Reform of the House of Lords is a dead duck. It was long overdue, but fell by the wayside last year when the Tories backtracked at the twelfth hour on their written coalition agreement with the LibDems to deal with it. It was gratifying to see the LibDems getting a taste of their own medicine by their lying partner in crime. However, it was even more heart-warming to see the Conservatives acting like turkeys voting for Christmas. This was despite the fact that they had been forewarned that the LibDems would retaliate in turn by reneging on their agreement to force through boundary and other significant changes to House Of Commons elections. The Conservatives chances of winning an outright majority at the next election (or any foreseeable future election for that part) on the existing rules are zero – so they desperately needed that fillip (mind you why the LibDems agreed to the changes in the first place beggars belief as they will help to get them wiped out!). So no collective responsibility there then.
The Tories will never voluntarily reform the Lords because they as an overall unit believe in privilege, inherited or otherwise. David Cameron in a major speech late last year boasted that he wanted to “spread privilege”; it would appear that despite his privileged educational background he didn’t realise that he was confusing privilege with freedom – privilege means ‘the advantages and immunities enjoyed by a small usually powerful group or class especially to the disadvantage of others’ (or perhaps he DID know what he was saying?). The LibDems will never get another chance to reform the Lords – whether or not Nick Clegg gets the boot. What about Labour under Ed the red Miliband? It is true that Labour support the idea of a fully elected House of Lords, but they have no idea how to get that through the Lords’ chamber – they like to think that a referendum would do the trick but that is wishful thinking. The big objection to an elected Lords is that it would compete with the Commons (later if not immediately) and would have a legitimate right to do so – so we end up like the Americans with Senate & Congress, two often competing sets of politicians. Miliband is though quite satisfied with the status quo because the situation is reversed these days in the Lords and Labour can outvote the Tories at last! UKIP leader Nigel Farage supports reform of the Lords and they favour adding some ‘elected’ peers (and call them Senators) – perhaps UKIP will have a say in the future (if they ever get round to having an elected MP).
Prime Ministers like to stuff the Lords with their own people, and that is real power that will be reluctantly given up. Cameron (Con) wasted no time and has created 122 life peers already, starting in the first months of his first year (2010), now averaging out at 41 a year, beating all others preceding him into a cocked hat (Cameron has created more peers more quickly than any postwar PM); Tony Blair (Lab) gets closest with 36/yr; and at the other ‘low’ end Macmillan (Con) managed on 10/yr (Supermac was unpopular but he did make his wife’s lover of 30 years [and father to his daughter] Boothby a Baron – mind you that is the lowest level of a lord , and Gordon Brown about 11/yr (but he didn’t have many friends did he!)
With all those going into the House of Lords in recent times there is quite an astonishing total of 812 lords there and mounting, so it is a bit overcrowded and crampt (this compares to 650 MPs in the Commons) – the lords total includes hereditary peers who have been reduced to about ninety now in number.
Reform will take a generation, but radical steps are essential now:
- The first new law required is to revolutionize hereditary peerages and other hereditary titles so that such titles are simply not passed down through their families – so time and death will remove this anomalous situation where a noble honours and ranks class of some seven hundred, was created by an thousand year old system of granting power and lands to those of power and money, and many hundreds of years ago to concubines of kings and those fighting for monarchs [700thousand troops were killed in WW1 & nearly 400thousand in WW2 – no titles or lands given to their families though!). The aristocrat the Duke of Westminster is the richest British born person in the UK and worth billions; the family started out with a title in Norman times. This very small step, but one of principle, will remove once and for all the mad British infatuation with the aristocracy.
- The second step is to create all future peers as Impermanent Peers not life peers (a category who would disappear as they die off), with a term of say 10 years. They would not be barred from being given a further Impermanent Peerage.
- Thirdly, there needs to be a limit on the number of Impermanent Peers created under each administration annually – say for now 10/yr (but allow carry over to the next year)
- Next, Parliament should pass legislation to introduce the new category of Elected Lord to the House of Lords. These would be directly elected by a constituency where they must have lived for a defined period of time and meet other qualifying criteria including such things as age and non-political experience– a simple constituency method would be to use the existing European Parliament boundaries and arrangement of twelve regions (eleven if Alex Salmon has his way and Scotland commits hara-kiri and leaves the Union) with each region allocated a number of Elected Lords. The number of Elected Lords should be about 70 and represent a 1/3 rd of the House of Lords.
- Set the House of Lords seats to be 1/3 of the size of the Commons – so about 220 Lords on current figures. That would mean in the short term the number of ‘available’ peers is too many and the solution to that is for the non-elected peers (Hereditary & Life) to vote in the required number themselves, about 150 say.
With these proposals no current peer will be disenfranchised and the fullest reform of the Lords will be staged and will evolve over time (some of the old buffers may not even notice) – there will be light at the end of the long tunnel. Our democracy will at last be dragged into the 21st Century!
If this plan is adopted then Dadman007’s name can go forward for nomination as an Impermanent Peer or as an Elected Lord candidate!