago, in a desperate attempt to retain some sort of political presence by the LibDems after 2015.

    • waramess
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      You have it smack on. More diversionary politics to take the focus off the complete and total abrogation of the economy. Cameron must love it.

  7. Alan
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    It is puzzling that so many people want to protect the Lords, when it is so obviously a corrupt part of our constitution.

    It is a troubling state of affairs where we put less trust in the people we elect than in those who have achieved their positions by the patronage of present and past prime ministers or long dead kings.

    • nicol sinclair
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      Some, although not all, of our elected ‘representatives’ have already lost our trust.

      Too many of the debates recently have shown all the hallmarks of a kindergarten as opposed to a ‘grown up’ debating chamber. We had better (and more mature) debates when I was a member of the Debating Society at school over 50 years ago…

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      You say “It is a troubling state of affairs where we put less trust in the people we elect than in those who have achieved their positions by the patronage of present and past prime ministers or long dead kings.”

      The elected ones have usually promised things to the electorate – in order to get elected, then they default on these as we have seen to an absurd extent with Cameron and the coalition. They also rarely do the right think especially when it is unpopular as they are seeking re-election shortly.

      People appointed by patronage often do not have these disadvantages. They also do not have to behave like ugly actors running from studio to studio with trite dishonest sound bites. The only advantage is when they abuse their power too greatly you can get rid of them without needing a revolution. Alas with the EU not even this advantage will apply soon.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted July 16, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        Your “only advantage” is hardly a small advantage!

    • Single Acts
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      But a bi-cameral legislature where each is elected is pointless because each would try to neuter the other by claiming better/more realistic/more recent democratic appproval. Under such a system one chamber must destroy the other.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted July 16, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        Well, more than two centuries on and the US House of Representatives hasn’t yet destroyed the Senate or vice versa.

    • Sean O'Hare
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      It might trouble you Alan, but it troubles me not one iota. It works – leave it alone!

    • norman
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      they want to further corrupt it. thats the problem. I may not like dog excrement sandwiches but when the choice is that or twice that…..

      • Stephen O
        Posted July 16, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        ‘or twice that’ – surely a better analogy is removing the bread?

  8. Pete the Bike
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Net result = political fudge to satisfy nobody but still get more snouts in the trough and providing no benefit to voters at all.

  9. Excalibur
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    The national and public interest would be best served by reverting to a purely hereditary House of Lords. It makes me bleed from the tear ducts to read and witness the machinations surrounding this issue when we have so many more pressing problems. As Liam Fox has said the EU is “strangling the life out of Britain”. This and the economy are the two issues that should be occupying the attentions of Messrs. Cameron and Clegg. If correctly reported, I thought Mr. Cameron’s treatment of Jesse Norman quite disgraceful.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Given that a purely hereditary House of Lords would mainly represent a wealthy elite, rather than the general population, I fail to see how this would be a good thing.

  10. David Hope
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    With so many diverse reasons for disliking the reform it very hard to see how a solution can be found.

    I think before reform we need to work out what we want – do we want a second chamber of the type in America and many other countries or do we want a revising chamber. It seems no one has properly addressed this in advance of the legislation.

    It’d be great if some MPs were suggesting an independent house as crazy as the idea may appear to many politicians. If the Lords is to be independent, how about requiring all who stand to stand as independents so that affiliation to a party, party whips and the rest are banned.
    I suspect this would go down well with the public and would ensure it remains a revising chamber not away for one party to block another’s policy

  11. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    The public don’t care; they think you are wasting your time instead of dealing with the real problems in the economy. As for winning Conservative MPs over, I don’t think the bullying tactics employed by Cameron and his henchmen has done anything to encourage support. The irony is that those in favour of HoL reform say it is all about democratic accountability – what a joke!

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      You say “The irony is that those in favour of HoL reform say it is all about democratic accountability – what a joke!”

      Indeed – and they are usually the same one who are in favour of more powers for the undemocratic EU too.

      Hypocrisy from top to bottom.

    • Michael Lee
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      Yet despite the bullying and a three line whip, the motion had to be withdrawn or otherwise defeated. Mr Cameron has lost his authority; he is damaged goods. The cycling prime minister should go before he makes an even bigger fool of himself. I’m sure he would be a welcome addition to the ranks of the Monster Raving Loony Party…or perhaps not.

       “For two years Julius Cameron ruled with an iron hand. Then, with a wooden foot…and finally with a piece of string.” *

      * Goon Show: The Histories of Pliny the Elder

  12. oldtimer
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    “There are as many opinions as there are MPs”. You have answered your own question. That probably describes the views held by the opposition parties too, based on the previous attempt to find a “solution”.

