Monday, 7 May 2012

Lords Reform should not go ahead just to appease the Liberal Democrats

With House of Lords reform at the top of the governments agenda and not growth or jobs one has to wonder about its importance amongst the omnishambles the Government has engulfed itself in. From failed economics and a double dip with even greater borrowing to jerry can fuel fiasco.

The House of Lords is an essential part of our democracy and any legislation concerning its composition should not be made lightly or hurriedly.

Legislation should certainly not be made hastily for any reason as trivial and undeserving as to save Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats’ political future. The House of Lords should be made the most effective it can be in serving the British people.

The Liberal Democrats have made Lords Reform one of the few, token issues they want to be seen to ‘get their way’ on in the Coalition. Not stopping the Health and Social Care Bill’s attack on the NHS; not preventing huge cuts to legal aid funding; not putting their foot down to avoid one of the most punitive budget the country has ever seen or sticking by promises to scrap tuition fee’s, stop VAT rises or even preventing Trident, a decision they quietly put off till 2016. No – instead the Liberal Democrats have decided that Lords Reform is an issue worth demanding to change in this Parliament.

The Labour Party manifesto calls for a 100% elected House of Lords. However, the Labour Party also believes that before making such a huge change, there should be a referendum – only if the country votes through a referendum for Lords Reform should it go ahead. Labour has gone a long way in reforming the Lords removing hereditary peerages and developing the Lords as a chamber of the wise and knowledgeable.

The reason the Liberal Democrats would insist on going ahead with the changes without a referendum is that they want to be able to claim, at the next general election, that Lords Reform is something they achieved. They want to push through reform without the possibility of the electorate defeating it either in a referendum or at the 2015 General Election for this is simply about an elected chamber but the way it is being constructed. The Liberal Democrat devil is in the detail. They want it on PR despite being defeated in a referendum for the Liberal Democrats, even with 15% of the popular vote will permanently be ‘in government’ in the Lords holding the balance of power in perpetuity.

Holding a referendum may delay the process – and rightly so, given its importance – but they are afraid of Lords Reform happening when they are not in office. Holding a referendum will also put a candle to the Liberal Democrat agenda. Where senators are elected to the Lords with 15 year terms.

The public may be in favour of reform but I am sure they do not want PR, they do not want 15 year terms and they do not want US style Washington political gridlock where the lower house and upper house are in competition wheer Party’s defend their interests and the wise and knowledgable are sidelined.

Time is precious in Parliament and I do not think that time should be wasted debating this issue – which will take up a huge amount of time due to its importance – unless the public demonstrate that it is something they rank of high importance. Serious legislation is going to be pushed off the timetable to make way for a Lords Reform Bill, including a social care bill, a development bill and an energy bill.

My personal belief is that it works well but for clarity, my natural instincts would always be for elected representatives and I understand why this principle is important. I find myself in a contradictory position though in reality this is not an important issue to the peopel of Hyndburn.

Housing, fuel prices, benefits and the economy to suggest just a few examples. Simply put, it is not something I would rank of high importance, and I would need evidence that it is something my constituents rank of high importance, before pushing ahead.

Labours position of a referendum is a clear and unifying way forward on this issue not just for MP's but for the country as a whole and is the right approach. 

If the public vote for Lords Reform, then I would be happy to spend as much parliamentary time as needed to get the legislation as good as it can be, and I am open to being persuaded by the arguments, but like with the EU issue, I d not see it as of vital importance. A mere sideshow to jobs and growth, public services and civic society.

I am not spending a disproportionate amount of time and tax-payers’ money on Nick Clegg’s next vanity project.