Monday, August 06, 2012

Lords reform

With the demise of Lords reform, caused by the unholy combination of rightwing Tory back-benchers and the Labour Party's opposition to any reasonable timetable motion, we are stuck with an undemocratic second chamber composed of an ever-increasing number of Party appointees, bishops,hereditary peers and 'cross-benchers' whose voting performance is as arbitrary as the method of their appointment.

There are 815 peers at the moment, an impossibly large number made barely tolerable by a large fraction of the membership being absent most of the time, with an average daily attendance of 429.

There is no upper limit on the size of the House, but the unwritten rule is that the Government should have a larger number of Members than the principal opposition Party. At the moment the Coalition has a majority over Labour of 76. If there was an election tomorrow and Labour won, then to give them a 76 majority over the Tories would require the appointment of 62 new Labour peers. But that doesn't take into account the creation of peers by the outgoing Government in the Dissolution Honours.  Labour elevated 13 peers last time, so if the same happens next time in reverse, that would mean an additional 26 to add to the 62. That means the total would rise to over 900.

In spite of Nick Clegg's dismissal of the Steel Bill, it could be extended to get rid of the hereditary by-elections; to limit the term of appointments to 15 years (say), and to provide for a retirement age.But these improvements would require Tory approval, not a probable scenarion

As David Steel rightly points out, Lords reform isn't an issue that strikes a chord on the doorstep. But the Tories' failure to honour coalition 'contract' means that Liberal Democrats are let off from their side of the bargain. LibDems should now be free to insist that instead of making the disadvantaged pay to get us out of the financial crisis bequeathed to us by Labour, we should get the money from the rich.

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