Lord Michael Dobbs wrote on ConservativeHome that the Lords is like the composter of Westminster and Peers are the worms of the Westminster field. The Commons sends first draft legislation down to the Lords, into the composter and what comes out the other end by the time the Peers have finished is something far more fragrant – in the form of an improved piece of legislation.
It’s not hard to see why.
The Lords consists largely of people who have already made their contribution to society and they bring their wealth of expertise and knowledge to scrutiny of legislation. Checks and balances delivered by people who have no election to win and nothing to prove. Ambition-tinted spectacles can distort priorities in the Commons. The Lords probably contains more expertise within its ranks than can be found in any other chamber in the world. There are more University Vice Chancellors than you can poke a stick at. Former ambassadors, Foreign Office minsters, half a dozen former Chancellors, former Secretaries of State, presidents of Royal Colleges and a former EU commissioner et al.
The daily ebb and flow of life in Parliament (the phrase encompasses both houses) is one built upon an unwritten constitution and an unspoken understanding which provides both houses with the flexibility needed to embrace and enhance legislation. Whilst Peers strive to improve, they will always ultimately defer to the elected house.
In reforming legislation presented to the Lords by the Commons, Peers very rarely send it back to the Commons more than twice. There is no need. The Commons respects and listens to members of the Lords and by the time a Bill has been across the Lobby a couple of times, it’s always enough.
If Cameron grants Clegg his wholly elected second chamber, we will be lucky if a piece of legislation ever saw the light of day again. Bills could take years to pass. They would ping pong backwards and forwards forever as elected second chamber members flexed their muscles and remind the Commons, we are elected too, via PR, from a larger geographical constituency than you mere MPs and therefore have a more democratic mandate. We will take as long as we wish and amend as much as we like. Yah boo sucks.
It is almost impossible to imagine that once elected; members of the second house wouldn’t seek greater legislative powers to equalise their authority to that of the Commons. Why wouldn’t they? They will have been elected on a democratic mandate and will perceive themselves to have at the very least equal rights to those of MPs.
MPs will be elected on Parliamentary boundaries and members of the second chamber via PR from a far wider geographic area. What would the argument against calls for second chamber primacy be? The second chamber could easily become the first.
Tim Farron, President of the Lib Dems recently commented ‘why wouldn’t a future Prime Minister come from the second chamber as it will have a greater legitimate mandate than the Commons having been elected via PR?’ Given that the Liberal Democrats will permanently hold the balance of power in the second chamber it is quite likely that any future Prime Minister could be a Liberal Democrat, in perpetuity. Does a nation of people who regard the Liberal Democrats as their second or third choice deserve that?
The Liberal Democrats did a deal with Cameron. A referendum on AV in exchange for support for the boundary Commission review which we Conservatives desperately need to win an outright majority at the next election. I might argue with this policy, along with some other Conservative initiatives, but that’s for another day. We kept our part of the deal. The country gave an overwhelming ‘no thank you’ to the Lib Dems proposals and AV.
Not happy with this, the curse of Clegg is in evidence again as the Lib Dems now try to hold David Cameron’s feet to the fire. If the country said no to AV, the Lib Dems are intent on forcing it down the electorates throat by reneging on the deal in order to ensure they achieve it another way. The signs are they will do this by threatening to withdraw support for the Boundary Commission review unless they get an agreement from Cameron on an elected second chamber via PR. This was never the deal.
One can have some sympathy with their desperation. Over two million people who voted LibDem at the last election have drifted back to Labour. The Boundary Commission review could see the loss of up to seven Lib Dem seats. The next election could see the Lib Dems all but wiped out of the Commons and the only way they can stomach this, is if they can see a better, stronger deal for Lib Dems of the future. Although wiped out in the Commons, they could forever be the arbiters of power via the Lords.
If the second chamber becomes elected via PR what defence is there to maintain the much loved first past the post voting system for the Commons? What defence is there to retain the Commons?
Some Conservative MPs have principles and love Parliament for the vibrant democratic place it is. We are here because we love our country and want to make it a better place. A deal between Cameron and Clegg which will result in the destruction of the House of Lords in order to keep Cameron and Osborne in Downing Street for just a little longer and the Lib Dems in power forever forces us to think the unthinkable. I and others would rather call the Liberal Democrats bluff. We would prefer to lose the boundary changes and have a term of Labour Government before we would watch the House of Lords, with all its wondrous ability, traditions, expertise and standards wiped out on the back of a shoddy, short term, self-interested deal. We would rather a term of Labour government now, than witness the Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power forever.
The end of the Coalition may come quicker than we think.