This ‘puny’ Bill
‘Puny’ is the word used yesterday by Sir Malcolm Rifkind of Nick Clegg’s proposals to reform the House of Lords. Nicholas Soames said the Bill was a ‘constitutional catastrophe’ that ‘must be defeated at all costs’. As each political big-beast stood like a sturdy oak to crush Clegg’s constitutional dog’s breakfast, up popped the DPM like an Andrex puppy to cock his leg at the centuries of wisdom they represented.
The case for reform is unarguable. It is absurd to have an Upper Chamber heading for 900 members, swelled by a further 100-or-so by each new incoming PM in order to restore the balance of power.
But a Chamber which is 80 per cent elected by PR and 20 per cent appointed by an ‘independent commission’, bequeathing to the LibDems the permanent balance of power, giving ‘Lords’ a single term of 15 years during which period they will be unaccountable and (because they cannot stand again) at liberty to behave as they wish, is such a squalid constitutional affront that one can scarcely believe that it is coming before Parliament under a Conservative Prime Minister.
It may be true that House of Lords reform is the only thing Nick Clegg requested in the Queen’s Speech, but you can’t honourably barter with the Constitution for short-term political expediency. The Coalition may be tested if Cameron were to tell Clegg where to go, but the LibDems are hardly in a position to walk away and demand a general election when their numbers are likely to be halved.
And this profound change to OUR Parliament is being proposed without a referendum. Moreover, the Government is attempting to ram it through on a 10-day guillotine. Where is the scrutiny, the integrity, the moral justification for replacing (in the words of Conor Burns MP) the distinguished captains of industry, retired senior civil servants and military figures, people from the arts and voluntary sectors, diplomats and bishops with a new phalanx of politicians chosen from lists selected by the political parties and their ever-diminishing memberships?
Why should Margaret Thatcher seek to demean herself by taking part in a petty popularity contest in order to retain her peerage? Why would anyone of stature choose to do so? What discernment have the people to determine wisdom and experience, or discern philosophy from celebrity?
This Bill will simply usher in another 400 party placemen, selected by the political elite for preferment on their party lists. Being democratically elected they will, as sure as night follows day, challenge the supremacy of the Commons, and will do so legitimately.
No true Conservative can support this Bill: it is constitutional vandalism. Rumours are that should the Bill fall, the LibDems will wreck the planned boundary changes. Let them. There is no justification for sacrificing the enduring Constitution of the United Kingdom for a Liberal Democrat coalition obsession. Let them dishonour themselves. Let the political pygmy Nick Clegg throw his toys out of his pram, and the baby with the bathwater. But Conservatives must be true to their foundational philosophy to conserve, and mindful of the Burkean principle that reform must be incremental, not revolutionary, in accordance with the customs and mores of the people.
His Grace agrees with the Baroness Boothroyd: “This Bill has not been thought through. I say to the people defying the whip, ‘Good luck to you, you are doing the right thing by your constituents, by your country and by Parliament’.”