Tyler slams “musical chair schemes” for retaining appointed Lords

Lib Dem Constitutional Affairs Spokesperson, Paul Tyler, this week re-iterated his party’s support for a democratic second chamber and rejected ‘devious schemes’ which merely tinker with an appointed House.  Speaking in the Lords, he said:

My Lords, the position of my party is very straightforward and consistent.  This is the one respect in which we agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.  We endorse the primacy of the House of Commons.

It is therefore important to remind your Lordships that on 10 July 2012, a clear majority of Conservative MPs—193 to 89—voted for the Second Reading of the coalition Government’s House of Lords Reform Bill, including David Cameron and Theresa May. Great credit it due to the then Sir George Young, now the noble Lord, Lord Young, who led them into the Lobby. An even bigger majority of Labour MPs did so too: 202 to 26, including their then leader and the present one. All the Liberal Democrat MPs supported the Bill, as did a number of minor parties. The result was an overwhelming majority in the other House of 338. As we have been reminded, the other House is supreme.

That was scarcely surprising. The Bill was the product of years of cross-party preparation and careful compromise, building on the Labour Government’s 2008 White Paper and many months of pre-legislative scrutiny by a high-powered Joint Committee.

In the current era of threatened post-truth politics, it is important to remind your Lordships’ House that that Bill was not defeated; instead, it was the victim of a squalid party game played by some Tory Back-Benchers colluding with the then Labour Front Bench to deny the coalition Government an agreement such that time could be allocated to the Bill’s scrutiny in a business-like way. Indeed, the Labour Front Bench would not even suggest a preferred time for its consideration. Had that Bill not been derailed by tribal tactics, we would now be well on the way to dealing with the problems identified in this debate, with an end total membership of 450—here again, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor.

Political appointments would have ceased in 2015 and instead we would have had the first tranche of elected Peers—or perhaps they would have been senators—including, no doubt, several excellent new recruits, among them those who all around the House now come to us in a different capacity. The essential difference would have been that they would have come with democratic legitimacy. For us, the 2012 Bill is still the starting point for a full, comprehensive and democratic response to the frequently reiterated public demand for reform of the composition of your Lordships’ House.

There have been many variations of musical chairs suggested by those who want to tinker with the problem. What they have in common is a denial of surely the first principle of parliamentary democracy: for legislators to be at least predominantly elected. In our view, the suggestion of an upper, or indeed lower, age limit is unacceptably ageist. If the electorate wish to be represented by a 75 year-old or a 25 year-old, that should be up to them. If on the other hand there is the incestuous suggestion that group or party colleagues should select who goes and who stays, that would simply reinforce the public impression that we are a self-serving elite. Any artificial quota on speeches, Questions or days of attendance would be open to blatant mismanagement. If the electorate wished to retain the services of a representative whose busy life outside Parliament gave him or her extra dispassionate, well-informed judgment, it should be entirely up to them and not to the whims of party Whips or group leaders.

Every single one of those devious schemes has major disadvantages. Significantly, when the public are asked to express a preference, there is a much bigger group now demanding total abolition than supporting the present, very unsatisfactory appointments system or any other proposed modifications of it. Those in this House who continue to obstruct real democratic reform risk an increasing public demand for a unicameral Parliament, which my colleagues and I certainly do not support.

In short, the only acceptable method for reducing the size of a House of Parliament in a parliamentary democracy is democracy.

The full debate is available at: https://goo.gl/5oLgSL

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