If you think back to 1997, Tony Blair defeats the Conservatives and becomes Prime Minister; the song used by Labour was ‘Things can only get better’. A raft of laws were brought onto the statute books, the people were primed up to believe that things were about to change for the better.
After getting in the people’s dream that a Tony Blair Government would be better than a John Major Government took a bit of a knock, things did get better but not for everyone. As part of the reform agenda, the Blair crowd decided that the House of Lords was in need of change.
Over the years there was talk of various reforms including having a totally elected second chamber, the idea wouldn’t have improved democratic accountability because it was done out of badness, sheer pettiness by comfortably off rich middle class people pretending to hate privilege.
The reform agenda has been running for some time, but the solutions keep changing as time goes on, in contrast what reforms have you seen of the House of Commons in comparison?
Not a lot.
Here is a link to House of Lords.
Here is a link to House of Commons reforms.
The big reform of note at present is the pan to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 which means in theory that an MP has a bigger constituency to hear representations from the people regarding complaints. In Glasgow, if that reform goes through then one of the 7 MPs stands to get the chop. In this case, I suspect that the Glasgow Central seat will be abolished and the other 6 seats absorb an extra 10,000 voters.
Anyway back to the House of Lords, the sad part of the House of Lords that sometimes the Government of the day puts people into the Lords who shouldn’t be there. Michelle Mone was given a peerage; I disagree with that appointment and also of Shamed Labour peer Baroness Uddin.
The only reform of the House of Lords which would gain public support is the removal of bad peers.
Now, it seems that the UK Government has dropped plans to curtail powers of the House of Lords because 'the world has changed'.
When David Cameron was PM, he instructed Lord Strathclyde to look at curbing the powers of the second chamber, after peers voted to block George Osborne's plan to cut tax credits in October.
He didn’t like the result of a democratic vote which is shameful, the House of Lords for all its faults has many good peers who do valuable work bring experience and a critical eye to the work of the UK Government who sometimes get it spectacularly wrong as George Osborne done on tax credits.
Peers rightly attacked David Cameron's review and the recommendation that hostile peers should be banned from overturning legislation because it would make a mockery of the Parliament and damage its standing in the country and further afield the World. The UK Parliament is called the mother of all parliaments because we are supposed to be the embodiment of democracy.
Tilting the balance of power make have provided the government of the day with a quick fix but in the long run a House of Lords unable to do its job properly serves no purpose, therefore the House of Lords would in effective have been abolished by default and the peers would also serve no purpose beyond a ceremonial role.
The new approach by Downing Street is to seek to build a more constructive relationship with the Lords. This requires the Government to raise its game not just in crafting legislation but also thought processes behind it.
The World as Theresa May has said has changed Brexit is a landmark point in British politics and she needs to attempt to get as many people on board as Brexit sails through the Commons and House of Lords.
To me the big questions of the House of Lords will never be anything else but who is allowed in, do they provide value to the institution and are they acting in good faith in both their role and their stance on legislation.
If the Commons and the Lords don’t allow Brexit to pass, this will create a constitutional crisis which some people think would lead Theresa May to seek a new mandate in a General election. It certainly wouldn’t be anyone’s interest to travel down that route because the ‘anti’ House of Lords people would gain a new platform to push not just for reform but for removal of peers not directly but by attempting to subject them to having a mandate. I don’t think the public have an appetite for House of Lords elections.
Theresa May probably thinks that kicking the reform issue into the long grass is a good idea, it may turn out to be so if people go along to get along, but if Brexit brings matters to ahead she will have to have a Plan B to fall back on.
Finally, one idea for the House of Lords I would like to see is that a third of the peers in the chamber by law must be independent of any party in order not to have a House of Lords weighted down by party hacks who simply vote along party lines.
And I believe this issue is in the best interest of the House of Lords!
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University