The House of Lords would no longer be able to block some legislation under proposals to curb the power of peers after they rejected tax credit cuts.
A review by Lord Strathclyde, commissioned by David Cameron, recommends that the House of Commons is given the final say over secondary legislation. The House of Lords would be allowed to ask the Commons to think again when a disagreement exists, but MPs would ultimately make a decision on whether a measure passes.
- Rowena Mason, The Guardian, 17th Dec 2015
I am reminded of the strapline from that most famous of made-up thrillers: Glacier.
Glacier is coming; so you'd better tell your great great great grandchildren to get out of the way.
Ah yes. British Electoral reform: one of the slowest moving devices yet invented by mankind. From the first Reform Act of 1832, it would take until 1918 for all of the property ownership requirements to be lifted to extend the franchise to all men and until 1928 to extend the franchise to women. That's only 96 years.
Here we are in 2015 and we still have in Britain an unelected upper house that's still clinging onto power like a barnacle on a rusting ship. In this case this ship of state threw its treasure to the pirates last century and someone has decided to set the motors into reverse.
"We have heard a frankly terrible speech from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. How does he have the brass nerve to lecture your Lordships’ House, coming, as he does, from the most grossly overrepresented party, which, moreover, allegedly believes in proportions and proportional representation and most of whose members, including the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, would, like Samson, like to bring this Chamber down about their ears?
Indeed, I heard a noble Lord from those Benches say only recently, “It does not matter what we do so long as we destroy the House of Lords and replace it with an elected House”. However, those of us who do not believe in an elected second Chamber and believe passionately in the supremacy of the elected Chamber at the other end of the corridor, believe that what we are now embarking on is an extremely dangerous course of action. If we accept the supremacy of the elected Chamber and accept that your Lordships’ House, of course, has the right to invite the elected Chamber to think again, but, if the elected Chamber, by a majority far in excess of that enjoyed by the Conservative Government, says no, who are we to persist, particularly in a matter concerning the franchise?"
- Baron Patrick Cormack, House of Lords 14th Dec 2015.
The Lord Tyler that Baron Cormack is referring to, is none other than Paul Tyler who used to be the Chief Whip of the Liberal Democrats, who in 2011 had their proposal to introduce the Alternative Vote stomped on by both the Tories and a large portion of the Labour Party.
It was nothing short of cynical and in 2015 was proven to be vindicated when the Tories were returned to government in their own right by winning only 37% of the popular vote, which translated into 51% of the seats and 100% of the control and power. In my opinion, this was the single biggest kick in the guts to British Democracy and has meant that any useful reform of the way that parliament works has been set back even longer.
The Ingsoc Party member O’Brien in Orwell's 1984 said that "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever." Well, that future is today. Consider democracy's face being stamped on.
What I don't understand about Baron Cormack's remark is this line in particular:
"those of us who do not believe in an elected second Chamber"
The only thing I can logically think of is that Baron Cormack hates democracy because it would mean that he personally is out of a job.
Scottish National Party member Pete Wishart, summed up exactly what I think of the House of Lords; he did so with only the sort of sound and fury that a Scotsman can produce:
The House of Lords as the be-ermined tribunes of the people was always an unlikely concept, but this Government have decided that they will never allow themselves to be embarrassed by the Lords again.
I quite like option 1. I like it up to a certain part, as it says it would:
“remove the House of Lords”.
Why could we not just leave it at that and get on with it? Let us be frank: the House of Lords is perhaps the most absurd, ridiculous legislature anywhere in the world. Stuffed full of unelected cronies, party donors, hereditaries and Church of England bishops, and with its 800 Members, it is becoming a national embarrassment. The only thing I can take comfort from in this statement is the fact that we may be starting to get rid of the whole ridiculous circus. We are poorly served with an unelected House whose rules a Government can simply change when it does not do their bidding, just because they can and because that place is accountable to absolutely nobody. Let us work together, and if we need to retain a secondary Chamber, let us make sure it is one equipped for the 21st century, not the 16th.
- Pete Wishart, MP for Perth and North Perthshire (SNP), 17th Dec 2015
Again, the only reason that I can possibly think of that the House of Lords exists in its current state, is to preserve the power of these "unelected cronies, party donors, hereditaries and Church of England bishops".
I speak of course as an Australian; specifically as a New South Welshman. I have a pretty good understanding of how a Westminster Parliament functions because I live in a jurisdiction that is governed by not one but two of them.
When the framers of the constitutions of Australia were looking at how best to set up our own parliaments so that they would best serve the people, they looked at the mother of all parliaments on the Thames and decided that it mechanically worked properly but that it wasn't terribly democratic.
At state level, we have a lower house, the Legislative Council, whose members are voted in by the Optional Preferential System. The upper house, the Legislative Assembly, has members voted in by Proportional Representation.
At national level, we the lower house, the House of Representatives, has members are voted in by the Preferential System and the upper house, the Senate, has members voted in by Proportional Representation.
The New South Wales Legislative Assembly is in fact the single most stable parliament in the world; having been in continuous use since 1856. Even though we might have parliaments in Australia which are spirited and can hurl leaders out of office as though the chambers were in perpetual bar room brawls, they in fact work really really well. Technically, we haven't even had a government shutdown in Australia; not even in the midst of the 1975 Constitutional Crisis, for the Appropriation Bill was passed by 3pm on 11th November. I digress though. We solved the issues of electing upper houses in Australia 115 years ago (and in Queensland, they abolished theirs).
I find it interesting that it is the Tories who have decided to push against the House of Lords. Notwithstanding the fact that the Lords pushed back on a quite frankly horrid plan to overturn George Osborne’s plans to reduce tax credits for low-paid workers and actually did something useful, the Tories decided to upend the apple cart. Back in October, Michael Ellis, the MP for Northampton North, said: “We cannot have a situation where an unelected House overrules a democratically elected one.”
Only last week came this gem:
"This House has an elected mandate, unlike the House of Lords. Our majority government has a democratic mandate to implement our manifesto. That is what we have sought to do."
- Chris Grayling, MP for for Epsom and Ewell (Tory) Leader of the House of Commons, 17th Dec 2015
I'd like to use the analogy of a House divided against itself here, with the two chambers at each others throats in the most civil of arguments but this gets messy. It is elected Tory MPs in the Commons, being pushed back by unelected Tory MPs in the Lords who are kicking up all kinds of stink.
If it's taken 183 years for the British Houses of Parliament to arrive at a similar sort of place that the Australian Constitutional Conventions did in the 1890s, then maybe if there's an equivalent sort of pace, then maybe actual talk about reforming the House of Lords might take place in 2025.
The Knights will move in L's, the Hereditaries in their towers will move in straight lines, the Bishops will move diagonally and maybe the Queen will fall over but the Lords are like pieces that can only move one space at a time and very rarely at that.