The Coalition Agreement committed the two partner parties to work towards “a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties at the last election”.
Like other parts of the Agreement, this is not a very good idea: if Britain is to have a revising chamber, as it should, there’s no sense in manipulating it to have the same party political make-up as that of the elected chamber whose work it is auditing.
Instead, the ideal should surely be a chamber in which no political party has a majority, and which can amend legislation passed up to it from the lower house – or seek to – but not reject it altogether.
Nonetheless, we are where we are, and neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats have since rejected that Agreement commitment.
The latter ought to cling to it especially strongly, since the Agreement envisaged it as a temporary measure pending the creation of a fully or partly-elected Upper House, a long-held LibDem objective.
The Commons rejected proposals for such a chamber under the Coalition itself, and Boris Johnson has no plan to advance any himself. So by the logic of the agreement which the Liberal Democrats co-owned, a more representative Lords becomes all the more important.
This part of the Agreement points towards a solution to the problem identified yesterday by Norman Fowler in the wake of the latest series of Lords appointments.
The Lords Speaker correctly pointed out that the Upper House is too big, and praised the recommendation of the Burns Committee, which supported cutting the chamber from over 830 to 600 (which itself would constitute a very large chamber).
But while Lord Fowler’s analysis was right, his solution was wrong. The answer is not the creation of fewer peers now – and, by the way, lest we be accused of undue party political bias, five of the peers on yesterday’s list were nominations made by Keir Starmer.
Rather, it is, given the Coalition Agreement doctrine, to carry out a cull of the Upper House made with due regard for its make-up – since the Lords is resistant to cutting its own size, despite the efforts of David Steel and some other peers.
By measure of last December’s result, the Liberal Democrats are now over-represented there. The party supplies 88 peers, almost ten per cent of the total. It does not come anywhere close to making up that percentage of the Commons.
And finally, talking of justice, Labour is markedly under-represented. It has 200 MPs in the lower house, just under a third of the total. And 177 peers in the upper one, roughly 30 under a quarter of the total.