On Tuesday I was one of 91 Conservative MPs to vote against the proposed reforms to the House of Lords. We were joined in the ‘No’ lobby by 26 Labour MPs, and 8 members of the Democratic Unionist Party. Had the Government also sought to limit the amount of time Parliament could spend debating the Bill, it is likely there would have been far more rebels.
I did not take the decision to vote against the Bill lightly and it is not because I am against reforming the House of Lords.
I agree that the size of the House of Lords should be reduced and that provision should be made to allow for the removal of Peers guilty of wrongdoing. I agree that we should get rid of the system of political patronage and remove the remaining hereditary Peers. I think that these are points that everyone can agree on.
So why did I vote against the Bill? There were a number of reasons why I did not feel able to support the proposed reforms, the most significant of which were:
- Making the Lords into an elected chamber will provide it with a democratic legitimacy that is incompatible with the expectation that the House of Commons will retain primacy. The two Houses will most likely compete and this will lead to legislative gridlock. The issue of the roles of each House needs to be addressed before we can press ahead with changing the composition of the Lords.
- Election via a proportional party list system and a term of office of 15 years does nothing to promote democracy. Party leaders will still be able to exert powers of patronage by placing their chosen candidates near the top of the party lists and elected peers will have no real accountability to voters. Turning the Second Chamber into a party political body like the House of Commons will remove many of the expert and diverse voices that are currently heard in the Lords and who are not the type of people to seek election.
- The new system will be much, much more expensive than the current one. There will be the expense of another election and the running costs of a full-time salaried and staffed Upper House.
Finally, I would urge the Government to give much greater consideration to holding a referendum on such a significant constitutional change. If we are to alter the very structure of our constitution, then we need to have the full support of the people.