I've had a lot of constituents contacting me to ask for my views on House of Lords reform, so I thought I'd post this blog to set out my views in a bit of detail.
First and foremost, the House of Lords should be elected. The principle that those who make the laws with which the people are meant to comply should be elected by the people seems to me to be overriding. For that reason, I would prefer to see a House of Lords which is fully, that is 100%, elected.
Moreover, I am not keen on the idea that those elected should be so for one 15 year single term. It's easy enough for Parliamentarians to lose touch with the people who elected them after 15 months let alone 15 years. In addition, an important part of accountability for elected politicians is the knowledge that your tenure is dependent on the continuing support of the voters. I would prefer to see 5 year terms, just like the maximum for MPs. I realise that there could be a practical problem if the House of Commons is dissolved during its term for a period shorter than 5 years, but I don't see why of the Lords, or whatever the new Second Chamber is called, would have to have an early election as well. This could be linked to a term limit, so that members of the Second Chamber would have a limit on how many times they could stand for reelection - but a limit there should be.
There is also no need for a reformed House of Lords to have the numbers currently being suggested. The previous suggestion for 300 is high enough, if anything it is on the high side. The figure of 450 now proposed by the government is excessive, in my view.
Finally, there should be no reserved places for bishops. Many of the bishops who attend the Lords do offer an independent and critical voice, which has challenged over-mighty governments of all parties. Nevertheless, that challenge should ideally come from those whose independence and criticism is derived from a popular mandate. There is of course the additional objection that giving a privileged place to leaders of one faith group is of course discriminatory to other faith groups, and of course to those of no faith.
There are two issues concerning procedure which are also important. Firstly, relating to Parliamentary procedure - should there be a limit on debate, as the government will be proposing in a 'programme motion'? It is normal for important constitutional changes not to be subject to an overall time limit, so that MPs are not restricted in the time they can spend debating and asking questions. Whilst I realise there will be some who may try to use the lack of a limit as an opportunity to delay the Bill through lengthy speeches, the principle of not limiting debate on such important constitutional matters is one which I think should be maintained. It should be remembered that even without an overall time limit, the House of Commons rules still allow MPs to vote to curtail a lengthy speech, and/or to bring a particular debate to a close.
Secondly, there is the issue of whether the final proposals should be submitted to a referendum. Labour's position at the last election was that this should happen, and I think that the now well-established principle that major changes in the constitution should be submitted to the people for endorsement is one that should apply here also. Approval in a referendum would also be an encouragement to ensuring that the changes, if so approved, would then be implemented speedily.
In setting out my position on some of the key issues, I recognise however that there is always the danger that in seeking the best outcome there is a risk of no progress at all being achieved. For that reason, I would be prepared to accept some compromises (such as allowing a limited number of appointed members of the Lords, or Second Chamber), if that were necessary to reach a consensus or a majority to allow House of Lords reform to go ahead. I will therefore be voting in favour of the government's proposals on the 'in principle' Second Reading vote, and will then aim to see them amended during the detailed discussions which will follow, along the lines I've set out in this blog.