Lord Dobbs of Wylye continues our series on Lords reform. A former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Michael Dobbs is also a well-known writer.
Let’s start with what’s not in dispute. Lords reform is part of the Coalition Agreement – not that anyone has ever voted for the Agreement, but it’s not bad, so far as political stitch-ups go. The Agreement states: ‘We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals…’
Well, so far so good, but after that it begins to get vague. It talks about the ‘likely’ shape of draft proposals rather than offering specifics. Nowhere does it talk - as the Agreement does in other areas of political reform - about a strict timetable for legislation or using the muscle of the Whips to force proposals through. In other words, it was one of the most lightweight commitments in the deal, little sound, no fury. Not a whiff of the Parliament Act.
If you wanted to be pedantic, you could claim that we’ve already achieved what the Agreement called for. We’ve set up the committee. It’s in the process of bringing forward proposals. Not that Mr Clegg shows any sign of wanting to listen. He has his own, very determined ideas. A personal crusade. Other less charitable folk might call it an obsession. I’m in favour of radical reform. Smaller numbers. Stronger disciplinary procedures. A more independent way of appointing new peers.
And I totally accept that the British people have the right to demand their second chamber of Parliament be elected. Except they’re not doing so. And in any event, the Lords isn’t a proper second chamber, it’s more like an advisory body, a council of elders with powers that go no further than asking the Commons to think again. It often acts as a great composting machine – rubbish in, rather more fertile and fragrant stuff out. We peers are the worms of the Westminster Field. Ah, but elect me, and I would become a very different beast. Why should I regard myself as a second-class creature when my electorate would be far greater than that of any MP? Why should I always in the end back down? Vote against my conscience? Let the government of the day have its wicked way?