Plans to reform the House of Lords appear to have been abandoned in disarray. The BBC website reports that Deputy PM Nick Clegg has accused Conservatives of breaking the Coalition Agreement and, as a result, has decided that Lib Dem MPs cannot now support Conservative-backed changes to parliamentary boundaries. The BBC quotes him as saying that “The Conservative party is not honouring the commitment to Lords reform and, as a result, part of our contract has now been broken.” To make sure the Coalition Agreement remained “balanced”, the Lib Dems now wanted to delay proposals to reduce the size of the Commons from 650 to 600 MPs and to redraw parliamentary boundaries – thought likely to favour the Conservatives – until after the 2015 election.
Comment: So that looks like the end of Lords reform for the present Parliament at least. To which readers might say “So exactly what might that have to do with law & religion”? To which the answer is, “Rather more than you might think”.
First, if the immediate future for the Second Chamber is the status quo, then that means that the Lords Spiritual will continue at their present strength for the foreseeable future: the two Archbishops, the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester and the twenty-one senior diocesans. The House of Lords Reform Bill would have gradually reduced their total to twelve.
Secondly, the current makeup of the House of Lords is surprisingly helpful to charities generally – churches and religious charities included – because several peers have the kind of serious, heavyweight experience in the charity sector that is much less usual in the Commons. One obvious example is the current President of NCVO, Lord (Robin) Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, another is the Chairman of the Charities’ Property Association, Lord (Ewen) Cameron of Dillington, a third is RNIB Vice-President Lord (Colin) Low of Dalston. The result is that if a charity wishes to raise an issue of policy or legislation that might adversely affect it, it will often make an approach to a member of the House of Lords rather than to an MP. Whatever one may think about the politics and/or the constitutional propriety of the current set-up, so far as the voluntary sector is concerned the status quo has a certain amount to commend it.
So it appears that it’s not the end of the peer show. Or, at any rate, not just yet.