On Tuesday, the House of Lords will be debating a Government motion to take note of ‘the case for reform of the House of Lords’. I have no problem with noting the case for reform of the Lords. I am in favour of various reforms, not least in terms of strengthening the House in carrying out legislative and non-legislative scrutiny. However, I am not in favour of the Government’s proposals for the House of Lords. Its proposals are not for reform of the House of Lords but rather for its destruction. It wants to get rid of the present House and replace it with a new elected body. There may be a case for that, but it cannot be dressed up as ‘reform’ of the House of Lords.
The fact that the Government believes that it can be considered as reform rather reflects the failure to think through what it actually means. It relies on terminology which it has not sought to define and seeks to bring about change without thinking through the consequences. In answer to a question from Lord Stoddart of Swindon as to whether election of the second chamber would be accompanied by a repeal of the Parliament Acts, Justice minister Lord McNally declared: ‘The Government believes that the basic relationship between the two Houses, as set out in the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, should continue when the House of Lords is reformed’ (by which he meant elected). What? One wonders what he thinks the reasons were for the passage of the Parliament Act. If there is an elected second chamber, the rationale for the Parliament Act disappears. One might not provide for co-equal chambers, but one cannot sustain an Act brought in to ensure that the elected House could get its way over an unelected second chamber.