Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Something has to be done about the Lords

The current Westminster parliamentary session ends on 26th March. Any Bills which have not completed all their parliamentary stages by then will in theory be lost, but in practice there is often agreement to carry Bills over to the next session. There are currently around 150 Bills before Parliament which have not received Royal Assent (there is a list here). I understand that the two House of Lords reform measures - the government Bill which the opposition, assisted by Tory rebels, refused to allocate time to, and Lord Steel's useful measure which would at least address some of the faults of the existing House of Lords - will be allowed by the government to fall. An opportunity at least to reduce the numbers of an overcrowded upper chamber would thereby be lost.

There are around 830 members of the House of Lords at present and the number is continuing to grow. It is interesting to compare the size now and the size before the Blair reforms. In 1970, for instance, there were 754 members (excluding minors, those who had not taken their seats, those on long-term leave of absence and royals, but including the law lords and 158 life peers).

(For the greater benefits of Lords Reform, read Paul Tyler's summing-up.)

It is tempting to see the failure of the three main party leaders to pursue any sort of reform as conspiracy. After all, elections to the upper house would remove powers of patronage. Think of all those superannuated Labour MPs bribed with a barony to give up their safe seats or the Tory donors rewarded with ermine. Even the Liberal Democrat leadership has not taken all its nominations from the people voted for by members.  I have been told, however, that is more likely the result of pure mismanagement.

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