Black Clouds Hang Over Parliament

A storm is brewing in Westminster as the government push for a House of Lords reform, a pledge that Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems promised in their 2010 general election manifestos.

All three parties agree that the upper chamber is undemocratic due to the peerage system and promised a partly elected house in their manifestos.

So why is there such conflict despite a general consensus?

Nick Clegg and David Cameron are leading the coalition’s proposals to make 80 per cent of the Lords elected. The number of peers would be substantially reduced from 826 to 450, and those elected would serve a 15-year term in office, after which they will not be able to run for re-election.

The government want the first elections to the upper chamber to happen in 2015 when the next general election is scheduled. In order to push the bill through Parliament by May 2013, the government want to set a time limit on how long MPs can spend debating the issue. The vote for this timetable is taking place today and should the majority not vote in support of the government, it will signal the first significant defeat for the coalition.

There is every chance that this might be the case since opposition is staunch, not only from the Labour party. Seventy Tory MPs have signed a letter opposing the reform and senior Labour figures are also critical of the proposed changes.

What are the critics saying?

Many feel that an elected House of Lords would gain legitimacy as a policy making body as opposed to the more regulatory role they currently play. Other feels that the focus on constitutional reform is irresponsible at a time where the economy must take priority.

Labour leader Ed Miliband supports the proposals in the bill but is against the idea of a timetable to debate the issue. Some see the opposition leader as pandering to party politics but Mr Miliband suggests that the reforms should go to a UK wide referendum.

Today’s vote will be a crucial episode in the story of this bill and in the life of the coalition government.

What do you think about this issue? Would you vote for or against the timetable? 

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