We hear news that rebels are preparing to topple the coming Lords Reform Bill. One PPS is quoted in today’s Guardian saying:
We will resign to vote against the programme motion. We want to ensure that the bill drags on and on and on in the Commons with filibustering speeches through the night. This should bung up the government’s entire legislative programme.”
Now we can understand why unelected Lords might have little time for accountability or manifesto commitments. But these MPs have no such excuses.
So to aid MPs as we head towards the coming Queen’s Speech, here’s a little recap on what was taken as gospel back in 2010:
We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence”
Invitation to join the government of Britain, Conservative Party Manifesto 2010
Sitting MPs who ran on that Manifesto – 306
Every one of these wannabe-rebels ran for parliament on a promise of Lords Reform. But now they seem prepared to sacrifice their own government’s entire legislative programme to bury it. It sends a strong signal to their constituents that their manifestos weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.
Next stop then, their coalition partners. As you might expect the Lib Dems had an unambiguous commitment to reform:
Liberal Democrats will: Replace the House of Lords with a fully-elected second chamber with considerably fewer members than the current House.”
Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010
Sitting MPs who ran on that Manifesto – 57
And of course there’s the small matter of the coalition agreement:
We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”
The Coalition Agreement: Our Programme for Government
Coalition MPs 363
So what of the opposition? Labour were fairly clear:
We will ensure that the hereditary principle is removed from the House of Lords. Further democratic reform to create a fully elected Second Chamber will then be achieved in stages. At the end of the next Parliament one third of the House of Lords will be elected; a further one third of members will be elected at the general election after that.”
A future fair for all, Labour Party Manifesto 2010
Sitting MPs who ran on that Manifesto – 255 (down from 258 at the election)
Denis MacShane and Eric Joyce are currently sitting as Independents – so they probably have some excuses for voting no. The SNP for their part propose abolition of the Upper House, while the DUP have little to say on the matter. And parliament’s latest addition, George Galloway, is an unknown quantity.
But as for the other parties, the Greens, Plaid and the Alliance are all pledged to reform.
So that’s 623 MPs who represent parties elected on manifestoes in support of Lords Reform – or 95.8% of the chamber. Discount the 5 abstentionist Sinn Fein MPs and the Speaker and that figure hits 96.7%. However it would be more than a little surprising if the House of Commons divides along quite those lines cometh the vote.
The government are right to stick to their guns. No major party went into the last election defending the status quo, and if Lords Reform is ever to see the light of day it will require all parties to stay committed.