    Speaking for myself, if a “solution” is found, I believe it should be put to voters in a referendum. I no longer trust ideas for such changes, and the decisions to implement them, when they are advanced by self-serving politicians. The same is true for our future relationship with the EU and devolution in the UK.

    • waramess
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Couldn’t possibly do that. They don’t trust the people and are pretty dismissive of their views. Only the chums know about such things

    • Timaction
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Spot on about the EU. Simon Heffer was saying yesterday that British officials have already told him that there is no chance opf any repatriated powers from the EU as the other 26 Countries do not have any desire for this. Therefore it really is time for our In/Out referendum as the Coalition isn’t delivering anything else!!

  13. Denis Cooper
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    If like me you want a stronger second chamber which would be more willing to stand up to the executive, but which at the same time would not pose any threat to the primacy of the Commons, then there is a quick and simple and inexpensive way to do that, and with additional advantages including the possibility that if it turned out to be an unsatisfactory solution then it could quite easily be reversed.

    However it does mean thinking way outside the usual box and contemplating a very unconventional solution, one which as far as I know has no precedent anywhere in the world.

    Perhaps the closest parallel would be the “limited voting” electoral system which was once used for some UK parliamentary elections, but with the elections being for members of both Houses of Parliament simultaneously rather than just for the Commons.

    This is how it could be done:

    First, abandon the present over-complex and contentious Lords reform Bill.

    Second, introduce a much simpler Bill which only arranged that:

    When this Parliament is dissolved, all the present members of the House of Lords are required to take leave of absence for the next two Parliaments.

    The general election is held in the normal way, with each elector having one vote to cast in the normal way, and all the candidates who come second in their constituency polls are summoned to serve in the Lords for the duration of the next Parliament.

    Present members of the Lords who are keen to continue can find constituencies where they have no chance of winning but a good chance of coming second, and in that event their leave of absence will be cancelled.

    The same happens at the following general election, by which time constituents have got some idea of how well their own “Second Member of Parliament” has performed, as well as some idea of how well the new system as a whole has worked.

    During that second Parliament there is a referendum to ask the people whether they want to continue with the new system, having seen it in operation for one and a half Parliaments, or they would prefer to revert to the previous system.

    If the referendum approves the new system then a new Bill is passed to confirm its indefinite continuation; if the referendum rejects the new system then all the present members of the Lords are told that they will be invited back after the following general election, and as appropriate the existing arrangements are used to replace those who have died, or want to retire for reasons of age or health or loss of interest, etc.

    With each constituency having two representatives in Parliament to share the now expected “glorified local councillor” constituency work there would be a strong case for subsequently reducing their numbers, although for the Commons that would have to be accompanied by a reduction in the number of MPs on the government payroll.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      It is of course your blog and your decision, JR, but I can’t see why you’ve declined to allow this comment through with the others this morning.

      Even though it’s unlikely to come to anything this is a serious suggestion, which could at least restore some degree of harmony to the coalition so that they could concentrate on sorting out more immediate problems like the economy.

      Oh, and if this was agreed then the LibDems would have no possible excuse to block the boundary changes that the Tory party wants.

  14. Nick
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    The following guarantees are in place.

    1. There will be tax avoiding payoffs for peers in line with their tax evading ‘expenses’

    2. There will be no role for the electorate in making any decisions.

    We might get to pick from a selection made by the parties, but there is not a hope in hell we get a vote on any issue.

    • APL
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Nick: “peers in line with their tax evading ‘expenses’”

      Now now Nick, these expenses are legal, therefor it’s tax avoidance.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Indeed

  15. Denis Cooper
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    “They see it as a backdoor way of changing first past the post voting”

    Of course my preferred solution would change first past the post voting, by adding second past the post for the members of the second chamber; I have no problem with that, as I see the raw “winner takes all” nature of the present system as a serious defect, not a virtue, and if that defect isn’t addressed in this way then eventually it may be addressed in a way which is harmful.

    However because members of both Houses are elected simultaneously through the same poll, with the election of each SMP, “Second Member of Parliament”, no more than an adjunct to the election of the MP for that constituency, not only would there be no question which House had the greatest democratic legitimacy but also there could no possibility of arguing that the electoral method used for the Lords was superior and should be extended to the Commons.

    Clegg’s present proposals would introduce a PR system just for the second chamber of Parliament, with some risk that this would open the door for PR to be transferred to the first chamber later on, but FPTP-SPTP would keep that door shut.

    • Sean O'Hare
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      That sir is a very novel idea. Just maybe it would ensure the supremacy of the commons because they came first. That needs thinking about!

