Parliamentary Sketch : Good Lord, what next?

Posted on: 31st May 2012

So the pasty petitioners have made it to London. Attempts to dismiss the protest as a joke is merely one of the many hurdles we will have to endure in our effort to protect the humble pasty from the dinner party set.

In fact petitioning has become the order of the day as I also warmly welcomed the late Mercedes Curnow’s mother Sandra Cousins and supporters to Westminster after collecting an amazing 123,000 signatures in support of better and earlier cervical cancer testing. The petitions were delivered to 10 Downing Street; we’ll now chase the Health Secretary to find a way to improve testing and detection for younger (under 25 years old) women.

But the Westminster Village has become more preoccupied with parochial matters. For a breed of people who are often condescending about other people’s local difficulties, it’s striking just how excited they can become when the subject is the internal machinations of the Westminster Village itself.

I refer, of course, to Lords Reform. A project which has been discussed at length for centuries. Every attempt at completing the work has invariably left all sides dissatisfied and eager to have another go.

The Lords are sometimes referred to as a rest home for the semi clapped-out; or the dementia ward of the Palace of Westminster. Dominated by former Ministers and Prime Ministers it gives political has-beens a more genteel environment for their dotage.

Although it is certainly not the most important use of Parliamentary time and resources I believe the Government is right to have a go at lasting reform. It is wrong in this day and age for powerful and influential positions to still be a product of birth or even Prime Ministerial or Party Leader patronage. Indeed, having reserved places for one particular sect of a faith group rather than requiring them to secure their place on merit is another outdated anomaly.

But I remain unconvinced by the Government’s solution. Creating an elected Second Chamber is an understandable, but reactionary (even retaliatory) response to the current system of birthright and dodgy patronage. It is not a solution.

I agree. Let’s finally end hereditary Lords, stop Party patronage and cut the place down to size. But we should remind ourselves what we want a second chamber for before we start deciding how it should be composed and how it’s members derive their authority.

Most argue that the Commons benefits from the sober second thought and the revisory skills of many independent minded and experienced Peers. We need to find a way to retain that. Turning the Lords into another chamber of party political tribalists seems to me the last thing we need.

24th April 2012