The Green Party’s Autumn Conference gave its wholehearted support to my private member’s bill to reform the House of Lords, which would see it transition to an elected chamber, with voting members returned for different regions through proportional representation while life peers would retain their right to sit, but not vote, in the House.
Since the passing of the 1999 House of Lords Act by Tony Blair’s first government, the democratic reform of the Lords has been a major item of unfinished business in British politics. Further reform was in the manifestos of all the main parties, with even Tories acknowledging the need for it, including removing the residual rump of 92 hereditary peers, whilst stating that it would not be a priority. Noble Lords are living on borrowed time, and the question is not whether further reform will happen, but how soon.
My bill gives the Lords an opportunity to design their own reform now, rather than having something imposed upon them. The thinking behind it is that if the Lords voluntarily come up with their own plan, it would be difficult for the Commons to turn it down. My proposal would cut voting members down to 292 and have them elected by PR to serve eight-year terms, but phased in so that half the second chamber is elected every four years.
The crucial difference to previous proposals is that the present life peers and bishops would all retain their seats and other privileges. The present honours system would not be affected, so people of distinction could still be made life peers and be able to speak, but not vote, in the House. Existing members of the Lords who wished to retain their voting rights would be able to stand for election without having to renounce their peerages.
Some people have said that my bill cannot succeed because it is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. The point is, though, that Christmas is coming whether the Lords vote for it or not; what I am offering them is a chance to vote for a vegetarian Christmas.