Time to reform the House of Lords
However undemocratic the House of Lords was before Tony Blair began his so-called "Reform" programme, it was actually fairly good at the job, and reasonably independent of governments of both parties. (Allegations over many decades that the House of Lords was the poodle of the Conservative Party were usually very far from the truth - it certainly inflicted plenty of defeats on Margaret Thatcher.)
But the position of the House of Lords as an effective check on the government was wrecked by the the Blair government's constitutional reforms. These often sounded good but were usually so badly thought through or partisan in impact that they were more like sheer constitutional vandalism. And when Tony Blair removed most of the hereditary peers without making any arrangements to elect their replacements he produced a second chamber which is almost entirely appointed.
That is not an effective way to have a chamber which will hold the government to account.
That is why the Conservative manifesto which I stood two years ago, and on which every Conservative MP in the present House of Commons was elected, promised to bring forward measures for a wholly or largely elected second chamber.
There are two right reasons and one wrong reason why I hope Conservative MPs will vote in support of the second reading of the government bill on the House of Lords this week, and on the programme motion.
The wrong reason is the unhelpful "noises-off" from certain Liberal Democrats trying to blackmail the Conservatives into supporting the bill. Someone should point out to them that this is likely to be counter-productive.
The first right reason to support the bill is that Conservative MPS were elected on a promise to voters to reform the House of Lords.
The second is that it is the right thing to do.
Now I don't agree that everything in the current proposals is perfect - in particular, I hope that during the debate the "party list" system of election will be replaced by a more democratic one. In my book either first past the post or STV are far better systems than party lists.
But let's not take the attitude that there can be no reform until everyone agrees on a perfect system to move forward. If we wait for that we won't get a second chamber suitable for the 21st century until about the 23rd century!
Footnote: the relevant section of the Coalition agreement reads as follows:
- 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.