Cross-party group of peers plot to wreck Coalition plans for an elected Lords
By Tim Montgomerie
Before the General Election David Cameron suggested that reform of the Lords was not a priority. As part of the Coalition negotiations reform became an urgent priority, however. Page 27 of the Coalition Agreement states the following:
"We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election."
The commitment is under-reported. Not only does (a) the last sentence suggest a massive influx of Liberal Democrat peers and (b) the grandfathering proposal look like a transparent attempt to get current peers to support a change that otherwise would amount to 'turkeys voting for Christmas', the reform plan amounts to a fundamental change in the UK Constitution. No longer will it be likely that the Lords will want to remain a chamber that revises and delays government business. Because it will be elected on the basis of PR the Liberal Democrats, in particular, will say that it has more democratic legitimacy than the Commons and it will amass more powers. While Cameron can escape AV if the people vote against it there is no easy way for him to wriggle out of Lords reform.
This morning's Sunday Times (£) reports that peers Betty Boothroyd, John Birt, John Prescott and Geoffrey Howe have come together to form a cross-party group to campaign against the Coalition's plans.
- Former Commons Speaker Baroness Boothroyd commented: “The supremacy of the Commons was settled in 1911 and should not be put at risk.”
- Lord Birt agreed: “A chamber elected on a more proportional system may for ever subvert the power of the Commons and of the government of the day to act decisively."
- And also Lords newcomer Baron Prescott: “I will never support anything that challenges the House of Commons and if you get an elected House of Lords, there are bound to be clashes."
Tory members, according to a ConservativeHome Panel Survey in May, are evenly split on the future of the Lords. In May 41% were supportive of the Coalition's decision to move to an elected Lords, 42% were opposed.