Sunday, February 26, 2012


Will an Elected Lords Avoid a Clash of Democratic Legitimacy?

The House of Lords reform Bill currently at its Report stage in the Lords was just debated by Tory MP Philip Davies and Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott on The Daily Politics. Oakeshott was passionate and persuasive but I couldn't remove from my mind the concern raised by opponents to an elected Lords, that:

i) It will cause a clash of legitimacy between the two chambers taking us back to the early years of the last century. We are, I think, blessed not to have ther kind of conflict between legislature and executive suffered by the USA. As long as our party of government coheres, our government is reasonably efficient. The Lords at present works quite well as a revising and deliberative chamber but if an amendment is debated which reaches to the central principle of a bill, a clash between the chambers will occur and gridlock threatened.

ii) Legitimacy will also be argued by the Lords on grounds of the way in which they are to be elected: proportional representation, arguably a fairer way of reflecting opinion that first past the post.

So even though I usually support reform I'm just not sure this is the way to go. Yet it now seems too difficult to row back from the brink. All three parties committed themselves to an elected Lords in May 2010 and the Coalition Agreement explicitly nailed this point down as a joint commitment. Yet Davies and some of his colleagues disagree and say they won't vote for it. Oh Lor! If this happens the coalition itself might be in further danger and, as Oakeshott warned, Lib Dems will probably withdraw their support for the redistribution of constituencies on which the Conservatives are relying to strengthen their hand in 2015.

The other variable is Labour. Apparently, Ed Miliband has pledged support for the 80% elected Lib Dem plan, and will ask Labour MPs to vote for it in the Commons. Why? Could it be that he wants the bill to get to the Lords, where some Tory peers have vowed to 'wreck the Government's legislative programme'if the coalition press ahead?
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