    • Publius
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Denis Cooper, I know this ‘second-past-the-post’ ‘House of Losers’ option is a particular hobbyhorse of yours, but you don’t really explain why it is necessary or how it will improve the legislature or the quality of governance.

      You do not say what will be better about the upper house as a result, or indeed why one should have an upper house at all under such circumstances. Nor do you make clear what particular ability or value such politicians would possess that would make such an upper house useful or good.

      Why do it at all? Why not use the same somewhat bizarre formula merely to select more members in a lower house or unicameral parliament, for example?

      Your scheme, in short, reads like an over-complex formula hacked out by an accountant who has begun with the premise that he wants to change the system, and has then cooked something up.

      You never begin with the fundamentals. What is the aim of any change? What is wanted from the legislature in total? What do we want from government?

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted July 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        On the contrary, Publius, I’ve repeatedly explained that the primary purpose is to help correct the inherent defect in a first chamber elected by FPTP, which is that often there is too little effective opposition.

        Or, to abstract just the first paragraph from my main comment on this article, which I submitted early yesterday morning but which for some reason JR has chosen not to publish:

        “If like me you want a stronger second chamber which would be more willing to stand up to the executive, but which at the same time would not pose any threat to the primacy of the Commons, then there is a quick and simple and inexpensive way to do that, and with additional advantages including the possibility that if it turned out to be an unsatisfactory solution then it could quite easily be reversed.”

        You may think that my proposed combined electoral system is “bizarre”, but maybe that just reflects your own lack of imagination.

        I read many comments on this issue which strike me as “bizarre”, and which in some cases display an astonishing lack of basic knowledge which should have been acquired in civics lessons at school.

        You ask why a similar system should not be used for a single chamber, and of course it could be and in fact it has been.

        It’s known as “limited voting”, and at one time it was actually used for the election of MPs in some UK constituencies, and it could be used if one wanted (say) a local council to be more broadly representative – it would only need the council area to be divided into wards returning three council members, while allowing each elector to cast only two votes.

        Hardly “over-complex”, and far simpler and better than some other systems such as the Additional Member system used for the Scottish parliament.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted July 16, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        From another blog, over two years ago:

        “Publius @ 3:03 pm – One advantage of replacing the House of Lords with a new Second Chamber made up of the parliamentary candidates who came second would be that the democratic legitimacy of the second chamber would be upgraded from its present zero legitimacy to a sufficient degree of legitimacy for active and determined opposition. But obviously it would not be equal to the democratic legitimacy enjoyed by the candidates who came first and became MPs. So I would leave the Parliament Acts in place, with the Second Chamber only having the power to delay government legislation for about 13 months.”

        So you really can’t claim that I’ve never explained it to you, unless it was somebody else using that pseudonym.

  16. North Briton
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Good to see a robust, Disraelian defence of the independent heriditaries’ role.

    Oh, wait…

    • APL
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      North Briton: “Oh, wait… ”

      Yea, this is the Tory party.

  17. J Mitchell
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    The problem with the House of Lords is that when the Blair government came to power they knew that they did not like the then composition of the House of Lords; they preceived it as likely to block their legislative programme. The problem is that they did not know what they wanted to put in its place; so they contented themselves with throwing out most of the hereditary peers and stuffing it full of placemen.

    A number of points need to be made:
    1) The Constitution is not the play thing of politicians. It belongs to the country; that is why any reform proposal must be the subject of a referendum.

    2) The House of Lords was not broke. It did its job. Indeed history has shown that on the occasions when the House of Lords stood up to the Commons time proved the Lords right. Legislation rammed through against the advice of the Lords nearly always has had to be repealed or heavily amended subsequently for the very reasons that the Lords identified. The Lords understood their position and respected it. I always thought that they were able to take a long view in the wider interest of the country as a whole because they were no elected.

    3) The argument against the House of Lords is that it is not democratic. There is only one intellectually honest answer to that argument, which is a wholly elected upper chamber. That gives rise to the problems that have been articulated in respect of the present proposals, namely that an elected revising chamber would feel able to challenge the supremacy of the Commons.

    4) In my opinion we have a choice: either we say that the Lords will be a revising chamber consisting of appointed life peers who have earned the right to sit there through the contribution that they have made to the country over the years. This will give rise to the problem that it will become a place for superannuated politicians who can no longer get elected (or never could) and susceptible to gerrymandering by the government of the day stuffing it full of placemen. Not attractive. The alternative is a wholly elected upper chamber. The present proposal could not be more bad. No to PR. The election should be constituency based on a first past the post system consistent with the Commons; the country very recently rejected PR in a referendum. The term of office should be for 6 years fixed. Option for re-election. There should be elections every 2 years or on a timetable fitting in with the local elections with a proportion (say a third) retiring by rotation and eligible for re-election. This gives rise to the problem of payment. If the sum to be paid to members of the upper chamber is too low, then no one will be able to afford to stand who does not have other means of financial support, which will create its own democratic deficit and which is another problem with the present proposals. Like it or not the maxim peanuts and monkeys holds true.

