The debate on Lords reform followed the release of a report by the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill on Monday 23 April, which outlines proposals for an elected second chamber, where 80 per cent of members are voted in. It suggests that the House should consist of 450 members who serve for 15 year non-renewable terms.
Around 86 members registered to participate in the debate, moved by Lord Richard (Labour), a former Leader of the House of Lords and the government minister Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat), a former spokesperson for foreign affairs and education.
Day one: Monday 30 April
Lord Richard opened the debate yesterday laying out the Joint Committee's task. He said: ' Our mandate...was to examine the draft House of Lords Bill. The committee consisted of 13 members from each House, a total of 26, who I think were carefully chosen to represent as best they could all the views that existed in each House.'
Lord Strathclyde (Conservative), Leader of the House of Lords, followed outlining recommendations from the report concerning the election of members. He said: 'The government welcome the Joint Committee's support for our proposals that members of a reformed upper House should no longer serve for life but for a single 15-year non-renewable term and that elections should take place in thirds at the same time as general elections.'
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon was one of the members who discussed the democratic issues behind having an elected second chamber. He said: 'On this day, Egypt votes for a new president. The Muslim brotherhood has recently constructed the Egyptian constitution. Imagine if it had said, "We will have a constitution in which the primary House, which we control, will give us the right to appoint who was in the second chamber". Would we not have declared that to be a democratic outrage? Yet we are replicating that precise position here today.'
Day two: Tuesday 1 May
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Conservative) opened Tuesday's debate and argued that reform may create a 'competing House'. 'It will turn this into a competing chamber, and that will be a disaster for the House of Commons. So I do not agree ... that we should become a kind of House of Commons,' he said.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton (Labour) followed and expressed that she would prefer a 'unicameral' system to a 'confrontational' one. 'We have a unicameral legislature with an advisory second chamber, and that works. As the Clerk of the House of Commons said in his evidence to the Joint Committee, at present we have two chambers that are complementary. If this bill goes through we will have two chambers in confrontation,' she explained.
Lord Tyler (Liberal Democrat) reiterated the work of the Joint Committee and said that their work would improve the bill. He said: 'I do not think that the draft bill is perfect, but I think it will be improved by the work of the Joint Committee. Pre-legislative scrutiny, which this House believes in, has been undertaken manfully and womanfully by the committee headed by the noble Lord Richard.'
Lord Wallace of Saltaire summed up the debate on behalf of the government: 'When we debate the Queen's Speech, we will again discuss constitutional reform. If the government produce a bill on this, I hope that noble Lords will place this piece of the jigsaw of constitutional reform in the wider pattern of popular disengagement from politics and distrust of politicians. We need to look very carefully at the evidence.'
Image: Roger Harris