Samuel Kasumu 2.28pm
The Government seems on the brink of its first serious parliamentary rebellion, and the Conservative MPs lining up to oppose the House of Lords Reform Bill represent a very broad church.
It isn’t merely the regular rebels (though the likes of Nadine Dorries are of course among their number). For a variety of reasons, many Tories have decided these reforms are a favour for their Liberal colleagues too far. And when Jesse Norman (South Hertfordshire) said that House of Lords reform would create less equality and less diversity, it really got me thinking.
At first, I took Mr Norman’s comments as just some rhetoric. But then it dawned on me that rather than create a more inclusive political system, this legislation will do more harm than good.
Take the current numbers of ethnic minorities in the House of Commons compared to the House of Lords. There are only 27 ethnic minorities in the House of Commons. A fully inclusive (i.e. proportional) Commons would have closer to 65 - more than double current figures. And the House of Lords? It comprises 42 peers from ethnic minorities.
Of course, one’s colour does not necessarily mean you are fit to represent a community better than another person, but MPs represent the pinnacle of the UK political system. Parliament is reflective of our political world, and if it cannot become inclusive, what hope do we have for the other circles of influence?
The very Liberal Democrats championing having another elected chamber do not even have one Black Member of Parliament. Surely it would make sense to deal with their current diversity problems before trying to take on the challenge of getting more people elected to the Other Place. We must also recognise that as Conservatives, who only managed to attract 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote in 2010, it is not in our interests to be accused of erecting more barriers for these groups entering politics.
There are also only 143 women in the current House of Commons, with 181 women in the House of Lords. While none of these figures are inspiring, the House of Lords does seem to be winning the battle when it comes to diversity and inclusion league tables.
Nothing in this Bill demonstrates that progress will be improved or maintained. If the House of Commons is reduced from 650 to 600 MPs as planned, we will have further problems when attempting to attract, more women, ethnic minorities, and those from working class backgrounds. The Lords helps to ensure that this diversity gap goes some way to being plugged but these reforms would take us two steps back. Be more inclusive in the Commons first, and then come back to us with your proposals.
Part 4 of the Reform Bill also proposes the eventual reduction of Lord Spirituals in the House of Lords to just seven members. My own view about the reduction of Lord Spirituals in the House is that it has no overall benefit to the political system. If the House of Lords is a place where the Government is held to account and where we are able to ensure that the most marginalised communities are considered within various policies, then the Church must be kept as a pivotal and influential part of the political system.
There of course will be times when there is a friction between the Church and the state, but such friction should not be looked at adversely. For indeed this allows proper thought and critique during key periods of decision making. We need only look to the events of the Queens Diamond Jubilee to see that the Church continues to play a key role in the nucleus of Great Britain, and any attempts to change this must be seen as an attack on faith.
Nick Clegg continues to attempt to paint a courageous picture of his Liberal Democrats’ attempting to finish off a job that began a century ago. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The current system may not be perfect but it has come a long way since the times of hereditary peers and an unbreakable ruling class. While I am a Tory Reformer who believes in change, and attracting quality candidates into the House of Lords, these proposals are not the solution.
I’d like to see more opportunities for Lords to be chosen by the public, but not through the simple mirroring of a tried, tested, and failed political system in the Commons. For it is this very House of Commons that continues to limit participation to those who can afford it, those who know about it, and those who are selected by a limited few.
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