Consider this. An African state has, as part of its legislature, an assembly comprising tribal chiefs and mates of the current and previous Presidents. We would scoff at such cronyism and demand that they implemented reform under threat of suspension of aid. It really is laughable. Why should we in the UK be governed by a bunch of people whose only claim to power is that their ancestors were matey with a Monarch or pally with a Prime Minister? The need for reform has become even more pressing by David Cameron issuing Peerages like confetti. Inside his first year in power, Cameron made 117 new peers, a record, in order to make it easier to drive through Government legislation. The place is now bursting at the seams with many long-serving Peers complaining that the Place no longer works due to a lack of office space for Members and the difficulty in actually getting to speak amongst so many Members.
It is no wonder that many MPs are against reform, the retired MPs’ gravy train would have been shunted into the sidings. Yesterday, 70 Conservative MPs yesterday signed a letter threatening to vote against the Bill! So now is the time to make Membership of our Upper House democratic. There is an old phrase that urges “no taxation without representation”. Well, more fundamental than that, there should be “no legislation without representation”. All three main parties backed Lords reform in their manifestos at the General Election so I don’t see the need for a Referendum on the issue either. It is seems deeply ironic that some are calling for a vote on Membership of a House where no vote is required. Equally bizarre is the view of those such as David Tredinnick MP who warn that 15-year, non-renewable terms are a recipe for ‘Lazy Lords’. “They’ll head off to the South of France!” he suggests. Well, on that basis, there can be no recipe likely to produce laziness better than when you’re not subject to any election at all and have Membership for life!
Membership is currently grotesquely skewed. Over half of the Members come from the south east of England and there are 8 times more Members over the age of 90 than under the age of 40. The current set-up is self-perpetuating so it is likely always to remain such.
This is likely to be the only opportunity in a generation to get proper Lords reform. Why? Because, much like the argument for PR, no single party Government wants it as it makes their life in Government more difficult. This opportunity has arisen solely because we have a coalition Government and there is no guarantee that we’ll get such a thing again (many might say that’s a good thing…..) So, let’s put party politics aside and give the UK the kind of modern Government that we deserve. If this is to happen though, it will require many MPs to put aside thoughts of their retirement and an acceptance that they’ll have to find an alternative old people’s home than the House of Lords when they leave the Commons.