The government’s House of Lords Reform Bill is very welcome. To have published a bill at all is a historic landmark. Despite Parliament committing itself to replacing the House of Lords with a democratic second chamber 101 years ago, this coalition is the first to have got even this far. We’re not uncritical of the bill; we believe the second chamber should be fully elected and that 15 year terms of office are too long. But the status quo is far worse. Should there be a referendum on these proposals? If the public want one. We propose a system whereby a referendum would be triggered if 5 per cent of the electorate sign a petition. But it should be the public – not politicians – who should get to decide what we have referendums on or not. Otherwise the scope for cynical manipulation is too great.
Peter Facey is director of Unlock Democracy, a democracy, rights and freedom campaign group.
However flawed our current House of Lords, these proposals do little to resolve the basic issues that make the upper chamber a national embarrassment. It will remain 20 per cent unelected and elected lords will sit for 15 year, non-renewable terms. These popular peers will have no reason to fear the voters that gave them their ermine – they'll never have to face the electorate again. And religious leaders will retain their privileged positions as policymakers. Recent barmy interventions by Rowan Williams against free markets have done nothing to focus minds on the absurdity of clergymen legislating on economic policy. Most worryingly, if these proposals pass, demands for a truly radical reform – not this constitutional tinkering – will likely fade. Many will think that democracy has won. But the Lords will remain placid, and hopes for a truly rancorous, colourful and representative foil to the Commons will be dashed.
Tom Welsh is features writer at City A.M.