I have just been listening to Hilary Benn, the Shadow Leader of the House, give a Hansard Society lecture on Parliament and the Public. He touched upon the issue of reform of the Lords, or rather replacing it with a new chamber. His arguments demonstrate the naivety of many of those who argue the case for getting rid of the House. He took it as self-evident that election was the ‘democratic option’ (it isn’t) and argued for a 100% elected House, using a system of proportional representation, but continuing to carry out its existing functions.
When questioned on this, he said he wanted to avoid a conflict between the two chambers and that the Commons should retain its existing primacy. This is possibly to give his answer somewhat more coherence than it had. Even though he served on the working group of front-benchers set up to consider the draft Bill on the Lords, he had no clear grasp of what would happen in the event of a wholly elected House, elected by a PR system, coming into being. He appeared to think that the relationship between the two Houses would remain as now.
The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the Commons has a somewhat better grasp of the situation. It has just published a report, Seminar on the House of Lords: Outcomes, arguing for incremental changes now (along the lines of the Steel Bill) rather than waiting for radical reform. It goes on to declare: ‘The existing conventions governing relations between the two Houses will not survive in their current form if the upper House is given democratic legitimacy, and the Government’s proposals need to be examined with this in mind.’
Perhaps the committee should have a word with Mr Benn.