Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.

 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

​TIME FOR REFORM OF THE LORDS

When barristers examine witnesses in court they sometimes use the phrase: "did there come a time?" In the run up to the 1987 general election the SDP ran the campaign slogan in the run up to: the time has come. It hadn't but it was a good slogan.

Perhaps the time has come to reform the House of Lords. I voted against reform in the previous Parliament, mainly because the proposals brought forward by the then Deputy Prime Minister were confused. The problem, he declared, is that the House of Lords is unaccountable.
The solution was to introduce elected peers for one term only of 11 years. The very next day after they were elected, knowing that they could not be re-elected and were there for 11 years, they would become the most unaccountable group of people on the planet!

Most of us at Westminster have recognised the need for change. The House of Lords is too big, old and unwieldly, and hardly ever reflects the current political disposition of the country or the lower House. This is both a strength and a weakness. It does have some very wise people in it and that has always been my justification for supporting it. I do not want just politicians in the Upper House, but people from all walks of life who have something to offer based on their life experience.

But few can agree on the specific change necessary. Elected or not? What powers should it have? If we have a fully elected chamber it will start to claim more power and challenge our long held constitutional position of the supremacy of the Commons. There has been some tinkering in recent years – most of the hereditary peers are now gone and there is a system of voluntary retirement.

And yet. Somehow our current legislative arrangements do not fit the modern age.

The United Kingdom is facing major constitutional change over the next few years: leaving the EU, scrapping the Human Rights Act and introducing our own Charter, not to mention the pressing need to reach a lasting settlement with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Although it is a massive job, all of this cries out for a fresh over-arching constitutional settlement. Why not use this opportunity to deal also with the future of the House of Lords: perhaps a small largely elected Senate with clearly defined powers.

For their Lordships, perhaps the time has finally come.
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posted by Gary @ 13:41