Grumblings from the Second Chamber

The Coalition’s latest cock-up

(First published June 22, 2011)

It was the promise of the three main parties at the last general election: to reform the House of Lords. So what’s happening now?

Well, the general public have been suitably distracted for a while (what with job cuts, increased living expenses and that damn economic crisis) so that any pre-election promise of reform has been somewhat forgotten and the Lords and Ladies have been sitting comfortably.  Cue Nick Clegg’s shattered reputation and his party’s declining esteem and enter the “Lords Reform Bill.”

The Coalition are proposing plans to drop from the current 828 members down to around 300, 80% of which will be elected, whilst the remaining 20% still only appointed.

Early proposals have already come across much scrutiny but the reception is visibly mixed. Labour (who propose a 100% elected second chamber) have branded the plans a “dog’s dinner” which lacks in detail.

Baroness Boothroyd, Labour’s head in the Lords and former Common’s speaker, gave an emotional speech declaring that Lords and Ladies are “united in seeing this Bill as a bad Bill.” She went on to say “We in this House must be resolute in our determination and ready to resist come what may. The Government already hints at using its powers of duress to get its way, but I warn it.”

So let me get this straight, she’s warning the Government and they’re ready to resist? Their job security is threatened by way of reform and so their retaliation comes in the form of resistance? Does this not sound incredibly similar to the reasons behind the threat of strike action from the Unions and the Public Sector?  

Katie Ghose, head of the Electoral Reform Society has openly welcome the reforms assuming that their details will be refined.  She said “All three main parties went into the last general election with manifesto pledges to reform the upper house, now all democrats must be prepared to show their resolve. We can break the deadlock, but it will require concerted action from all parties to bring this medieval chamber up to date.”

Baroness Boothroyd went on to add: “The House of Lords is the house that does scrutiny, that advises the government on its legislation, that examines its legislation and because it is the House of Commons is the primacy house,” she told the BBC. “If you get an elected House of Lords, where it the primacy? Where is the supremacy?”

Baroness D’Souza, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers and keen Human Rights ambassador,  has said “I do not believe that elections are the only form of democracy, I do not think you can argue that this house is undemocratic when it so clearly acts in the public interest”.

So for all their good intent, the politicians and activists are fighting out the rights and wrongs of the House of Lords reform. Views range from wanting an entirely elected chamber to maintaining and entirely appointed chamber. Baroness Boothroyd was quick to add “If it ain’t broke, don’t mend it.” Well it is broke but it doesn’t need “fixing”, it needs reforming and updating. Just like the public called for an update for the NHS, for a reform of Social Security. Which is why the public have rejected Cameron’s“I can fix it” approach, just as the Lords and Ladies are now doing.

Is there anything that the Coalition can’t cock-up on?  


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