Leading article: An opportunity to complete the reform of a feudal relic

The fact that the House of Lords is not a major national talking point is neither here nor there

Share
Related Topics

Nick Clegg's draft Bill to replace the House of Lords appears like the Houses of Parliament seen from the opposite end of Westminster Bridge on a foggy morning. The broad shape of the proposed reform is right, but the detail is elusive and a good deal is hazy.

The White Paper proposes to create a second chamber that is entirely, or mostly, elected. The number of members will be reduced to 300, down from the present 800. And these members will serve 15-year terms and be elected under a system of proportional representation. All of this is sensible.

And in theory the legislation should enjoy a trouble-free passage (providing the detail can be nailed down). All three of the main parties promised substantive House of Lords reform in their election manifestos last year. On paper, this is a golden opportunity to complete the great business, begun a century ago, of turning this feudal relic into a fully democratic chamber for revising legislation.

But political theory is very different from political practice. There is already resistance to Mr Clegg's draft Bill from parliamentarians. Some are asserting that this reform will turn the Lords into a chamber of party apparatchiks, with no independence of mind. Others grumble that this is a piece of constitutional tinkering from Mr Clegg that no one in the country cares about or wants.

It is important to rebut these points early on. First, the House of Lords is already stuffed with political apparatchiks. Large stretches of the red benches are dominated by former MPs, not to mention a number of generous party donors. Regular elections will simply make these professional politiians and sugar daddies accountable directly to the public whom they nominally serve. Second, the fact that Lords reform is not a major national talking point is neither here nor there. If this was to be the qualification for Bills to be considered by the House of Commons, very little that MPs now discuss would qualify.

But though Parliamentary resistance has no intellectual justification, it could very easily derail the reform. There is a danger that the Bill will run out of time, especially if the legislation becomes the subject of Lords and Commons ping-pong. Much will depend on whether party leaderships are prepared to use their authority to drive the reform through the Parliamentary meat grinder.

So this is a test for the Labour leader, Ed Miliband. The Labour Party was split on the AV referendum, something that contributed to the major defeat earlier this month. If Lords reform does not happen because Mr Miliband fails to unite his party behind the cause, his claims to be a progressive reformer are going to look pretty threadbare.

But this is a test for David Cameron too. The Prime Minister agreed to put the Conservative party machine at the service of the No campaign in the AV referendum. That campaign then went on to target Mr Clegg personally for the compromises he had made – under urging from Mr Cameron – for the sake of Coalition unity.

That shabby behaviour has soured relations. If Mr Cameron fails to deliver on his clearly stated commitment on Lords reform, trust between the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat partners will vanish altogether. And if that were to happen, Liberal Democrats would have very little incentive to co-operate on the legislative reform agenda being pushed by the Conservative side of the Coalition. It is in the real interests of all three political leaders for Lords reform to be delivered. The question now becomes: do Mr Miliband and Mr Cameron grasp this reality?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you have the right attitude,...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: how come Ed Miliband’s tuition fee ‘cut’ is so popular, then?

John Rentoul
Carrie's son Jack on holiday in the Carribean  

As a parent of a child with autism, this is what I want you to know about my family

Carrie Cariello
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn