Wales politics

Coalition partners take sides on House of Lords reform

House of Lords
Image caption Time for change in the House of Lords?

Reform of the House of Lords has turned into a parliamentary showdown for the UK's coalition government.

The government wants a smaller and mostly-elected second chamber in Parliament - a cherished goal for Liberal Democrats who have tried to up the pressure on their sceptical coalition partners.

But many Conservatives remain opposed and will vote no.

A two-day debate began in Westminster on Monday. MPs will vote on a timetable for the bill on Tuesday.

Here are the views of two coalition members on either side of the argument.

One is as a Tory MP who earned his seat in Westminster through the ballot box, but he doesn't think peers should do the same.

The other is a Lib Dem who owes his place in the Lords to an appointment, but thinks its high time we scrapped the system.

Simon Hart, Conservative MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire

I support reform of the House of Lords, but not an elected one. A strange point to get excited about but it's suddenly triggered a surge of principle.

Image caption The House of Lords delivers as it is, says Simon Hart

The Lords is a curious place, made up of curious people. But it does deliver what it is meant to. It improves and revises some of our ideas in the Commons. It cannot overrule us, as we are elected and they are not, and it provides a degree of objectivity, wisdom and experience that we are so often accused of lacking our end of the building.

So here we all are getting worked up about how it should look and not, it seems, worrying about what it should do. The next few weeks will be dominated by lengthy debates on the finer constitutional arguments - and yet across the country jobs are in jeopardy, businesses are struggling and the Euro crisis grows more threatening.

I've supported some incredibly hard decisions about reducing the size of the armed forces and the police, yet how does the creation of 450 new paid politicians look if you are serving soldier wondering if your regiment is to be scrapped, or a Dyfed-Powys Police officer worried about pension reforms?

We said we would reduce the cost of politics and yet the "new Lords" (and all the accompanying staff and expenses) will be paid a great deal more than our servicemen and set us back an estimated £500 million, over four times what it costs now.

Are we not charged with fixing the economy as an absolute priority? Doesn't pursuing political ideology in the midst of recession look just a bit self indulgent?

I was elected as a Conservative and have always felt happy to support the Party whose principles got me here in the first place. I am not a rebel and have only once failed to support the government on a flagship measure (VAT on static caravans, a crucial industry in west Wales).

But on this issue I will sadly have to vote no. This will cost money that we do not have and use time we cannot afford. It will create divisions we do not need. It will deliver nothing we really want and it will destroy a system that, despite many failings, has stood the test of time. To do that for the public good is one thing, but to do it purely for political expediency is not a good enough reason for me.

Lord German, former Welsh Liberal Democrat leader

Image caption Mike German says House of Lords reform is overdue

One hundred years is too long to wait.

If someone said that a plan had been discussed for 100 years, and during your lifetime had been agreed by everyone then you might be forgiven for thinking it was about time it got sorted.

The plan is a simple one: that the people who make the laws which govern us all should be elected by the people. Now after one hundred years of green papers, white papers, command papers and a Royal commission we have a government bill to put things right. To ensure that the overwhelming majority of members of our House of Lords are elected.

That is not to say that my colleagues in the House of Lords are doing a bad job. They are doing an excellent job - but they are ultimately responsible to no-one except perhaps to the political party which put them there. The public has no say in the way we make our decisions and that cannot be right.

All the major parties know that this situation cannot continue and that's why it found its way into the manifestos at the last general election. Our House of Lords clearly does not represent the people.

So in many ways this is a small change. Making sure the people of Wales have a fair share of the voices and views in the House of Lords is just one wrong that will be put right. The south-east of England is hugely over represented and Wales does not get the number of members it deserves.

The House of Lords does a very good job checking and revising the laws of our land and holding the government to account. It can spend more time on issues than the House of Commons - and continually makes our laws better and more fit for purpose. It has the time to look in great detail, and analyses the government's plans. No law in our country can take effect until both Houses have agreed.

None of this will change. The government's proposed changes will give the new House (perhaps to be called by a different name such as the Senate) exactly the same powers as now.

And for the first time Wales will get its right share of members, using a system of fair voting so that diverse opinions are reflected in the new chamber.

Wales will have a new democratic voice in our Parliament. About time too.

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