The attitude of former Liberal Party leader David Steel to Nick Clegg’s House of Lords reform proposals has been lukewarm at best. Although the party he headed up repeatedly called for a democratic upper house, Steel has not been supporting Nick Clegg’s attempt to turn those often made demands into policy. He even signed a cross-party letter against the proposals that was published the day of Clegg’s formal announcement.
Instead, Steel has been pursuing a different, much more modest, line – arguing that some modest reforms can be secured and they should be banked immediately as radical reform will take a long time and may well fail. The problem with Steel’s approach was starkly illustrated when his own limited Lords reform bill went off the rails during the week on what should be the least contentious of issues – finally removing the remaining hereditaries:
The Bill put forward by former Liberal leader David Steel, which would have prevented any new hereditary peers coming into the Lords, had gathered broad support. But a flurry of amendments forced the Bill’s sponsors to drop the key clause on the hereditary principle.
There are far too many peers who are not keen on even modest reform (let alone that radical modern idea of democracy and elections). Pre-emptive concession and ultra-moderation does not win them over.
Yet if you are going to have to force reform past the unelected hold-outs for their own special privileges, then it might as well be proper, comprehensive reform. The choice is no reform or major reform.
If the failure of Steel’s measure on hereditaries at least persuades people such as himself that there is no way of side-stepping that choice, then it will have achieved something worthwhile.