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COLUMN: At last, our chance to reform Lords
THERE was one centenary which we all missed last year.
The “Parliament Act 1911”.
It sounds boring.
It wasn’t then.
The unelected House of Lords was blocking big changes to the tax system, against the will of the Commons.
It took two General Elections in 1910 before the Lords blinked.
The 1911 Act was passed, to stop this happening again.
The beginning of that Act spelt out that it was also Parliament’s intention to substitute an elected Second Chamber to replace the hereditary one, but this “cannot immediately be brought into operation”.
One hundred years later, Parliament has its chance.
An all-party, Commons and Lords “Joint Committee” has just reported on plans to replace the Lords with a new body 80% elected, 20% appointed, and around half its present size. (At 800-plus strong, the House of Lords is one of the largest legislative chambers in the world).
There’s a lot of support for the idea among all three main parties. Each party’s manifesto in the 2010 election broadly agreed on the idea.
But the big question is – will it be another 100 years before any reform comes through?
I’m not sure.
The problem is that there are big disagreements within each party.
All sorts of odd alliances are developing. Those who want to keep things as they are, with no elected members at all, and those who want to have 100% elected, are joining forces to stop this plan.
Normally, Governments in the end get their business through timetable motions. But alliances of this kind can make that impossible.
Personally, I support the current plan. Indeed, it is based on one which I helped draw up when Justice Secretary.
I came to a very important conclusion from that experience.
If we want an elected Second Chamber to replace the current Lords, we have to ask the British people first, in a referendum – the same as they were about joining the EU, about the Commons’ voting system – and indeed about whether an area should have an elected mayor.
After all, this country’s system of government belongs to the people, not the politicians.
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