Lords Reform Means Westminster Will Cost More

07:35 Monday 23rd April 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Should the House of Lords be abolished? If you went around the streets of Peterborough, people would like to do more than just abolish the House of Lords I would think. A Committee of MPs will be asking that question today though. The peers are calling for the second chamber to be replaced by a largely elected body, with members serving for a fifteen year term. Well the issue is threatening to split the Coalition right down the middle. Even talk of resignations Paul Rowley. Is that right? Resignations? That would be an outrage.PAUL ROWLEY: Well there are Ministerial aides who are threatening to resign. They’re not paid anyway. They’re bag carriers in certain respects. They are Conservatives who are unhappy with this because they think it’s a bit of a sop to the Liberal Democrats, who want these changes because they believe, they say, in more democracy and less appointees. But it’s not a new argument Paul. This row has been going on for more than 100 years, since Shakespeare’s time almost, since the Parliament Act of 1911, when most of its members were hereditary peers, as they were known, there on the basis of who their ancestors were. There have been changes in that time. The system of Life Peers was introduced in the late ’50s, to allow parties to nominate candidates. But they were often MPs who’d lost their seats. In the late ’90s, in the early days of Tony Blair’s premiership, they got rid of most of the hereditaries, as part of the supposed first stage of reform, but it’s not really taken off since. So that ‘s why this morning a special committee set up to look at the issue recommends that instead of having 800 odd .. and some of them are odd .. unelected peers, they’d have 450 Senators, as they’d be called, all bar 20% of them being elected for the first time.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s the point of having a second elected chamber? We’ve already got one.
PAUL ROWLEY: Well that’s the point. And that’s why a lot of Conservatives are saying that at the moment the Lords is there to revise legislation; they can amend it but they can’t intitiate it; so if there were to be a second elected chamber, there would be confusion over roles is the argument. There would be more friction, and more deadlock. And that’s why a lot of Conservatives say it isn’t the priority. They feel that David Cameron is throwing a sweetie at Nick Cleggg, in return for the Liberal Democrats going along with some of the more contentious Government changes such as the NHS reforms of Andrew Lansley. So that’s part of the argument. In turn, the Labour Party are trying to mix it by asking for a referendum, because Nick Clegg doesn’t want one, partly I think because he thinks he’s going to lose it/ So I suspect there will be changes eventually. When and how far, I think it’s easier to predict whether Manchester United or Manchester City will win the Premier League title. It’s going to be that difficult.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Is this just an argument in Westminster though?
PAUL ROWLEY: Yes, I think it largely is. And that’s the problem. When the economy is struggling, when most people are worried about their jobs, their families, and the prices in the shops, they see this is as some kind of nerdy anoraky debate among political trainspotters. Although the fact that the members of this new senate, if it is to be called that, will get £50,000 a year .. at present they get attendance allowances and travel expenses .. so it might then spark interest, because it’s going to cost us more as taxpayers. They’ll also get 15 year terms as well, that’s three times the normal length of the parliament. So a lot of MPs aren’t happy with what they .. because they can get booted out after just five years. So it’s not surprising that many people are not really demonstrating on the streets on this, shouting “What do we want? House of Lords reform. When do we want it? Well sometime in the foreseeable future.” They’re hardly manning the barricades over this one.