Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham Conservative Future debate on the reform of the House of Lords
Last Monday, KCF CF, in conjunction with the Conservative Future Policy Forum, held an informative and lively debate on the potential reform of the House of Lords. This reform has sparked much debate amongst members of all political parties, and it was interesting to hear some contrasting Conservative views. The debate, chaired by Jack Head, included a hereditary peer, a CFer arguing the case for retaining the appointments system but reforming it, as well as someone brave enough to stand up in front of a room of Conservatives and argue the case for an elected House of Lords.
Lord Bethell, representing the Hereditary Peers Association, eloquently and passionately defended the current composition of the House of Lords. Lord Bethell’s key arguments were that, as an unelected body, the Lords have the independence from political parties necessary to defend personal liberties. Additionally, the Lords often have expertise in specific areas far beyond that of MPs and also have the time to consider proposed legislation more carefully than the elected MPs who also have duties to their constituents.
CF’s own Andrew Taggart defended what seems to be the most popular position: retain a system of appointments in the Lords but reform the system. Andrew argued that as Conservatives, we should not be trying to create costly and disruptive changes just for the sake of reform, and that the appointment system works well. Andrew’s argument is compelling. One of the key benefits of the House of Lords is that it has more freedom from party political influence than the House of Commons; although there may be a whip system, Lords retain a far greater degree of independence than MPs. Andrew also reminded us that if the House of Lords became an elected body, the cost of running it would significantly increase. Interestingly, Andrew did not object to the presence of hereditary peers or religious representatives in the House of Lords, a point that has also sparked much debate amongst Conservatives.
Finally, Craig Rimmer, the Deputy Chairman of Parliament Street, argued the case for an entirely elected House of Lords. He emphasised the importance of directly elected representatives in a democracy and argued that the Conservative Party should, in consultation with Labour and the Lib Dems, seek to develop the reforms started under Blair. Rimmer asserted that although the constitution was radically altered under Blair, the Conservatives should now seek to progress from Blair’s reforms, as opposed to trying to revert back to a previous state.
The disagreements on the reform of the House of Lords seem to reflect the wider issues in modern Conservatism. Conservatives are staunchly defending their differing opinions on this issue because it goes to the heart of individual ideological beliefs. Whether one follows Andrew Taggart’s “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” perspective on Conservatism or Craig Rimmer’s argument that we should plough ahead with reforms in the name of democracy is entirely determined by one’s ideological stance. The only certainty seems to be a continued lack of consensus for the foreseeable future.