Jack Straw has submitted new proposals to reform the House of Lords. They will be no more acceptable than the last seven options, all of which were rejected on a free vote by MPs. The new proposals are...
* All 92 hereditaries to sit in the new chamber until they die off
* Current 605 life peers could choose to stay or leave with a generous redundancy package
* A smaller chamber of 540 Peers * 50% to be elected, 30% nominated by Party leaders and 20% by an independent commission
* Peers to be elected in batches of 90 over three elections every 5 years. Term limit of 15 years
I have seen no proposals about the electoral system under which these elections would take place. I find these proposals totally unacceptable as they reek of compromise.
My preferred option would look something like this:
* No hereditaries to sit in the new chamber (unless elected)
* A new House of Lords should consist of 450 Peers
* Four hundred of them would be elected and 50 appointed, but those appointed would only have speaking rights and not be allowed to vote
* All Peers (including hereditaries) to be eligible to stand for election
* No term limits
I can see no logical argument in the 21st century for the Chamber NOT to be fully elected. People raise the canard that the second chamber must not compete with the first. I have always found this a deeply flawed argument. If the duties of the second chamber are clearly laid out this could not happen. And if the House of Commons is so weak that it felt threatened it says more about the Members of the House of Commons or the government of the time than it does about the second chamber. Other dual cameral Parliaments do not experience this problem, so why should we?
I am a staunch defender of 'first past the post' for electing the House of Commons. The constituency link is vital for Members of Parliament. For Members of the House of Lords that link is not important - indeed it is arguable that it is important for Lords NOT to have direct constituency links. It is also important that the House of Lords should not reflect the make-up of the House of Commons so that a governing Party would have to continue to fight to get its legilsation through. It is in its role as a revising and scrutinising chamber that the House of Lords performs its most valuable function. All this points to some sort of proportional representation system for the second chamber. Not being an expert in the different variations I will leave it to others to suggest how it might work.
Frankly, all of this goes to show what a terrible thing it was for Labour to embark on Lords reform in the first place when they had no clue what the endgame was. I believe it is now almost impossible to gain a consensus on the way forward, which could spell deep trouble in the future. And for Straw to introduce an 'alternative vote' system for MPs to choose between different options goes against all the laws of parliamentary precedent. It shows what a weak position he is in.
My one plea is for the Conservative leadership to stick to its guns and maintain its support for a predominantly elected second chamber. It should ignore the pressure from Conservative Peers in the House of Lords who seem determined to maintain the status quo. The status quo is unsustainable.