Debate into the “The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill” Tuesday 26th January 2010 – by Edward Leigh MP

On Tuesday I spoke in the Chamber on the debate on The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. The crux of the Bill, introduced by the Justice Secretary Jack Straw, revolves around measures designed to phase out, through a variety of different means, hereditary peers from the House of Lords. It also includes proposals for scrapping by-elections for hereditary peers.

As one would expect from the Chairman of the Cornerstone Group I am strongly opposed to the Bill. The logic of a democratic country states that we should have a democratically elected second chamber in tandem with the elected Commons, but if we put everything down to logic then the rich traditions and history of our country would be swept away. For example, the Royal family makes no logical sense, but they are part of what makes Britain great. As my Hon. Friend Gerald Howarth put it in the debate, “If they (hereditary peers) went, it would expose the monarchy as the only hereditary institution in the land. [Do I] believe that that would endanger the monarchy? I certainly do.”

The history of the Lords demonstrates that what we have ended up with is an example of a great British compromise. As so often happens with the law of unintended consequences in our historical development, we have ended up with a pretty good system. We have found ourselves in the enviable position of having members with vast amounts of expertise, who have worked all their lives in the professions or in business and who are not politicians. They speak only when they have to speak and vote only when they feel strongly. In short, they do a good job. And we mustn’t forget that there are only 92 hereditary peers, a mere 13% of their total number.

If one looks for a precedent for an appointed second chamber one need look no further than Canada. Do we really want to follow their lead and model our second chamber on the least effective second chamber in the Western world? I think not.

I worry that if we did get to the stage where there was a fully elected Lords then it would be stuffed with inferior Members looking for ministerial office. After all, Parliament is already stuffed with people looking for ministerial office, so why would the elected second chamber be any different?

What this debate boils down to is the agenda of some to push for reform for reform’s sake. The House of Lord’s is an institution which provides an important balance for legislative process of Parliament. It does, and will continue to do, an excellent job and any reform of its entry procedure would not result in better legislation. The phrase, “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” comes to mind.

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