Friday 6 April 2012

Reform of Second Chamber (2)

For earlier ideas on the replacement of the House of Lords see post on 4th October 2011

Neanderthals on all sides (including some Liberal Democrats) continue to strew obstacles in the path to the replacement of the Lords by an elected chamber suited to a modern democracy. Some months ago Labour dinosaurs (led by Jack Straw, as far as I can remember) were chuntering that, because of the alleged economic crisis, it was not appropriate to devote precious parliamentary time to what they seemed to regard as a peripheral issue. That's the easiest refuge for all the faint hearted. It never will be the "right time" and it is to Labour's shame that, with solid majorities for over 25 years since the War, they have only nibbled at the edges.

Now a joint select committee has recommended that there should be a referendum before any further change can be made. What nonsense. There were no referendums to introduce the earlier reforms: the reduction of the powers of delay, the introduction of life peers and women, the reduction of the number of hereditories. Nor, for that matter, were there referendums to introduce reforms to elections. The Great Reform Bills of 1832 and 1867, the extension of the franchise to women, the lowering of the voting age to 18 were all introduced by decisions of parliament, and that is how it should be in a representative democracy. Referendums should have no place in our constitution.

So all power to Nick Clegg in his efforts to face down the opponents of reform. The present proposals are not, to me, ideal. I'd like to see seven year terms (perhaps with a maximum of two) election from constituencies based on the regions of England and the nations, using PR by STV until the Commons gets it, a ban on ex-MPs and even other elected representatives so that the Second Chamber does not became a refuge or reward for "has-beens," and no appointed members at all. But we must not let arguments about what is best get in the way of the long overdue removal of this blot on our democratic escutcheon.

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