With the Euro getting ever nearer to collapse, the world economy moving deeper into recession, unemployment in Britain predicted to surge above three million and the IMF warning that we are facing a decade of depression unless the government does a massive u-turn, there are definitely more important matters to deal with than House of Lords reform. The recent Commons vote was a political game designed to give Nick Clegg a little more credibility in his coalition dance with the Conservatives. It did not work.
The Lords Reform Bill was produced by an All Party Committee (carefully choreographed by Party leaders to get a desired result) and the Bill has now received its Second Reading. But a large Conservative rebellion saw 91 Tory MPs voting against the Bill and another 50 or so abstaining. The coalition parties had a right old ding-dong and much political damage was done to them (which was really rather pleasing). The government had earlier withdrawn its programme motion which would have allocated restricted time for discussing the Bill in its subsequent Parliamentary stages because the motion was doomed to defeat had there been a Commons vote.
However, not much has been made of the fact that some 25 Labour MPs also voted against the Bill, with others abstaining too. I was one of those nay-sayers. The point I and many of my Labour colleagues were seeking to make is that there is a case for abolition of the House of Lords which has so far been suppressed.
In the last Parliament the first of a series of Commons votes about what to do with the House of Lords asked whether we should continue with a bicameral Parliament (two Houses) or go for a uni-Cameral system, leaving just the House of Commons. One hundred and fifty-five Labour MPs voted against a bicameral Parliament and thus in favour of a one House of Parliament. After that vote I put down an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons drawing attention to the fact that almost half of Labour MPs and almost a quarter of all MPs had voted in effect to abolish the House of Lords. My EDM was supported by 50 other Labour MPs. If we are to have such a significant constitutional change the case for abolition should at least be heard by the voters.
For my part, I believe a second chamber is unnecessary. Some countries have indeed abandoned their “upper” House, notably Sweden, without in any way damaging their democracy. But the case for abolition has been consistently squeezed out by our political leaders. Labour actually called for the abolition of the House of Lords 100 years ago, so my view is hardly new. I should say that I have several good friends in the House of Lords and there are many excellent members of that other House. My view is not in any way personal.
On Anglia TV after the recent vote, I made the very simple suggestion that if we were to have a referendum on the future of the House of Lords, there should be three options – keep it, reform it or abolish it. I think the case for abolition might actually win!
Kelvin Hopkins is MP for Luton North.