Members of the cross-party group on Lords reform, comprising Ken Clarke (Conservative), Robin Cook (Labour), Tony Wright (Labour), Sir George Young (Conservative) and Paul Tyler (Liberal Democrat), which published its report Reforming the House of Lords: Breaking the Deadlock, today (Wednesday) challenged the Government to take their report as the ‘centre of gravity’ on Lords reform.
Leading the debate in Westminster Hall, former Leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook MP said “legitimacy comes from public consent and public consent in modern times comes from the democratic process of votes in a ballot box.” Referring to Government Ministers’ current penchant for invoking ‘choice’ as the key to improved public services, Mr Cook asked “What possible choice could be more important than the choice of those we send to Parliament.” Calling the debate on Lords reform the “the longest-running soap opera in the West End”, Mr Cook said it was time to “bring down the curtain”. The group had been anxious to build the broadest consensus before publishing its proposals, he said. Speaking after the debate, Mr Cook commented, “The consensus has been built, the reform solution offered and the legislative drafting completed. It is time now for the Government to act.”
Speaking from the Conservative backbenches, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke MP, expressed deep surprise that Parliament should still not have resolved the issue of Lords reform in 2005. Calling the system of electing hereditary Peers at which the Government has now arrived, “extraordinary”, Mr Clarke said “The current Upper Chamber is fatally weakened in its authority and legitimacy.” Speculating that the Prime Minister, in determining to stall Lords reform, is in a minority in his own Government, Mr Clarke insisted the group’s plans could “easily get a majority in the House of Commons and any House of Commons likely to be elected.” Commenting after the debate, Mr Clarke said, “We have put forward a detailed set of practical proposals that can breathe life back into this debate. I challenge the Government to give the Commons time for a Second Reading of our Bill, which would enact the proposals.”
Public Administration Select Committee Chair, Dr Tony Wright MP, told MPs his committee had long ago acknowledged in its report, “[House of Lords] reform is not a zero-sum game in which advances for one chamber are inevitably threats to the other.” Calling on the government to pursue a “coherent position [it] believed in”, Mr Wright called the issue “on any test…the biggest bit of unfinished constitutional business” it had still to resolve.
Former Shadow Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young MP, said the Group’s report offered a “flexible and generous” package to existing life Peers, which represented a “consensus way forward that will break the deadlock”. He continued, “The two chambers [of Parliament] are partners in a joint endeavour to hold the executive to account.”
Paul Tyler MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House, and convenor of the cross-party group spoke responded to the debate for his Party. He told MPs that the group’s plans absolutely did not advocate any party-list based system of election to the Commons, which had worried other MPs in the debate. Referring to the Commons votes on Lords reform in 2003, Mr Tyler said “there was a consensus in favour of majority rule” and dismissed claims by MPs that the Lords themselves should have the final say on reform proposals. “Turkeys shouldn’t have a veto on the timing of Christmas”, he said, “It would be ridiculous to let the House of Lords have pre-eminence.” In conclusion, Mr Tyler reiterated his group’s claim that their report had provided a ‘centre of gravity’ around which reformers from all Parties and both Houses could coalesce.
Speaking after the debate, Mr Tyler said, “I am delighted the debate went so well. We have provided the legislative blueprint for the Prime Minister. There is a clear majority in the Commons for reform. Let him put the matter once again to the vote. We can break the deadlock, but the Prime Minister will first have to turn the key. Meantime, we invite further support for our proposals: all power to the elbow of anyone who can push the Prime Minister into fulfilling his twice-made manifesto commitments.”