George Eustice: Lords reform isn't priority for voters

One of the challenges facing the Prime Minister is how to keep the Government focused on the big issues that matter to the public, while also showing interest in the small issues that matter to our coalition partners.

George Eustice: Lords reform isn't priority for voters
George Eustice: Lords reform isn't priority for voters

Recently, he has been attempting to get the Government back on the front foot by building a consistent agenda on major themes such as growth and welfare reform, but he is constantly pulled back to arcane arguments about reforming the House of Lords.

Most Conservatives would support some reform of the House of Lords, but there is great resistance to a directly elected upper chamber. The House of Lords is there to act as a revising body. The relationship between it and the House of Commons should be akin to that between a father and son or a chairman and chief executive. It should look different because it has a different role. You need a broad range of experience and you need independence. You don't want it to become a replica of the House of Commons, with career politicians who failed to get selected as MPs then turning up in the Lords under a voting system that mimics that used in the European Parliament.

There are lots of possible reforms that stop short of direct elections. You could cut the number of Lords and have them for fixed terms of 15 years. You could make the appointments more proportionate by linking numbers allocated to each party to votes cast in general elections. You could remove the patronage from the appointments process by using an electoral college system to select new members. We could reform the Lords while making sure it remained worth keeping.

From a comms point of view, the Government is right to avoid a referendum on this issue. Early on in this Parliament, it tested the public's patience by subjecting it to a referendum on AV that no-one wanted. To subject the public to another referendum on something it doesn't care about this late in the Parliament would not go down well. But leaving a referendum out of the equation creates a big question mark over whether it can get its Bill through.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron.

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