Caerphilly MP Wayne David’s blog: April 16
Reform of the House of Lords
On May 9 the Queen will be coming to the House of Lords to deliver her “Queen’s Speech”. This will set out the Government’s “agenda” for the next session. If the very strong rumours are correct, at the centre of the Speech will be a Bill to reform the House of Lords.
Even though the country is facing huge economic problems, the Government in Westminster has decided that the most important thing for Parliament to consider is the reform of the House of Lords. This is because the Deputy Prime Minster, Nick Clegg, is very worried that the Liberal Democrats have got very little to show for agreeing to be part of the Conservative-led Government. It was a big disappointment for Mr Clegg when the electorate conclusively voted against his plan for the Alternative Vote in last year’s referendum.
Strangely the Deputy Prime Minister is however extremely reluctant to give a referendum on Lords Reform, even though it is one of the most significant changes to our constitution in years. As Labour’s Constitutional Reform spokesman I will be arguing that as the Government is currently holding referendums on elected Mayors and last year we had a vote on whether the Welsh Assembly should have more powers, surely we should have a vote on Lords Reform just as we had a vote on whether the voting system for Westminster should be changed. This is not only the view of myself and the Labour Party, it is also the view of a whole range of constitutional academic experts.
I also think it is very important that before we have an elected or partly elected second Chamber, as the Government are proposing, we give careful thought to precisely what powers the second Chamber has. The danger is that if you have two elected Chambers then there will be constant disagreement between them. At the moment if there is a big difference of opinion between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, it is the House of Commons which always prevails. This is because “primacy” is held by the House of Commons because of 1) the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 make it clear that the final say in most cases should rest with the Commons, and 2) the House of Commons alone has a popular mandate from the people whereas the House of Lords does not.
This second point is very important. The fear that many of us have is that if both Houses are elected then the Lords can claim that they have just as much right to argue for something as does the Commons. In our Parliamentary democracy the view of the people, as expressed through the ballot box, is paramount. If both Houses claim a mandate from the people, the very real danger is that there will be permanent disagreement or “gridlock” between the two Houses. This could lead to Government grinding to a halt.
This is why Labour will be arguing for important changes to the Government’s Bill when it comes before the House of Commons. Inevitably, these are complicated issues and are not easily resolved. But I believe it is important that any historic changes are properly thought through.
Labour MP for Caerphilly