Labour is serious about Lords reform - Ed Miliband

26 June 2012

ed milibandEd Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, in a blog 'Labour is serious about Lords reform' on his website, said:

In the 21st Century, I believe that democratic election is the best system for our country and that is why I intend to lead Labour MPs in a vote for the Second Reading of the Bill and in support of reform of the House of Lords.

Labour committed to a fully-elected second chamber in our 2010 manifest o and said we would hold a referendum on the issue. This position is the starting point from which I will judge the Government’s Bill.

The draft Bill presented by the Government is a long way from perfect. There are big questions to resolve about the powers of the second chamber, the exact proportion of elected members, the length of their terms, the system of election, the relationship between Lords and Commons and whether there is a place for bishops.

And the Bill does not contain a referendum. There is little logic in a position which says we have referendums to decide whether we have city mayors, but not to decide whether to alter radically the composition and structure of our Parliament.

I also believe that it will be much harder to get reform through without the clearly expressed popular will of people in a referendum.

Yet despite these flaws in the proposed legislation, we face a clear choice: to vote down reform, or to back it. We will supp ort reform.

Voting for a Second Reading of a Bill, about which you have reservations, is an unusual step for Oppositions. There is plenty of precedent for opposing legislative proposals at this stage.

Indeed, in 1999, the Conservatives, including 11 members of the current Cabinet, proposed and voted for a reasoned amendment and against the Second Reading of Labour’s Bill to abolish most hereditary peers.

I know there are some on our own benches in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords who want to vote against this Bill for reasons of principle. I respect those who hold this view but I disagree with them.

There are more who point out that there are other issues far more pressing for British families and, at a time of double-dip recession, we should not be wasting energy on constitutional reform.

While Lords reform is not the biggest priority for the vast majority of people, it does go to crucial questions of how Britain is gove rned. We did not seek this Bill to be included in the legislative programme but it has been - and we must respond.

We could have chosen to side with Conservative backbenchers who are planning to vote against this Bill at Second Reading and watched it potentially go down in flames. But that would not have been the right thing to do.

Instead, on all the key questions, Labour will seek to scrutinise, amend and improve the Bill during its passage through the Commons: we are serious about Lords reform and we expect Parliament to be taken seriously too.

It is important that there is proper time allocated to scrutinise this Bill. The six clause Bill to abolish hereditary peers, for instance, was opposed by the Conservative Party at Second Reading and took fully nine days to pass through the Commons.

This 60 clause Bill is a far bigger constitutional change and deserves longer than cursory debate. All the indications we have received so far suggest the Gove rnment will not give this Bill the time it needs in the Commons.

An historic opportunity to achieve lasting reform is not an occasion for rail-roading highly sensitive legislation through the Commons simply to avoid further turbulence in the rocky relationship between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

Nor is this the best way to achieve the consensus needed if reform is to stand any chance of overcoming another hurdle of opposition when the Bill reaches the House of Lords. One of the best ways to guarantee destruction of legislative proposals is to send them with their flaws intact to the House of Lords.

We need the legislative time to improve this Bill. Therefore, we will vote for the Second Reading of this Bill and oppose the proposed timetable which effectively guillotines debate.

There will be some who say this is Labour’s attempt to wreck the Bill and allow opponents to suffocate it through deliberate delay so the reform never even reaches the House of Lords.

They are wrong. I do not want the reform of the House of Lords to be stuck in the House of Commons. I want a good reform Bill to get out of the Commons and into the Lords so it can be properly discussed in both Houses.

Labour will support this Bill at the Second Reading. We will ensure it is properly debated. And we will play our part in seeking to bring about the historic reform that is right for our country.