Tuesday 6 April 2010

Tories rejected Straw compromise on AV and hereditaries

Polling has shown that the public are extremely sceptical about David Cameron's claim that he would offer "a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power", not least because there are almost no commitments as to what this might mean.

A suggestion that the political "change" agenda might be more on the tortoise-speed setting comes tonight as Jack Straw has written to his shadow Dominic Grieve to put on record the compromises offered by the government to accomodate Tory concerns over the Alternative Vote referendum and the abolition of the mechanism which would keep topping up the number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords.

Both measures passed the Commons which large majorities - and Straw suggests he took every step to accomodate detailed Tory concerns over the proposals, but to no avail.

On the Alternative vote, the Tories rejected the opportunity to allow the measure to pass, even if a sunset clause was included so that it would fall if the Tories had an anti-referendum majority in the next Parliament:

To accommodate, honourably, both positions, I offered an amendment to introduce a sunset clause by which the Alternative Vote provisions would not come into effect unless approved by both Houses within 6 months of Royal Assent, by affirmative order.

This would have had the effect that, in the event of your party forming a Government, they would have to take no action whatever to allow the AV provisions to fall. On the other hand, if we formed the next Government, the provisions could straightforwardly be activated.

On the House of Lords, the extremely modest proposal was to no longer hold by-elections to replace herederaries on their death, Straw offered to ensure the Conservative share of the Upper House would not be reduced, including making the current heredetaries life peers.

As I understand it, your key concern in relation to the clauses on hereditary peers has been that removal of the by-elections should not be used gratuitously as a means of reducing Conservative representation in the House of Lords. This has never been my intention, as I have repeatedly made clear. But, to guard against this happening, we were ready to move amendments so that all existing hereditary peers would also be made life peers, and where a vacancy arose by the death of an existing elected hereditary, the Prime Minister would be under an obligation to make a nomination to Her Majesty of a new life peer for the relevant party or group.

The role of hereditary peers in our legislature looks as though it would survive his conception of radical and sweeping democratic reform.

Indeed, David Cameron has described Lords reform as a third term issue - on the 'first term, second term, sometime, never' scale of priorities.

Clearly it would be unfair to suggest that this means that progressive Conservatism does not believes in radical democratic reform. It is simply that, given that it is only 99 years since the 1911 Parliament Act, they would also highlight the possible dangers of reforming in haste. If we've waited a century for proper Lords reform, why not wait another?

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