    5) I suppose we could always go back to the status quo ante 1997. It did at least work, or is that too politically unacceptable. After all, attack the hereditary principle in Parliament and you attack it for the head of state.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      1) Given that the Constitution of the UK is unwritten it’s impossible to know when you’re changing it.

      2) Until the 1911 Parliament Act it was impossible to force bill through the Lords and even when it was possible every few bill were forced through. Of those that were forced through, such as the Hunting Act and reducing the age of consent for homosexual to 18, they were not shown to be wrong and did not need to be amended.

      In short the Commons only forces bills through the Lords when the Lords were opposing the will of the general public. Thus time has shown that the Lords were wrong, not the Common.

      3) The Lords isn’t a revising chamber or a subordinate chamber, it’s the equal of the Commons. Only those who nothing nothing about Parliament would consider the Lords a revising chamber.

      The ‘supremacy of the Commons’ is important because the Commons is elected, while the Lords is not; thus the Commons better represents the will of the people. If both chambers were elected the ‘supremacy of the Commons’ would be a threat to democracy, not an advantage.

      4) The Lords have not earned their right to be Lords, they are made Lords because the Prime Minister feels they should be Lords. There is no requirement that they have any useful skills or independent verification of those who make up the Lords.

      Also the country rejected AV not PR and first past the post is a terrible system.

      5) Exactly how does allowing anyone who is a Lord to make the laws work? How does being a hereditary peer make you any more capable of making good laws than being a cleaner or a doctor?

      Reply: Another work of fiction. The leaderships of the main political parties and the main Ministerial jobs in every government are undertaken by MPs. The elected Chamber designs the legislative programme and sets out the direction of the country. The Lords responds and revises.

  18. adams
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    The public have not asked for and do not want the Lords reformed . This whole sorry saga is being stage managed by the tin pot dictators Clegg and Cameron . You John and parliament are irrelevant to what is happening in our country . You are posturing and floundering in the Westminster bubble . LibLabCon are not fit for purpose and are now just EU Empire dupes .

  19. Mark
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Perhaps a more apposite question is what do the public want from the Commons?

    I suggest it involves less constitutional navel gazing and more action to improve the economy and control immigration.

    http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2981/EconomistIpsos-MORI-June-Issues-Index.aspx

    Looking at the detailed tables, constitutional reform only gets a mention by a tiny minority of Sots (who are presumably thinking of their planned independence referendum) and a tiny minority of Londoners who are presumably inhabiting the Westminster bubble.

    • Mark
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      They are of course Scots even if they have been at the whisky!

  20. David John Wilson
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    It first needs to be clarified why we need a House of Lords and what is expected of it. The most sensible answer seems to be that a reforming house is needed that will examine bills in detail and propose amendments that can be ratified by the commons.
    If this is correct then the house of lords needs to be populated by experts who can carry out this function. This implies a house that should be elected not entirely by the general public and certainly not by politicians. It should be elected by the areas of expertise that are needed to perform the required functions.

    We thus need a house where individual members are elected by professional bodies, unions, churches, universities, sporting bodies etc. This possibly implies an increase in the number of members but many of these would only attend when bills relevant to their expertise are under consideration.

    What is not needed is a second house that is a mirror image of the commons.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Parliament makes our laws and I’d rather it was populated by experts in making laws than by an assortment of experts in other fields. If you’re building a nuclear power station you don’t employ brain surgeons to design it and if you’re carrying out brain operations you don’t employ nuclear engineers to perform them. If we had expert law-makers then they would make better laws, as and when necessary calling upon external experts in other specialised fields to give their advice. In an increasingly complex modern world it’s a mistake to see law-making as a simple task which can be safely left to amateur law-makers who happen to be experts in completely different fields.

  21. Denis Cooper
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    The way things are going, after the next general election the Tories might be very grateful if Ed Miliband could not command a majority in the Lords as well as in the Commons.

    If the government can command a majority in both Houses then it can (normally!) set the timetable in both Houses, and it can speed its Bills through both Houses without any effective opposition, while year after frustrating year its political opponents watch in demoralised impotence as measures they believe to be defective and destructive are rushed through, and they are unable even to impose the maximum delay of thirteen months allowed under the Parliament Acts.

