The last Conservative manifesto said Conservatives would seek a consensus on Lords reform in the present Parliament. It did not promise to enact any particular version of Lords reform. It recognised the complexity and variety of opinions. Indeed, when I was asked about it during the election campaign I drew attention to Mr Cameron’s remark that it was a “third term priority” and said I myself did not think it was a priority for the current Parliament.
Mr Clegg thinks otherwise. His party is more firmly pledged to Lords reform. He has come up with a scheme which proposes 360 elected Senators, each elected for a single 15 year term. These would be supplemented by 90 selected Senators, 12 Bishops and 8 Ministers, producing a total of 470 members of a new upper house.
I have various misgivings about this scheme. Electing another 360 politicians is not an immediately popular answer to our current difficulties. It is even worse if they can never be re-elected, never have to stand the electoral test for what they do and say. It is difficult to see how they can ever be accountable once elected.
I have difficulties with mixing elected and non elected members in the same House. There is a danger of two tiers emerging, with the elected ones claiming greater authority than the non elected. The elected, being more normal party politicians, are likely to want to intervene in MP constituencies politically. They will be able to cherry pick cases and causes they think will help them or their party, without being responsible for all the case work in a given area in the way an MP is.
As a contentious constitutional matter Lords reform is bound to generate a lot of debate and argument at Westminster on an issue which is not currently a central topic of concern or debate for electors. Whilst governments and Parliament can do more than one thing at a time, it runs the risk of giving a distorted view of Parliament’s priorities at a time of economic and EU crisis.
Tomorrow I will talk about the kind of reforms I would like to see for the Lords, which would be I suspect less contentious and easier to achieve. I will not be voting for the second reading of this Bill. Jesse Norman and Nadhim Zahawi, two able Conservative MPs from the 2010 intake, are leading the opposition to this proposal. What kind of Lords reform do you want, if any?