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Politics no image

Published on June 30th, 2012 | by Kirsty McKellar
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="566"] © Arpingstone[/caption]   The House of Lords Reform Bill looks set to face a bumpy ride through parliament as it has already come up against opposition from over 100 Tory backbenchers, despite David Cameron now saying that he firmly supports the motion. All three major political parties promised reform in the last General Election, however some MPs are now claiming that a recession is not the right time to be forcing through constitutional reform. Cameron has stated that ‘it is time to make progress’ on the House of Lords after ‘one hundred years of discussions’, however some Tory rebels are planning to oppose the bill even if it means sacrificing their job. Nick Clegg is clearly the driving force behind the bill, he has long spoken out about the need for change in the House of Lords. The proposed changes would mean that 80% of peers are elected; they would serve fifteen year terms, each represent a region of the United Kingdom and one-third of seats would be elected every five years (much like the European Parliament). The reforms would also reduce the number of peers by almost half, from 826 to 450. With four-fifths of the chamber elected, the remaining 90 members would consist of 12 Church of England bishops and the rest would continue to be appointed with a Commission set up to ensure that this was on a ‘non-party’ basis. Support for the reforms largely stems from arguments that an elected House of Lords is more democratic and more representative of the public that its decisions impact upon. The house is appointed by a system of patronage that is largely unaccountable; many people have raised concern over Cameron’s unregulated peer appointments. The House of Lords can be seen to represent a democratic deficit in British politics, particularly due to the existence of hereditary peers which would be removed under the proposed changes. Nick Clegg has stated that ‘it cannot be right that ordinary, hard-working people are expected to obey laws that are created by people appointed entirely by birth or patronage’. Conversely, many MPs have voiced concerns that an elected House of Lords would threaten the supremacy of the House of Commons as it would gain greater legitimacy- however surely legitimacy is a good thing? Some commentators believe that the coalition is forcing the reforms through simply to keep LibDems quiet. Tory MPs in particular are arguing that reforms should safeguard the primacy of the Commons. Clegg has tried to quash these voices, and advocates argue that the bill would use European Parliament-like boundaries to ensure that the new elected peers are not duplicating the constituency work of MPs in the Commons. According to Conor Burns MP, these reforms mean that the likelihood of a transformative Prime Minister will decrease, as elected peers would thwart a radical Prime Minister. A frequent argument against the case for reform appears to be that now is not the right time. Some MPs across all three parties believe that constitutional change simply should not be priority during a recession. Lord Sugar sums up this argument in his tweet this week: ‘the government have far more important issues to deal with in this double dip recession than stupid HOL reform idea. Priorities all wrong’. However the government is surely capable of doing more than one thing at a time, and constitutional reform inevitably requires mass upheaval therefore will there ever be a perfect time? All three parties have backed the basis for the changes, yet within all three parties there are divisions on the issue. Ed Miliband has refused to back the timetable as Labour want more time for the Commons to debate the bill, he has also argued that there should be a referendum on the bill. According to a YouGov poll, 44% of the public would prefer a mostly elected chamber, 32% a mixed elected and appointed chamber, and only 11% a chamber that was mostly appointed. Some commentators believe that Miliband is putting party politics before the need for constitutional change, it may be that this is simply seen as another chance for coalition opponents to act against the government. Is it merely that Labour/ Tory activists cannot see past their hatred of Liberal Democrats and are intending to move against the bill simply to exercise this? Lords reform has been talked about for so many years therefore it is clear that it is an important issue that needs to be addressed in some form, and upholding democracy and representation in our political institutions is vital.

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Time for Lords reform?

© Arpingstone

 

The House of Lords Reform Bill looks set to face a bumpy ride through parliament as it has already come up against opposition from over 100 Tory backbenchers, despite David Cameron now saying that he firmly supports the motion. All three major political parties promised reform in the last General Election, however some MPs are now claiming that a recession is not the right time to be forcing through constitutional reform. Cameron has stated that ‘it is time to make progress’ on the House of Lords after ‘one hundred years of discussions’, however some Tory rebels are planning to oppose the bill even if it means sacrificing their job.

Nick Clegg is clearly the driving force behind the bill, he has long spoken out about the need for change in the House of Lords. The proposed changes would mean that 80% of peers are elected; they would serve fifteen year terms, each represent a region of the United Kingdom and one-third of seats would be elected every five years (much like the European Parliament). The reforms would also reduce the number of peers by almost half, from 826 to 450. With four-fifths of the chamber elected, the remaining 90 members would consist of 12 Church of England bishops and the rest would continue to be appointed with a Commission set up to ensure that this was on a ‘non-party’ basis. Support for the reforms largely stems from arguments that an elected House of Lords is more democratic and more representative of the public that its decisions impact upon. The house is appointed by a system of patronage that is largely unaccountable; many people have raised concern over Cameron’s unregulated peer appointments. The House of Lords can be seen to represent a democratic deficit in British politics, particularly due to the existence of hereditary peers which would be removed under the proposed changes. Nick Clegg has stated that ‘it cannot be right that ordinary, hard-working people are expected to obey laws that are created by people appointed entirely by birth or patronage’.

Conversely, many MPs have voiced concerns that an elected House of Lords would threaten the supremacy of the House of Commons as it would gain greater legitimacy- however surely legitimacy is a good thing? Some commentators believe that the coalition is forcing the reforms through simply to keep LibDems quiet. Tory MPs in particular are arguing that reforms should safeguard the primacy of the Commons. Clegg has tried to quash these voices, and advocates argue that the bill would use European Parliament-like boundaries to ensure that the new elected peers are not duplicating the constituency work of MPs in the Commons. According to Conor Burns MP, these reforms mean that the likelihood of a transformative Prime Minister will decrease, as elected peers would thwart a radical Prime Minister. A frequent argument against the case for reform appears to be that now is not the right time. Some MPs across all three parties believe that constitutional change simply should not be priority during a recession. Lord Sugar sums up this argument in his tweet this week: ‘the government have far more important issues to deal with in this double dip recession than stupid HOL reform idea. Priorities all wrong’. However the government is surely capable of doing more than one thing at a time, and constitutional reform inevitably requires mass upheaval therefore will there ever be a perfect time?

All three parties have backed the basis for the changes, yet within all three parties there are divisions on the issue. Ed Miliband has refused to back the timetable as Labour want more time for the Commons to debate the bill, he has also argued that there should be a referendum on the bill. According to a YouGov poll, 44% of the public would prefer a mostly elected chamber, 32% a mixed elected and appointed chamber, and only 11% a chamber that was mostly appointed. Some commentators believe that Miliband is putting party politics before the need for constitutional change, it may be that this is simply seen as another chance for coalition opponents to act against the government. Is it merely that Labour/ Tory activists cannot see past their hatred of Liberal Democrats and are intending to move against the bill simply to exercise this? Lords reform has been talked about for so many years therefore it is clear that it is an important issue that needs to be addressed in some form, and upholding democracy and representation in our political institutions is vital.

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About the Author

Kirsty McKellar

Kirsty has recently graduated from the University of Liverpool, obtaining a degree in Politics and Criminology (BA Hons). She is mostly interested in British politics, particularly the policies of the current coalition government. After completing her dissertation on the reasons for youth voter apathy with a First classification, she has developed a keen interest in young people’s relationship with and participation in politics. Kirsty has also undertaken some valuable work experience with her local MP, Esther McVey. She enjoyed the experience of working in local politics with Members of Parliament and Wirral Borough Council, helping to organise a charity event for the Big Lottery Fund. Kirsty intends to move to London this year to pursue a career in politics and social research, as it is something that she has always been passionate about.



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