John Stevenson is Member of Parliament for Carlisle. Follow John on Twitter.
“It’s a third or fourth term issue”; “why change something that is not broken”; “the public are not interested” – these are some of the usual comments that often accompany discussion on the 100 year old issue of House of Lords reform.
But things are different now.
As a consequence of Coalition politics, House of Lords reform is to be a first term issue. It was, in one form or another, in all three main parties manifestos and it was included in the coalition agreement.
And the system is not just straining a little; it is starting to change significantly. The removal of most of the hereditary peers, the ever increasing number of “political appointments” and the changing attitudes within the House of Lords about its own role within Parliament are issues which have to be addressed.
As for the public, they may not consider reform to be the highest priority, but when asked about the issue, they are overwhelmingly supportive of reform, many seeing the House of Lords as the preserve of the rich, the privileged and the well connected – effectively asking how can the presently constituted House of Lords claim true legitimacy in a 21st century democracy.
I accept that many in the Conservative Party are opposed to reform. I also acknowledge that there is no perfect second chamber and any changes will inevitably have to be a compromise. But there are compelling reasons why we should as a party embrace the issue and see it is an opportunity rather than an irritation.
Quite simply if we do not get on with reforming the House of Lords now the next Labour government almost certainly will – and they will do it on their own terms. The issue has rumbled on for many years, and the tinkering carried out by the last Labour government has only served to make real reform even more necessary and in many respects even more inevitable.
House of Lords reform should not be seen as a problem but as an opportunity for the Conservative Party. Contrary to some of the views expressed, the House of Commons will remain the dominant House. The Government will continue to primarily come from the Commons as will the Prime Minister and ultimately in any dispute between the two Houses, the Commons will get its way.
Let us therefore get credit for any changes and demonstrate that we are not the party of the rich, the privileged, and the well connected – but are a party at the forefront of democratic change; a modern reforming party which is open to all. A party which wants to see a House of Lords reflect the politics and the society of the 21st century, and not the 19th century.