The Lords dared to defy the government this week by rightly blocking punitive cuts in tax credits. David Cameron and George Osborne now look set to make that defeat a costly one.
An embarrassed Cameron and Osborne have ordered a revenge “review” of the Lords’ powers, to assess whether peers should lose their absolute veto over secondary legislation, like statutory instruments. The word “review” being used as a euphemism for the increasing centralisation of power by the Conservative government.
The problem with this review is that it completely misses the point. Currently, our second chamber is an embarrassment to democracy, containing 133 more Lords than the democratically elected members of the House of Commons. It’s the largest unelected second chamber in the world, an accolade once reserved for China.
In April 2012, a YouGov poll showed that 69 per cent of the UK population support an elected House. So what’s taking so long?
If you help decide how Britain is run, you should be elected by the British public. That’s democracy.
The last time a vote was taken in Parliament on Lords reform. MP Steve Rotheram [Walton], MP Luciana Berger [Wavertree], MP Maria Eagle [Garston & Halewood] and MP Stephen Twigg [West Derby] all voted for a fully elected House of Lords and have done consistently. Only Riverside MP, Louise Ellman has a mixed record, in 2012 she voted in favour of reforming the House of Lords, introducing 15 year terms for most members and introducing an elected element. However, in 2007, when it was put to vote on introducing a wholly elected chamber, Mrs Ellman voted against.
The Electoral Reform Society has long concluded the ‘Single Transferable Vote’ would be the best system. The current review will do little to change the nature of the beast. A democratic overhaul is long overdue. Its taken over 100 years to challenge the second chamber’s all powerful hereditary principles – appointment and cronyism are yet to suffer the same fate.
It is not appropriate in a democratic society for a chamber of the legislature to be hand-picked by the political establishment. There is ultimately – when it comes to claiming the authority to legislate and govern – no substitute for the endorsement of the electorate in a direct election. Reformers should settle for nothing less than a predominantly elected second chamber, one that maximises the power of the electorate to determine its composition.