"The only good thing that is going to come out of the cash for peerages scandal is that state funding of parties and House of Lords reform are going to go rocketing up the agenda again."
– Ken Clarke, Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Democracy Taskforce.
The possibility of state funding of political parties and Lords reform certainly seem to be Downing Street’s two main responses to the loans-for-peerages row. Labour’s Lord Falconer held private talks last week with his Tory and LibDem opposite numbers to discuss the future composition of the Lords and its powers and competencies.
Labour – currently involved in a major stand-off with the Upper House on
ID cards – wants to reduce peers’ delaying powers to sixty days and
wants to prevent any manifesto commitment from being blocked at all. Tony Blair is now said to be more open to an elected house if the powers of the Lords are reduced. This is a somewhat contradictory position – if the Upper House became elected it would probably appear more legitimate to voters and would consequently deserve more powers.
David Cameron is said to favour at least 50% of the Lords being elected. The LibDems favour a "predominantly elected" Upper House and elected, of course, by proportional representation. Iain Duncan Smith, in stark contrast, favours electoral districts based on historical counties. Just as in the US Senate where California and South Dakota have the same number of Senators he believes that rural counties like Cumbria should have the same number of peers as heavily populated counties like Kent and Surrey. This, he believes, would give rural Britain and regions beyond SE England more of a say in how Britain is governed.
The Telegraph is suspicious of enthusiasm for any kind of elected Lords. It hopes that the Commons’ backbenchers will "resist the creation of a further salaried political class, and the threat this would inevitably pose to the supremacy of the Commons and to the stability of our constitution".