    A House of Commons briefing paper on the Parliaments Acts is here:

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-00675.pdf

  22. Caterpillar
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the wide range of views is merely a reflection of the piecemeal approach that has been taken to democracy in the UK. I would like to see;

    1. Clarity on EU (though we have to wait until the Foreign Secretary’s data collection)
    2. Equity for Wales, England, NI (and Scotland if it remains)
    3. Two vote MMP in the Commons to permit constituency and proportional repesentation, and
    4. Effective revising (whether Lords or Committees), and sunsetting.

    To use the horrible ‘sustainable’ word, I’d prefer the current MPs to think what system would be sustainable over decades and centuries, not what will effect them at the next election.

  23. forthurst
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    At a time when the EU is busily eroding all our national independence, it seems bizarre that the HoC is so concerned to reapportion our residual national democracy at all.

    Politicians, like banksters, do no more add value than vampires donate blood. The bunfight over the HoL looks very like a fight over the spoils than a serious attempt to improve our governance. If the HoC were serious about the latter, which manifestly they are not, they would firstly decide what would and would not be the role of the second chamber and how it would complement or conflict with that of the HoC. They would take that decision before talking about anything else.

  24. Hopper
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I consider that Lord’s reform should be off the agenda for all of the many reasons that you’ve outlined.

    You just wonder what Mr Cameron was thinking of attempting to get this through.

    Constitutional change brought about by a grubby compromise to provide Mr Clegg with a prize and a prize by the back door at that.

    If we had a referendum on replacing FPTP for the Commons, how can we not have a referendum on changing the Lords to an elected chamber and applying a PR voting system there? Defies common sense.

  25. English Pensioner
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    We need the upper house to have independent people who have done well in their private lives and have experience in the world. This is what the Lords were at one time, people who had experience and gave their service for the public good because they believed they had something to contribute.
    My criteria would be that members of the upper house should be at least 60 years old and have worked and earned their living in employment outside government and politics. Hopefully, they would have “achieved” something worthwhile in life. They should not have been an active member of a political party since, say, the age of 25. They could be nominated by members of the public, and once appointed would serve for life, or until they decided to step down. Countrywide elections could be held to provide replacements at the same time as a general election, with a single list and the electors having as many votes as vacancies so with true PR, those collecting the most votes would get appointed.
    Hopefully, this would provide the country with the experience and knowledge of the world which is sadly lacking in many of our MPs who have solely studied PPE at universities and never lived in the real world. Their experience would allow them to see the flaws and fallacies in legislation submitted by the Commons, an ability that only comes with experience and time.

  26. Daniel T Thomas
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    By all means have a discussion on HoL reform but lets not waste valuable Parliamentary time on it.

    The economy is in tatters with no proper growth strategy other than QE.

    We are at saturation levels of taxation and job strangling regulations are pouring out of Brussels, Westminister and Town Halls

    Mass immigration continues unabated putting a strain on our resources and services.

    A list of priorities is long overdue.

  27. Rebecca Hanson
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    “Some think the Lib Dems have had too much influence over the Coalition already and want to make a stand. Some think politically and do not see how this proposal helps the Conservative party. Many more try to reason it from the national and public interest.” Try. Do they succeed? And if they don’t do they revert to defending the interests of the Conservative party rather than society like the first two groups?

    I really hate these politicians who relentlessly put their own interests above the consideration of what’s in the best interests of society. There are too many who have the London bubble culture of belief that pursuing narrow, personal, short term interests is the right thing to do. I know you remember the days when the opposite view won the day within the party John.

    • Christopher Ekstrom
      Posted July 18, 2012 at 2:57 am | Permalink

      You mean the Good Old Days?

  28. Leslie Singleton
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Whips attempt coercion rather than advise. I find Clegg’s change of mind on referenda particularly despicable. The electorate now despises the Liberals. Cameron should decide whether he is a Conservative or not. His PR driven speeches are a joke.

  29. alexmews
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I am not at all up to date on this – but canada’s appointed senate has worked well over the years. Australia’s second house is elected. Both are however federal states and the senate (as with the US) is meant to balance the interests of the populous states / provinces against those that are smaller.

    Either way – in the UK – we are way over governed. 640+ MPs, nearly 1000 lords, MEPs, local councils and – in London – the GLA. Well overdue for a considerable pruning all round to ensure new and vibrant growth.

