Leaders: Delay in Lords reform is betrayal of electorate
THE 1911 Parliament Act, which removed the power of the Lords to veto Budgets passed by the elected Commons, promised emphatically: “It is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis.”
A century later, we are still waiting for an elected upper chamber. Now it seems we will have to wait even longer.
Last month, 91 Tory rebels voted down Lords reform. Some wanted to thumb their noses at their Lib Dem coalition partners. Others were opposed to spending parliamentary time on constitutional matters while the economy is in recession. Labour, for opportunist reasons – it actually supports Lords reform – sided with the Tory rebels. After licking his wounds, it appears the Prime Minister has decided not revisit the issue.
But reforming the Lords matters, even during a recession. A revising chamber is a vital element of democracy. Over the past two decades, on issues concerning everything from human rights to welfare reform, the Lords has forced the Commons to reconsider hasty, ill-conceived or partisan legislation. Without a second chamber, we are at the mercy of what Lord Hailsham accurately christened an “elected dictatorship”.
Some will argue that the Lords has been reformed enough. It is no longer a hereditary club. Removing the last few hereditary members and giving elderly members a statutory retirement age could finish the job without a fuss. So why waste time on further legislation, or risk future turf fights between the Commons and an elected upper chamber?
The answer is that an appointed Lords always risks corruption by those who appoint its members. It is just as wrong in 2012, as it was in 1911, to have an appointed chamber which, when the political chips are down, lacks democratic authority. Second chambers are commonplace and have proven no threat to parliamentary government. If they occasionally result in political deadlock, that is the will of the people – often for good reason.
The argument that reform should wait till the economy recovers ignores the fact that all three main political parties support an elected Lords and said so in their 2010 manifestos.
Lords reform could have proceeded last month, with minimum fuss, had Labour voted for it instead of trying to embarrass David Cameron. Equally, Mr Cameron has backed down in front of the Tory rebels, which will only breed more rebellion. How long before emboldened Tory malcontents force a referendum on EU membership?
The current undemocratic constitution of the House of Lords is not fit for purpose. Reform has been talked about for a century. Not to reform now would be a betrayal of the electorate.
Courageous Kath worthy of gold
WELL done Kath Grainger for taking Olympic gold in the women’s double sculls. Congratulations also for showing heroic perseverance after winning silver in Sydney, Athens and Beijing – the first female British athlete in any sport to gain medals in three consecutive Games. Most of us would have left it at that, or at least eased back, especially as the 35-year-old Scot can also count six world titles to her name.
Who would have criticised Kath if, with such a record already, she had called it a day and got on with her legal doctorate. Instead, she showed the ambition and determination that marks a world-class athlete.
In victory, Kath Grainger also proved that ambition is not the same thing as selfishness. She immediately dubbed her gold medal “the people’s medal”, dedicating it to everyone who had supported her along the way. They include her rowing partner, Anna Watkins, who also deserves praise.
Scotland’s prowess in rowing is not limited to Kath. Heather Stanning, from Lossiemouth, won Britain’s first gold of the London Olympics on Wednesday, with Helen Glover in the coxless pairs. With golds coming thick and fast, it is worth remembering that Heather’s triumph was actually the first ever British gold in women’s rowing.
How can we top this? There are high hopes for the next generation of Scottish female rowers, including Iona Riley from Aberdeen. She is still only 20 and should be reaching her peak by the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
On the other hand, why shouldn’t Kath Grainger just go for another gold?
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West