Stewart Jackson on Lords Reform

17:18 Monday 9th July 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

STEWART JACKSON: Well I am a reformer, and I do think that the present House of Lords is not entirely satisfactory. It’s got too many members, too many people that don’t attend. And certainly if we were starting with a blank sheet of paper, we wouldn’t have designed the upper chamber of the sixth biggest economy in the world in quite the way that it has been designed. But it’s an historical establishment. It’s full of people who have expertise, who’ve come from diverse backgrounds, who actually make a real contribution to refining and improving Bills. And these present proposals in my opinion are solely driven by the self-interest of Liberal Democrats. They don’t take into account the fact that different governments of all persuasions have tried for over a hundred years to reform the House of Lords. And most importantly there is not a consensus on this very radical constitutional reform.
CHRIS MANN: So are you prepared to vote against your own government on this?STEWART JACKSON: I am, because I think that there is no demand from my constituents in Peterborough, or people across the country, for hundreds more unaccountable new politicians, at a cost of possibly a third of a billion pounds over the next twenty years, a chamber which is less expert, less diverse, and obviously will, in my opinion, undermine and challenge the primacy of the House of Commons, elected by the people. So for all those reasons, I think this is the wrong Bill at the wrong time.
CHRIS MANN: You’re sort of blaming the Liberal Democrats for this, but it’s your Government, and it’s your Prime Minister, your Conservative Prime Minister, who’s putting this forward. Shouldn’t he shoulder the blame?
STEWART JACKSON: Well we had an agreement with the Liberal Democrats that if we voted as we did on a three line Whip, the toughest sort of discipline possible in Parliament, for a referendum on changing the voting system, that they would then support the equalisation of making constituencies fairer. And that was the agreement. Because they lost the Bill, they lost the referendum on the AV very heavily last year by two to one, they’ve now changed their priorities. They’re welshing on the deal and saying, well actually what we wanted was Lords reform. There’s no appetite amongst the electorate for this. It will be expensive. It will be a constitutional disaster. It will set one House against the other. It’s not what people need or want.
CHRIS MANN: With respect you haven’t answered the question. You’re blaming Liberal Democrats, but it’s your Government, your Prime Minister, who’s putting it forward. Why doesn’t he just bin it?
STEWART JACKSON: Well, fair point Chris. But we didn’t win the General Election. We don’t have an overall majority, and we are largely reliant on the votes of the Liberal Democrats. And if I can give them some plaudits, they’ve worked very well with us on really important things like welfare and education reforms, and tackling the deficit. But I think this is a wrong call on House of Lords reform. It’s not a priority. We should be focusing our efforts on driving up people’s household incomes, on getting more jobs, on growth, on prosperity, on cutting business regulation, not something which David Cameron has rightly described as a third term issue. This wasn’t in our manifesto. The Coalition agreement, which incidentally no Conservative MP had a chance to look at before it was published, actually says we should try and reach a consensus. Clearly, with possibly 100 Tory MPs voting against, and some Labour MPs also opposing the Bill, we do not have a consensus.
CHRIS MANN: Increasingly when we’re talking to you, whether it’s this issue or gay marriage, you’re certainly having a go at the LibDems. So are you about to fall out of bed with them do you think?
STEWART JACKSON: No. As I say, where they have done a service to the nation is to work in the national interest with another party, put differences aside that we had at the time of the election, for the good of the Uk as a whole. But on this issue, I think we’re entitled to say, look this isn’t a priority. People do not think that reform of the House of Lords should be allowed to take up a huge amount of parliamentary time. Let’s set it aside, and put our shoulders to the wheel on really important issues, which is focusing on improving our public services, and above all, creating more jobs, and having growth in the economy. That’s the priority.
CHRIS MANN: Will there be repercussions against you personally, if you vote against your party?
STEWART JACKSON: Well, I am an independently minded backbencher. My first priority, first last and always, is my constituents in Peterborough. And I will take any brickbats that come my way.
CHRIS MANN: So will there be any repercussions against you?
STEWART JACKSON: Quite possibly. But I think .. you see actually Chris I have to say that people say, well, if the Liberals exact revenge, they’ll dump the boundary changes. Well actually the boundary changes are very much in my favour in Peterborough. But I’m putting what I believe is the good of the country and the future governance of the country before my own personal individual needs and priorities. Because I think it’s in the best interests of my constituents in the long run.