House of Lords

I'm writing having just voted for the Bill to reform the House of Lords.  While I've always voted for a partially or wholly elected second chamber, I understand the concerns of those who oppose reform.

Some don't want to undermine the supremacy of the elected Commons - although I don't think this need be the case.  Others dislike the proposed voting system or the ‘list' system which gives too much power to parties - concerns with which I have more sympathy.

Many fear the loss of the independent and distinguished peers who characterise the Lords at its best - although a partially elected chamber could of course retain such figures.

Other arguments have been less compelling.  One MP seriously tried to persuade me this evening that the issue was being rushed - when reform has been discussed for over 100 years!

Indeed the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911, which limited the power of the Lords, states: "It is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation."

It's important to realise that the Lords has changed.  The Labour Government removed all but 92 hereditary peers in 1999.  And with the appointment of hundreds of life peers since, the Lords has now become a House of party patronage.

Of the 117 new members appointed since May 2010, half are either former MPs or former local councillors, and one in five have been political advisers or party executives.

The Lords is now the largest chamber of any parliament in the world, with 816 members eligible to speak and vote.  Yet in the last Parliament only 289 attended on three quarters or more sitting days, and 79 didn't turn up at all.

The number of peers needs to be reduced to a manageable size.  And I don't think that peers who have committed criminal offences for which they are sent to prison should be allowed to keep their titles or return to the Lords at all.

This evening the Commons voted for reform by 462 votes to 124 - a huge majority of 338.  The polls, too, show a majority of the public in favour of reform.  The debate will continue.  But I hope that it won't last for another 100 years.

Christopher N Howarth