– Joe Jones
So the tax credit cuts got delayed in the Lords. I shan’t beat around the bush about this, I’m happy about that. I didn’t agree with the way that the cuts would have been pushed through and would have, to use Baroness Meacher’s words, been ‘pulling the rug’ out from 3 million people’s feet (according to the IFS).
But I think there is something more important that arose from this, and that is the role of the House of Lords. This chamber is too often forgotten or overlooked as an odd quirk of history and that this strange chamber we conceived is simply something that we keep through sentimental value. It’s seen almost like the scratchy old scarf your grandparent gave you one Christmas.
Certainly it appears that some members of the current Conservative Government believe it is so. I can understand a measure of anger at the Lords delaying what the government is determined to do; it is a long a difficult task to turn this country around. But by attempting to start a constitutional debate, by claiming that the Lords are overstepping, I believe, is a mistake.
The Lords should exist to be a restraint on the excesses of the elected body of our Parliament. It should exist to house the greatest minds of our ages: from the best of business, to community and charity leaders, to old cabinet ministers, to peers and professors and to old Prime Ministers. A House, of the experts. It is in having this that the Lords would best fulfil their duty: to scrutinise legislation from their experience and curb the excesses of the House of Commons when needs be. The problem with large majority governments (like Tony Blair’s first two) is that it gives the Prime Minister almost unchecked power in passing laws and there needs to be checks in place to halt excessive and naïve policies from passing.
The Lords has a unique ability to rise above party politics, the longevity that is rewarded to the Lords with the lack of elections allows them to take the long view; a view that doesn’t have to consistently tow the party line. Am I being too idealistic? Lord Lawson seems to point otherwise in his stance against the government’s tax credits cuts. Not only do the party members act on their own consciences, the Lords also have the greatest well of independents in the crossbenchers. These individuals have the ability to swing the vote and help to move it against the petty party interests and in favour of good governance.
It is this that is so crucial about the Lords.
All of this is why I am concerned about the review that David Cameron has launched into the role of the Lords after the governments defeat over tax credit cuts. This reaction, that was tantamount to throwing the toys out of the pram, threatens to remove the role of the Lords as the check on the Commons and move the British Parliament away from having a balanced check system and away from good governance.
Of course I am not saying that the Lords is perfect. One of the real issues that we have with the Lords is the ability of the Prime Minister and party leaders to propose members for the Lords. It is my belief that a different body, an independent one, along with the Privy Council perhaps should have say over who is admitted to the upper chamber. I think the removal of the party leaders, as a deciding body in themselves, from the decision over the honours lists would move the decision back to one focused on creating a chamber of experts to help govern in the long term interests of the United Kingdom.
I know that the Lords has not acted over financial matters for many years now (I’ve seen it disputed between 300 to 100 years), but it is right that they have. They moved to govern, not for party politics and I, for one, am glad that the Lords are reclaiming their ground to check governments and keep Parliament grounded in the experiences of the outside world and the knowledge passed on down by its members. As Conservatives I think it is time we remembered why we need the Lords, and why we should stand behind it.
Joe is Warwick Conservatives’ Deputy Chairman (Political) and is in his third year studying history and politics.