'Replacement of the Lords with an elected second chamber is an essential step towards restoring democracy in this country'.
Perhaps the government’s by-passing of scrutiny by the Commons is a clever plan to give Conservative MPs more time to spend on their lobbying jobs?
Eighteen pages of draconian laws on non-violent protest and suspicionless stop and search dropped into the Lords inboxes this week as we were midway through amending the existing proposals in the dreadful Policing Bill. Scrutiny by MPs was ignored and your local representative will have to rely on the Lords passing amendments to the new laws in order to have a minimal debate on it.
This arrogance of power is nothing new, but the scale of it is shocking. Ministers have spent the last three years grabbing executive powers on trade, the environment and a host of other issues, that enable them to make decisions without reference to Parliament. Other countries have in depth discussion and votes on their trade bills. Here we have a short debate subtitled “here it is, like it, or not”. Despite a million signatures on a petition to stop food standards being weakened at the expense of British farmers in the Trade Bill, the government made worthless promises and forced through the clauses leaving them in sole control. Family farmers can contact their local MP and lobby hard to vote against the government’s betrayals on the Australian and New Zealand trade deals, but there is nothing those MPs can do, except to bring down the government (please do).
One of the problems with the mainstream opposition to this Boris-led cabal, is that they refuse to treat it as a corrupt government which is seeking to perpetuate its rule by clamping down on opposition, rigging the voting system and systematically lying in order to avoid accountability. The opposition are still playing to a rule book designed by thoughtful men in their parliamentary clubhouse where moral standards and integrity are taken to mean something. Other countries have police investigations into corrupt practices; our MPs cling onto a system of self-regulation and get annoyed at the lightest of slapped wrists over breaches of standards.
Our distorted First Past The Post electoral system gave the Conservatives a comfortable commons majority of 80 (on 44% of the popular vote), so it’s been the Lords who have the job of making Ministers pause for thought.
Instead of an elected second chamber, the Lords is a mish mash arrangement of professions, land owners and business people. There are a lot of political appointments, including myself and Natalie Bennett. The two of us have to represent the voices of half a million Green voters. Then there are the party donors, including a remarkable number of Conservative Party former Treasurers who have donated more than £3m to the ruling party. It is far from being a representative cross section of the British public, but it has one thing going for it; there is no built in government majority.
The debate on the sewage amendment to the Environment Bill showed how important a revising, second chamber can be when combined with huge public pressure on a single issue, or an injustice. It also showed the limits of the Lords, who deliberately won’t push issues beyond a certain point as they don’t think an unelected chamber should twist the arms of elected MPs.
Replacement of the Lords with an elected second chamber is an essential step towards restoring democracy in this country. We can debate the details of the PR system and their use of vetoes on government legislation, but the key thing is to give the second chamber more legitimacy and see it act as a brake on executive power.
Jenny Jones is a Green Party member of the House of Lords
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