A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Reforming the House of Lords
18/05/2011 22:45:00

Yesterday afternoon the Deputy Prime Minister made a statement to the House of Commons setting out the Coalition Government’s plans to replace the House of Lords with a wholly or mainly elected second chamber.

All three major parties included a pledge to reform the House of Lords in their election manifestos but you wouldn't have known it from the reaction to yesterday's statement. Labour MPs saw it as an opportunity to attack Nick Clegg and many of my colleagues weren't very sympathetic either.

I accept that some MPs have genuine concerns about the implications of the proposals but others clearly weren't interested in whether they would be good or bad for the country - they were worried that they would be bad news for them (someone else representing their area might provide unwelcome competition and a more legitimate second chamber would be better able to challenge the judgement of the House of Commons, which would mean less power for MPs).

As a Conservative, I don't believe that we should change our constitution unless there is a strong case for doing so. But when it comes to the House of Lords, there is a strong case.

Call me simplistic but I start from the premise that we should be able to choose the people who make our laws. As the expenses scandal showed, electing people doesn't guarantee anything but it does ensure you can get rid of people who are doing a bad job. Having one chamber of Parliament appointed by the Prime Minister is just plain wrong. Yes, the House of Lords does contain some genuine experts but it also contains lots of ex-MPs, party apparatchiks and donors.

Some of my colleagues ask how I can support first-past-the-post for the House of Commons and proportional representation for the second chamber. The answer is because they are different bodies with different roles. The most important requirement for an electoral system for the House of Commons is that it give the largest party a majority so that it can enact its manifesto and we can hold it to account if it fails to do so. But as I repeatedly acknowledged during the referendum campaign, first-past-the-post isn't perfect. In particular, it tends to under-represent minor parties. The way to address this is through the electoral system for a second chamber. Because its role is a revising one, having a system that makes it next to impossible for any party to have a majority is a positive advantage.

The Government has published a draft Bill to illustrate one possible option - 240 elected members, elected via a proportional system called STV for a single term of 15 years in three tranches every 5 years, and 60 appointed members plus 12 Church of England bishops. The matter will now be considered by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament.

I have an open mind on the issue of wholly or mainly elected. It would be good to retain an element of genuine expertise but there is a danger in having two classes of members. Even if you passionately believe in a wholly-elected second chamber, as the Deputy Prime Minister said 80% elected would be a lot better than what we have now. Allowing people to only serve for one term is certainly a good idea since it will curtail the power of the whips, ensuring that all members are reasonably independent-minded.

Finally, I fully accept that this issue is not a priority for many of my constituents, who are understandably more concered about immediate issues like jobs, the NHS, crime and schools. But ultimately House of Lords reform is about strengthening Parliament to improve the quality of the decisions we make on all these issues. It's important, it's been talked about for years and it is time it was sorted out.

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Gavin Barwell, 133 Wickham Road, CR0 8TE, Tel  020 8663 8741      Â© Gavin Barwell  2019       Promoted by Ian Parker on behalf of Gavin Barwell, both at 36 Brighton Road, Purley, CR8 2LG