Nick Clegg seems set to have a hard time with his fudged plans for a mostly elected House of Lords.
A survey shows that 80% of Lords who replied are opposed to reform. No great surprise there: turkeys are not known to be overly keen on the festive season. But there is also opposition to the plans within the two parties, despite both having a commitment to reform in their election manifestos.
Clegg’s plan is for an upper house with 80% of its members elected and the rest appointed. Church of England bishops would also have seats by right. But many in favour of reform see a wholly elected chamber as the only democratic alternative to the House of Lords.
The Times sent questionnaires to all of the 789 people entitled to sit in the Lords. A total of 310 responded. Of those, 80% oppose a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber and 81% believe the Lords works well as it is.
And there are sceptics in the House of Commons too. Many Tories are opposed to reform while there are those on the Labour benches who don’t think the issue should be a priority, arguing that the public seem unconcerned.
Party leaders in both chambers will shortly select 26 peers and MPs to sit on a committee to draw up a final proposal. The government intends to have a bill ready for the Queen’s Speech in spring 2012.
The House of Commons can push legislation through without the support of the Lords. The rarely used Parliament Act has a provision which states that any legislation backed by MPs three times can become law even if the Lords vote against. And the Lords can only delay plans for one year.
In the Times’ survey 74% of Lords said that it would be unconstitutional to use the Parliament Act to force through reform. Again, they would say that, wouldn’t they? And there is a convention that the Lords will not block government legislation that was in an election manifesto, the so called Salisbury Convention.
But will the Government have the political will to force its plans through? After the defeat of the Alternative Vote in a referendum Liberal Democrats will be doubly keen to get this major reform through. Whether their coalition partners share that zeal remains to be seen.