One of the key features of democracy is that it is a system of government of the people in which the people exercise power. This is done directly or indirectly through their representatives and by a process in which the will of the majority is determined. The House of Lords exercises power and yet the people have no say in its composition. This cannot be right and for more than a century prominent Conservatives have recognised this and called for it to be changed.
The Conservative Party has a proud tradition of constitutional reform. From Catholic emancipation in 1829 to Disraeli’s Second Reform Act of 1867; giving votes to women at the age of 21 in 1928, to introducing life peerages in 1958, Conservatives were in the forefront of reform. The one reform which has eluded the Party is that of House of Lords reform.
A century ago Winston Churchill said that the Upper Chamber “must be based upon the roots of the whole body of parliamentary electors”.
In more recent times William Hague said “We would like to see a stronger House of Lords in the future, including a substantial elected element”. In 2005 Michael Howard said “the way we are governed has become less accountable, more complex and, ultimately less democratic..... proper reform of the House of Lords has been repeatedly promised but never delivered”.
The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2010 General Election stated “we will work to build consensus for a mainly elected second chamber to replace the House of Lords.
It is said that we will lose many experts from the Lords, but in fact most of the day to day work is done by the 195 members that were former MPs or MEPs. In the case of many of the “experts” their expertise is decades out of date – 14 members are over the age of 90.
When Tony Blair retired as Prime Minister half of the House of Lords had been appointed by Tony Blair. Today the House of Lords consists of Blair’s cronies, hereditary peers who are there because their ancestor was a mistress of the King or a robber Baron, those that bought their title, criminals who have served a prison sentence including those whose sentence was for fiddling their £300 per day expenses from the House of Lords, those who have never spoken, Bishops of the Church of England but not the Churches of Ireland, Wales and Scotland, those haven’t attended for a long time and others. Do we really want our legislature to be made up of these people? It is time we had a democratic House of Lords elected by the people and accountable to the people. We cannot, we should not and we will not wait any longer. I now call on the Conservative Party to continue its democratic traditions and legislate for it to be changed.
John Strafford has been a member of the Conservative Party for 51 years and is the author of “Our Fight for Democracy”.