Though I’m pessimistic that this will pass the House of Commons, let alone the House of Lords who will naturally be opposed to any shake up, the current plans to reform the upper chamber, though sketchy and vague at present, seem to me to be an ideal way to pilot proportional representation.
A joint committee of 13 MPs and 13 peers to be set up in the next few months will consider plans for members of the new legislature to be elected for 15-year terms under the single transferable vote system.
Under the government’s plans, members would be elected on a staged basis – a third every five years – with the first elections for the new chamber to take place in 2015 – on the same day as the next general election.
By introducing an advanced form of PR (AV was really the least worst option) to vote in elections which have never been held before, thus requiring no messy, difficult switch, and for the subordinate House of Parliament, would be more likely to gain public support for the system. The other positive is that while backbenchers on both sides are making rather a lot of noise, this time the Tories and Lib Dems are in agreement that the House of Lords should be at least partly elected, so we are also likely to be spared the bitter infighting which marred the AV campaign.
The arguments for reform vastly outnumber the ones against. We are the only Western democracy which has an unelected chamber of government. Given the fact the vast majority of the Lords are there not on merit but by various Prime Ministers rewarding cronies and seeking to stack the Lords in their party’s favour, the House of Lords as it is laughs in the face of democratic and meritocratic principles. Furthermore ,while I definitely would not want the Lords to become a replica of the US Senate – where the members can literally block everything passed by the House – neither am I comfortable with the current system in which the Lords are almost powerless to prevent laws eventually being passed, thanks to the Parliament Act. We need, to use the American description of its system of government, checks and balances. It would be great if Britain were to find a way to stake out a middle ground, and planning reform of the Lords provides us with a great opportunity to do so.