  30. Derek Emery
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    A public referendum would show there is no interest from the public in reforming the Lords. We already know it works as it has prevented New Labour from removing our civil rights. This is purely for the selfish interests of politicians and primarily for Clegg who hopes to achieve a similar effect to what he would have achieved if he had won the AV referendum. That is to be the smallest party but to have overall control of the UK.
    In the first year alone of Tony Blair’s government the Lords rejected Labour bills thirty-eight times. If these had been replaced by elected party hacks they would have been putty in Blair’s hands.
    The public need protection from ruling elite politicians who are only too keen to reduce our rights. No elected Lord’s can give us this.
    Some politicians will disagree in principle with this but the public want politicians who will represent our interests rather than represent their own interests which has to be against our interests.

  31. nicol sinclair
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I would like to write an essay in response but I can’t be bothered as it is past my bedtime! Allow me to reply with bullets:

    1. The HoL was not broke. No need to fix it. Labour attempted to fix it and partially broke it.
    2. Cleggie wants to fix it because that is the only way that the LibDems can ever achieve any power in the future.
    3. Cleggie wants some form of AV/PR to ensure that his tree huggers get a slice of the action.
    4. I am convinced that UK plc does not want another election (even if it is coupled with a GE). Witness the %age of the voting population who votes in the recent elections.
    5. Who, outside the Westminster is interested in HoL reform when there are so many other more important priorities – economy, Afghanistan, Education, NHS etc? In fact it is not a priority at all.
    6. Those of us who live in the (still glorious) countryside want to know how we are going to get about in the future – higher fuel costs than in Westminster, piss poor bus services, the one train every 30 minutes to Glasgow from Ayr, which is 30 minutes drive , two buses each way per day (40 minutes each way in the ‘charabanc’ from home in my case)
    7. I know one of the Hereditaries who was ‘sacked’ by Blair. He is honourable, honest, was hardworking and was heartbroken at being forced to give up his valuable contribution to society.

    So, HoL is not broke. It’s partially buggered due to Parliamentary interference. Bring back the Hereditaries and I don’t care who disagrees with me…

    P.S. I’m not one. Not even close.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Delusional.

      Long before Blair messed with the House of Lords – incidentally, the House of Lords is part of Parliament, so what can you mean by “due to Parliamentary interference”? – it overwhelmingly voted us into the EEC and so subjugated itself, the Commons, the Queen, and all the rest of us, with hardly a second thought.

  32. Vanessa
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    It is interesting to see the LibDims true colours over this Lords’ reform – they are blackmailers at heart. Truely nasty little (people-ed) with nowhere else to go because of their lack of numbers. How dare they try and deny the public a referendum on such a major Constitutional change just because they are frightened they will not get the answer they want – true EU (spinners ed). The sooner Cameron calls their bluff and says OK don’t support us we will go to the country – how quickly can you see them turn around? The Lib Dims will be an ex-party, gone to meet its maker etc. !

  33. Neil Craig
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    The electorate did not reject AV because we don’t want electoral reform but because AV was not real poroportional, as indeed many conservative opponents sdaid during the campaign. All the evidence shows that most of us want pour “leaders” to be chosen in proportion to our wishes.

    If Labour were being either constructive (I know that is unlikely) or tactically wise they would offer support for a Lords reform that the LibDems could not refuse & the public liked. That, in turn would mean Cameron couldn’t refuse it and the Tories would fight each other. Labour would look moderate and sensible, the Tories the opposite and the coalition fatally weakened.

  34. Christopher Ekstrom
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    When “new” Labour tampered with the traditional aspects of the Lords it was the end of old England. Now it’s a pathetic obsession of a puny political party. The only news is that this horrible PM has destroyed all hope of a Tory future.

    UKIP offers a future for England.

  35. David B
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    PR and a party list, the worst electrical option. We will end up with a house stuffed full of people who were put on the list because of service to their party. This means most of the members will want to exercise the political agenda which will creat log jam

    Yes the HoC will have dominance because it can use the two Parliment Acts, but can anyone seriously suggest that will create better legislation and more engagement with politics

  36. Alte Fritz
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I would like to see a robust and independent revising chamber which can do something to improve the poor quality bills which governments have for some years pumped out. How we get it is less important.

  37. BobE
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I heard an excellent description of Cameron yesterday. “He is empty” If you watch him it is true.
    BobE

  38. Bill
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    This is a questions which ought in principle be open to an answer that would satisfy most people. If I were to try to answer it, I would go back to Gladstone and the way the Lords blocked his attempt to pacify Ireland. Had Gladstone succeeded, we would not have had 100 years of Irish discontent. On the other hand, and also following Gladstone (though I cannot cite a reference), the Lords was seen as being part of an organic structure that included the hereditary monarchy. And the advantage of a hereditary system is that those charged with it – if they do their job dutifully (as the present Queen has done) – is that they can act without fear or favour, a little like High Court Judges who, as crown appointments, cannot be removed at the whim of fickle public opinion.

