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Jubilant LibDems secure early moves towards elected House of Lords

At yesterday's Prime Minister's Question Time - in response to a question from Douglas Carswell MP - David Cameron confirmed that the Coalition wanted to move towards a largely elected House of Lords and soon:

"There will be a draft motion, by December, which the House can vote on. I have always supported a predominantly elected House of Lords, and I am delighted that agreement has been reached on the coalition programme. [Interruption.] I can already hear what a challenge around the House it is going to be to achieve the consensus that we need, but I hope that after all the promises of reform, this time we can move towards a predominantly elected second Chamber."

The FT reports that "this will pave the way for detailed legislation to move from all peers being appointed to a mainly-elected system, with new members of the Lords serving fixed terms and existing peers offered “grandfathering” provisions to phase their exit from the Lords".

In the wake of last week's appointments to the Lords, Mr Carswell's chief partner-in-reform, Dan Hannan MEP, made a brief case for an elected Lords last week:

"Britain is run by and for an unelected nomenklatura. The most powerful apparat of all is the House of Lords that Tony Blair created: a corporatist chamber whose nominees come largely from NGOs and state institutions, and whose instinctive solution to any problem is to spend money. Ian Blair, the quangocrat’s quangocrat, personifies the problem. How can an elected Upper House be worse than a House of Blairs?"

Reform of the Lords was not expected to be a Tory priority if Cameron had won an overall majority but alongside AV, an elected Lords is a LibDem priority. The LibDems hope that proportional representation will be used to elect the Lords and that this will give them the balance of power in the Upper House in the years to come.

Writing for ConservativeHome last year Andrew Tyrie MP welcomed the use of PR:

"[First Past The Post] with its ability to deliver clear party majorities, works well for the Commons supporting its role as the source of legitimacy for a government.  However, the second chamber requires a demonstrably different system. The current lack of any party majority is one of the better features of the existing Lords. And because the chamber is elected in thirds, FPP would have the perverse effect that a new government could confront an opposition majority in the second chamber (because of the continuing effect of earlier elections in which the other party had been victorious). By contrast, a government heading into its third term – when they are not necessarily at their wisest – would face the least restraint from the second chamber."

Also on ConservativeHome, Philip Davies MP has made the case against an elected Lords within this piece:

"The House of Lords as it currently stands brings together some of the most senior people from business, science, education, the arts, the Armed Forces, charities and I could go on.  The House of Lords is a chamber of expertise and the truth is that it is where a lot of the more detailed examination of legislation takes place, certainly more than in the House of Commons.  The House of Lords is less adversarial and the involvement of the cross benches means there is the involvement of those who hold no party allegiances.  Political appointees are of course part of this mix and they take the government business through the chamber and for the Opposition lead the scrutiny, but Ministers there are generally more willing to listen to other sides and our legislation is better for it. It is worth considering what an elected chamber would look like.  It would presumably be smaller than the House of Commons, as it would be elected entirely on party lines and therefore in danger or mirroring the lower house.  Indeed if it was elected at the same time it would probably closely mirror the Commons in make up.  Currently the Government is drawn predominantly from the House of Commons, but if the House of Lords had the same democratic legitimacy, it could challenge the Government if it was led by the other party, which could lead to a constitutional crisis.  If it were elected on the same basis as the US Senate, with one third elected every two years then we would soon move to a system of constant campaigning which would affect the work of Government as everything would be geared towards these ‘mid-term’ elections.  However, the biggest change would be the loss of expertise and the fall in the quality of scrutiny.  If the Lords was an extension of the Commons with politicians using it as little more than a spring board to a Commons career then the quality of the legislation would suffer.  How would that serve democracy?"

Opinion within the Conservative Party is divided. According to ConservativeHome polling, 41% of Tory members were pleased with the agreement in the Coalition document regarding an elected Lords. 42% were disappointed.

Tim Montgomerie

8.45pm Melanchthon on CentreRight: Why on earth would we want an elected second chamber?


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