I dropped my MP a line on Friday care of the brilliant Fix Parliament device, to let him know I was actually quite bothered about Lords Reform and could he please do the right thing and support it.
Now, I know Zac is one of the 100 or so named Tory rebels - so there was a more than a touch of hope over expectation in my note. However, to be fair, Zac replied in less than 24 hours (this is the second time in a week I have been fair to Zac, I must stop this...) and I have printed his answer below.
I don't agree with it - so I have annotated his note with my observations (in red), which I'll send on to him via Twitter and e-mail anon.
Dear Mr Morris,
Thanks for getting in touch.
My pleasure, I’m touched that you have replied.
I strongly support reform of the Lords, but the current proposals make zero sense to me, and I will oppose them.
I very strongly believe that the Lords should continue to exist for the real experts, as it does to some extent now, and that it should not become a depository for yet more seedy elected politicians. If anyone is in any doubt about the value of having a checking/ revising/scrutinizing Chamber made up of real experts, I would direct them to Hansard recordings of more or less any debate. The quality of debate in the Lords massively exceeds debates in the Commons.
I find this a very odd argument. The inference is that you believe all elected politicians to be ‘seedy’. This is surely an argument for revision of The House of Commons, not the Lords. I would concur that the behaviour and standards of The Commons leaves a lot to be desired. But the argument that the reason standards are poor is because the members are elected is something of an affront to democracy and the democratic process. Change the way the Commons works by all means - but you are quite wrong to equate democracy with seediness.
Second, the hierarchy between the two Chambers is important. No one will benefit if the Second Chamber seeks to become more than a checking/revising/scrutinising Chamber. That is a real risk.
Safeguards against this are built into the legislation ensuring the primacy of the Commons. If those safeguards are insufficient, you should revise them in the ensuing debate – not throw out a revision we have been waiting on for 100 years on the basis that you feel the wording is insufficiently robust.
Third, It concerns me that the proposal would allow people to stand for office just once, and then hold office for 14 years, during which time they will not in any way feel the pressure of democratic accountability, as they can neither be sacked, nor re-elected. They will have the democratic mandate of MPs, but without any accountability.
Strange then that you would vote for the status quo. The House of Lords currently has more members over the age of 90 than under the age of 40. The majority of members do not even attend, and many choose to vote on one or two issues that truly ‘matter’ to them as opposed to looking at the legislative programme as a whole. I note you start your letter by stating that you want reform – yet you intend to vote to maintain this ludicrous, unaccountable status quo. Opposing the legislation tomorrow supports a less democratic and accountable system than the one proposed. You may not think the new system is perfect – but you are supporting a far more imperfect one.
Fourth, the proposal is for a PR-based system, which is effectively a system of appointment by Party leaders (who create the lists, and put their loyal favourites at the top).
Oh, come of it. Pop into the House of Lords. With the exception of the Hereditary peers and the Bishops, neither of whom should be sitting there anyway, the place is stuffed full of ex politicians placed there thanks to party patronage, many of them ex MPs who the electorate have decided should no longer represent them but find themselves a retirement home for life. The suggestion that the current system – or any system based on appointment of ‘the right sort of people’ – is more worthy than any democratic mandate is bizarre.
Fight for more open lists by all means as the legislation is debated. I would agree with that. I think many of our finest Parliamentarians are independents. But opposing change tomorrow means patronage of the party faithful will continue unchecked.
As I said, I strongly support reform of the Lords, but not this. I would for instance back Lord Steel’s proposals, which have been endorsed by a very broad section of the Lords. In short, he is calling for: the establishment of a cross-party selection committee (removing the PM’s powers of patronage); introducing a mechanism for retiring Peers (and reducing the number to roughly 450); removal of peers for criminality. I suspect that most of my colleagues would support him, and we would see a tighter, clearer, cleaner and more independent revising chamber as a result.
I’m glad you support reform Zac, I accept your genuine concerns about the retirement of Peers and removal for criminality (both of which I would agree with) – but your actions tomorrow do the opposite of what you intend. The current proposals are not cooked up to favour one party or another – they have come about through a cross party group of parliamentarians who genuinely want to see the Lords as a democratically mandated and accountable piece of the legislature, and your colleagues – who will not on the whole be especially seedy – deserve your support.
Very best wishes,