House of Lords Reform Bill — [2nd Allocated Day]

Part of Local Services (Planning) – in the House of Commons at 7:57 pm on 10th July 2012.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield 7:57 pm, 10th July 2012

I have been impressed by many of the speeches today and yesterday. I felt rather ashamed of the House last week—the debate on the banking crisis was not the greatest day for the Chamber—but these past two days have made me very proud to be a Member because the quality of the contributions has been rather fine, whether I have agreed or disagreed with them.

Mr Leigh—he and I served as Chairmen of Select Committees on the Liaison Committee and know each other well—said that he was a Conservative and that people would not expect him not to be one. I came into politics as a radical, and hon. Members would expect me to continue as one. I have therefore been worried about my choices for this evening. I ran on the Labour manifesto, which contained a commitment to reform of the House of Lords. Like most hon. Members, I do not like voting against my party, but the fact is that the more I contemplated the situation today, the more I convinced myself—this happened quite early in the debate—that the House of Lords reform pledge in the Labour manifesto would not have resulted in this Bill. I am under no obligation tonight, then, to vote for a piece of legislation that no Labour Government, had we won the last election, would have brought before the House. So I shall not be voting for Second Reading.

Being a radical, I believe that the Liberal Democrats must be given a lot of recognition and admiration. Every way we look, political culture in our country is in a pretty bad way. In 1950, 85% of people were engaged in politics, but now that figure is down to 65%, and 6 million people do not even bother to register. Even in this time of crisis, with the economic challenges creating a serious situation for the people whom we represent, very few people vote in local elections. In general elections, too, there have been very low levels of participation.

Furthermore, membership of political parties is at an all-time low, as Members on both sides know. Labour and the Conservatives have the same miserable membership figures—there is not much between us—and the numbers of active members in our constituencies are not what they used to be. The Liberal Democrats are also struggling. Our political culture is in crisis, yet nothing in the Bill will radically tackle the malaise in our country and political system. In fact, the Bill takes our minds off the worrying aspects of our political system. We have to do something. Being old-fashioned, I would have liked either a constitutional commission or—dare I dig up this idea—a royal commission, the latter being much favoured by former Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

We ought to give the Liberal Democrats credit, however, for recognising the malaise and coming up with a couple of answers. The first was proportional representation, although they were defeated on that and I did not think it the quick fix, or even the difficult fix, they thought. They have also come up with Lords reform. I think they do it with the best of motives.