Conservative MPs urged not to repeat the mistakes of the past and block reform
Leading democratic reform group Unlock Democracy has written to all Conservative MPs today to ask them to support Conservative Party 2001, 2005 and 2010 manifesto commitments and back the House of Lords Reform Bill, expected to be published later this week.
The letter points out the numerous times in which Conservative governments have historically been at the forefront of reform, from the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act and 1867 Second Reform Act through to the 1818 and 1928 Representation of the People Acts which gave women the right to vote. On each occasion, the government of the day faced entrenched backbench opposition.
The Director of Unlock Democracy Peter Facey wrote:
“Unlock Democracy recognise for some Conservative MPs, this Bill represents a constitutional change too far. However, we also appreciate that there is a silent majority within the party, particularly amongst those newer MPs to Westminster, who recognise that it is increasingly indefensible to have unelected and unaccountable Peers, appointed for life to a legislative body, on the basis of party patronage, for which they can claim hundreds of pounds a day just for turning up.”
Commenting on the Labour Party’s apparent decision to join the rebels, Peter Facey added:
“Labour’s record in reforming the House of Lords in government was one of repeated missed opportunities. The coalition government’s proposals are almost identical to the ones brought forward by Jack Straw. Failing to back these proposals now may buy them some narrow partisan advantage but will only damage their reputation in the eyes of most voters, who overwhelmingly back this reform. It is time for Ed Miliband to prove he has the statesmanlike qualities he will need were he ever to become Prime Minister.”
Text of letter sent to Conservative MPs:
“We would like to see a stronger House of Lords in the future, including a substantial elected element”
Conservative Party Manifesto 2001
“...the way we are governed has become less accountable, more complex and, ultimately, less democratic....proper reform of the House of Lords has been repeatedly promised but never delivered”.
Conservative Party Manifesto 2005
“We will work to build a consensus for a mainly elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords...”
Conservative Party Manifesto 2010
Monday 25 June 2012
As you know the House of Lords Reform Bill is due to go before Parliament shortly. I urge you to support the Government and vote for this crucial piece of legislation, including the timetable motion. I look forward to your confirmation as such by reply.
Unlock Democracy recognise for some Conservative MPs, this Bill represents a constitutional change too far. However, we also appreciate that there is a silent majority within the party, particularly amongst those newer MPs to Westminster, who recognise that it is increasingly indefensible to have unelected and unaccountable Peers, appointed for life to a legislative body, on the basis of party patronage, for which they can claim hundreds of pounds a day just for turning up.
The Conservative Party in Government has been pushing quite a radical democratic reform agenda such as introducing elections for Police Commissioners, referendums on elected mayors and powers of recall. Not to vote for this Bill would fly in the face of this agenda. It would also be against previous party policy dating back to 2001 under William Hague. At the last election you stood on a platform of taking party politics out of this issue to build a consensus for reform. You cannot do that if you are thinking of voting against these reforms!
The Conservative Party has a proud tradition of enacting radical reforming pieces of constitutional legislation in the face of outdated opposition. It was a Conservative Government for example that passed the 1867 Second Reform Act, and the Representation of the People Act in 1918. Your parliamentary colleague Minister of State, Mark Harper, has rightly received widespread praise for the hard work he has put into this Bill, as he tries to continue the long line of Conservative inspired constitutional reforms that were all seen by some as contentious at the time, but with the hindsight can be seen as sensible reforms. See overleaf for more examples.
Last month, Unlock Democracy held a parliamentary pro Lords Reform meeting with your parliamentary colleagues Laura Sandys, Martin Vickers and John Stephenson in Committee Room 10. We had well over 100 members of the public in attendance. These numbers were no surprise, especially remembering that when the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill consulted on how to reform the Lords in 2011, over 4000 people responded, with the vast majority in favour of reform. I enclose a general briefing we did on the subject for that event. We will be publishing a comprehensive Bill summary in due course.
I trust that this letter has given you food for thought. If you have a query or would like to arrange a meeting with us on this Bill or any democratic reform issue please do not hesitate to contact us.
I look forward to your reply and confirmation by reply that you do intend to vote with the Government in favour of this Bill and the timetable motion.
Director, Unlock Democracy
P.S. When in Government (Majority, Minority or Coalition) Conservatives passed all of the following Acts. Each was bitterly opposed by a vocal minority, who were later shown to be on the wrong side of public opinion.
- The 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act:
- The 1876 The Appellate Jurisdiction Act - An Act which created the Law Lords.
- The 1888 Local Government Act: - An Act which established county councils and county borough councils in England and Wales.
- The 1918 Representation of the People Act – An act which enfranchised 14 million people by lifting property qualifications and which also gave women 30 or above right to vote.
- The 1928 Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act - An act which reduced the age at women can vote to 21.
- The 1985 Representation of the People Act - An Act which extended franchise to overseas voters.
P.P.S. The 1945 Salisbury Convention, the agreement whereby essentially, if the idea was included in a Party's election manifesto, the House of Lords would resolve to eventually let the Bill pass, was the brainchild of the then Leader of the Conservative Opposition in the Lords, Lord Salisbury.