Almost every peer agrees that reform of the House of Lords is needed, but the only thing they can all agree on is trimming it down. Lord Fowler is doing a good job of culling the numbers in a humane way (House of Lords: Second chamber has too many ‘passengers’ – Speaker, 2 January), but a voluntary scheme relies upon goodwill, and that can be hard to maintain in turbulent times. A desperate government could crowd the benches with new appointments after the Lords themselves have tried hard to create a bit of elbow room.
New appointments should reflect the vote in the general election. Importantly, the numbers should be proportionate to the vote, rather than the number of MPs. This changes the distorted outcome of a first-past-the-post system where a party can win a third of the vote but finds itself in government with a clear majority in the Commons. It also means that smaller parties, like the Greens, get representatives in the Lords, increasing the diversity of political voices.
This would be a partial step towards an elected second chamber, which many of us feel is the only guarantee that the people who go into the Lords see it as a job, rather than a retirement plan.
The Lords has a problem with legitimacy. Our job is to tidy bills up and to tell ministers that they are about to do something stupid, but we can’t stop that stupid thing from happening. Sometimes this system works: recently the government accepted one of my amendments to their counter-terrorism bill that will ensure greater protection for journalists.
Ultimately, we need a smaller, more efficient House of Lords where people turn up to do a job of work to ensure that the right legislation is passed. That ideal scenario still seems a long way off.
Green, House of Lords
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