    It is not obvious to me that the US system with its elected Upper House is superior to the British system. It is not obvious to me that the proposals put by Clegg would deliver a better machine for law-making than the current Parliament, and I agree with John when he points out that it makes no sense to have a PR vote to create a new House of Lords when that system of voting has recently been decisively rejected by a referendum.

    • Neil Craig
      Posted July 21, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      PR was not rejected by the electorate – it was never offered.

      What was offered was AV, which everybody on both sides could agree, was not the optimum system.

      All the polls show true PR is popular which is why the Tories would not contemplate a referendum on it.

  39. NickW
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    What the people of this country want is for the coalition to get on with what can be agreed between the two parties and to drop what cannot.

    This country needs a growth and enterprise bill debated and passed on a totally non partisan basis. Parliament needs to get on with it, and forget Clegg’s ego trips.

    As for the Lib Dem’s threats to block boundary changes, they should be left in no doubt that Conservative MPs will bring down the coalition if they attempt it.

    The country has already had an expensive and pointless referendum on AV; that was the deal which was tied to boundary changes. The electorate will await with interest to see whether Liberal Democrats are capable of keeping their word on anything.

    If Lib Dem’s break their word, they can expect to have their noses rubbed hard in the resulting mess during the next election. They could save money by not producing a manifesto, because without trust, nobody would believe it anyway.

  40. Antisthenes
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Currently the commons is churning out legislation that is badly drafted that is extremely difficult to interpret (judges are saying so). The Lords is supposed to be a place where their scrutiny helped to avoid this problem no longer it seems. It appears it is not the Lords per se that is the problem but those who sit there. Like the rest of society the place has dumbed down. The Lords in the past has served the country well and what reforms have been already put in place has not been that successful so further reform leaves me in doubt that would enhance the place appreciably. However if reform has to happen then a simple solution presents itself. I have mentioned the idea before, I reiterate, turn the commons into the English parliament and the Lords in the UK parliament.

  41. Tony (Somerset)
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I think the vast majority of people in this country do not want government time wasted on Lords reform, they do not want it wasted on Gay Marriage reform, nor do they want Government time and resources wasted on any other politically correct nonsense.

    What they want is the economy sorted out, but fat chance of that.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      To your list I would add:

      1. They want immigration halted.
      2. They want foreign criminals deported.
      3. They want to leave Afghanistan NOW.
      4. They want overseas aid slashed if not stopped.

  42. Backwoodsman
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    What exactly is supposed to be the problem with the Lords?It is a revising chamber with very limited powers of delay.An occasional check check on the unbridled power of the executive.It is not supposed to be a Senate with co-equal powers which duplicates the functions of the lower house.It functions in a way appropriate to the long evolved British constitution.
    If there is a democratic deficit it is surely more serious in the Commons.Selection procedures,especially in safe seats,with their near lifetime occupancy,are often managed in a way which benefits candidates who would not win on their own merits ,and are usually grateful to, and dependent on, the party hierarchy and not the electorate.They then either become ‘placemen’ in office,or safe backbenchers,professional adherents of the party hierarchy line.It is they,the professional classe politique,who are effectively rorting the democratic process.The Lords,with their occasional bursts of independent thinking,and even of mild restraining action are, in practice,whatever the theory,a check on anti-democratic control mechanisms in the lower house.
    How on earth,did the Conservatives,pre-eminently throughout their history the defenders of constitutional stability and continuity,arrive at a position where they in effect are changing the basic nature of the constitution that has served Britain so well (overall)? And to what end except more politicians on the make?The ‘reformed Lords’will not ,and cannot,function like the American senate in very different system, and which in any case(and the same is true in Australia)is by no means truly democratic in its composition.England two seats,and Guernsey two seats?Not very democratic as a concept is it?But then perhaps France,or Russia…?
    I find myself ,on an almost daily basis,wondering what this Conservative government understands by Conservatism with either a small or a large ‘C’.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      The Lords has never been a revising Chamber and until the Parliament Act was effectively an unelected Senate with co-equal powers which duplicated the functions of the lower house.

      Given that Lords are appointed by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister can create as many Lords as they want (Cameron created 150) the Lords is no longer a check on anti-democratic actions in the lower house.

