House of Lords Reform, February 2007

Last week the Government set out its plan to reform the House of Lords. When I mentioned this at my open meetings in the constituency last week, it prompted quite a debate. Should the Lords be elected, appointed, or a mix of the two?

My strong instincts as a democrat are that it must be right to elect a legislative chamber. But this would exclude the Life Peers who bring such a wealth of experience, judgement and above all independence to the Lords.

I think of someone like the former Prisons Inspector, Lord Ramsbotham, who was a senior Army General and who has, from the independent benches, spoken out fearlessly against Government plans that he believes to be wrong, making them think again on more than one occasion when the Commons had failed.

On the other hand, there are obviously real dangers in giving patronage to Prime Ministers who are inclined to rewards either their friends, generous party donors or very moderate former MPs or party officials.

The Leader of the Commons, Jack Straw, has suggested a compromise under which half of the Peers are elected and half are appointed.

But the system of election, based on regional lists, would keep power in the hands of party bosses, removing much of the independence and authority of the present Lords, while failing to introduce real democratic accountability.

Both appointed and elected members would sit for 15 years, with no prospect of re-election or re-appointment.

MPs will be voting on this issue before the end of this month. It will be a difficult decision. But if there are elections, they should be from areas to which people can properly relate, based on cities and counties. And if there are appointed Peers, then the process and the term should guarantee independence, not lead to more cronyism.

Michelle Taylor