“I often think it’s comical How Nature always does contrive – That ev’ry boy and ev’ry gal That’s born into the world alive, Is either a little Liberal, Or else a little Conservative!”
Or so says Private Willis in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe. And now of course, our current Government comes in those two very (in)distinctive flavours.
The point of which, is that the Liberal Conservative Coalition are proposing that the House of Lords be reformed so that all of its members (provisions on “grandfathering” apart!) are directly elected by proportional representation. Meanwhile, electoral reform for the Commons, if it happens at all, will be on the Additional Vote system – which isn’t proportional at all (although it should lead to a handful of extra Lib Dem MPs – largely at the expense of the Tories [every cloud …]).
Current legislative arrangements mean that the House of Lords is restricted to an amending and delaying role, with the Commons able to force through legislation against the will of the Lords, using the Parliament Acts. For example, the War Crimes Act 1991, Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Hunting Act 2004 would not have been law had the House of Lords had their way.
This is accepted as right and proper because the Commons is the elected body and the Lords is a collection of appointed worthies, together with some remaining hereditary peers and the Lords Spiritual (who sound like – but are not – a Gospel choir).
Now, what happens in the future, if legislation brought forward by the Government in the (first-past-the-post) Commons is opposed by a “wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.”?
In that circumstance, could the House of Lords not claim the moral high ground? Being more truly representative of the will of the electorate? Having a stronger democratic mandate? Use of the Parliament Acts in such circumstances would trigger a constitutional crisis would it not?
The coalition document is silent on such matters, stating only that a committee will bring forward proposals. To my mind, such proposals must include amendment of the Parliament Acts, to avoid such difficulties arising (or arise they surely will).