      • Backwoodsman
        Posted July 16, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

        In practice the Lords ,since the pruning of its powers after the Parliament Act,has primarily acted as a debating,revising,and occasional delaying chamber.As such,until very recently ,it did a good and largely uncontroversial job.In some cases a much better informed job than the Commons.
        It was not,even in the 19th century co-equal.Even the Duke of Wellington preferred that it debate and amend,rather than openly contest the will of the Commons.
        As far as flooding it is concerned ,the answer to that is not the constitutional revolution involved in an elected Senate,but a simple limit on the P.M.’s powers to appoint.Something more moderate,just and sophisticated could surely be devised.Ane who outside Westminster would jib at such a limitation.
        Mass creation of peers shows a contempt for the constitutional process…just as the pressure for’parachuted’ candidates,who become ministerial apparatchiks, shows a contempt for free choice democracy.Both come with the hallmark of the present PM,as well as his immediate predecessors.Again one wonders ,what is Conservative about any of this?

  43. Tony Houghton
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    John Are you prepared to say how you voted on each occasion – presumably ‘No’ on the first and ‘No’ on the second?

    The thing that got me was that this whole thing was a nice cosy arrangement between Nick and Dave and the latter was not prepared to be Conservative enough to make a stand and say that he was not prepared to have this bill raised in this tacky way. Secondly, the Lords is a very good revising chamber as it is, despite the political appointed hangers- on. Thirdly, an elected Lords will only result in grid lock between itself and the Commons as has happened with the elected Senate and elected House of Representatives in Congress. Lastly, the Coalition should be concentrating 100% on removing the deficit – as far as your blog recounts they are doing the exact opposite. When are they to be held to account for following the Labour policy of spend. spend, spend!?

    Reply: The government withdrew its proposal to limit the time for debate. I voted “No” to giving the Bill a second reading.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      Firstly the Lords isn’t a revising chamber, it’s a legislative chamber like the Commons.

      Secondly one of the functions of an elected upper chamber is to block bills from the Commons to prevent the Commons becoming too powerful. If the Lords can’t block bills it’s effectively useless because the Commons can ignore it.

  44. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Why is it not possible to take this slowly and to treat it as an experiment – which it is?
    Elect between 20% and 30% of ‘Lords’ by FPTP and let Her Majesty select the rest by whatever means she chooses with as little interference from the Executive as possible. Then assess in 15 years what has happened. Have the elected members emerged as leaders? Have they made a greater contribution to the successful revision of legislation than the non-elected members?

    To use Angela Merkel’s words – treat reform as a marathon, not a sprint.

  45. Barbara Stevens
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, H of L reform is not wanted its plain to see, Lib Dems see their chances of ruling within a new H of L unabated for years to come, therefore dicating policy to suit them. Having 15 year terms, I suspect another mad brain idea from the Lib Dem, nice work if you can get it. NO, what we should have is a retirement plan for the many peers who are well past their sell buy date, retirement at 75 should be the norm.
    Retiring them at this age, would in one stroke reduce the numbers, and has there are far to many of them, some 900, we cannot, and should not fund them beyond that age.
    After all they have no constituancy work to perform, therefore they are there to take the money and sit when its suits them. There is no real check on whether they sit or go home, this in its self is a disgrace. At some £400 per day we are not getting value for money when they decieve us, like that.
    No, I like he set up of no elected house to to counter the Commons, there’s no chance of contention between the two. The Commons should retain it’s power fully. However, we do have to have a greatly reduced H of L, we can no longer afford to keep paying 900 of them. There should be no more political peerages either, in fact being made a Lord or Lady should be by a committee, for merit and service to the state only. There’s no need for this expensive idea from Clegg, after all its us who pay the bills not Clegg or the Lib Dem party.

  46. uanime5
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    As long as Labour abstains or supports the Lord’s reform Cameron doesn’t have to do a thing about the 72 revolting MPs or the 91 objecting MPs.

    Let’s face it Labour won’t oppose the Lord’s reform because it will impact negatively on them.

    Reply: Labour are also very split on this. Many Labour MPs want to hold up this Bill as they want to scupper the bounary review process which they think will damage Labour.

  47. Roger Farmer
    Posted July 19, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    While it is totally wrong in this day and age that the products of some previous monarchs daliance should find themselves entitled to a seat in the house, it is equally wrong that they should be barred. Tallent should be the criteria.

    My rules would be:-
    No person under the age of fifty.
    No person supported by the government, or any political party.
    No convicted person.
    No geographical criteria.
    No more than 250 members.
    No professional politicians.
    Candidates could then come from all other walks of life where the only criteria would be professional success, be it religious, military, legal, medical, science, engineering, education, and business.
    All candidates subject to screening to minimise extremism in any form.
    Retirement after between ten and twenty years.
    Submission of a candidate list of 500 by the general public who would then ballot to arrive at 250.
    Candidate list to replace existing retirees as incumbents leave.

    Function of chamber to advise and revise.

    When that is working we then need to look at the House of Commons which is at present the tool of the executive whose grip needs to be loosened.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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