The Coalition Government’s attempt to push through controversial reform of the House of Lords was “barmy and daft”, according to an ennobled Midland industrialist.
Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, head of Warwick Manufacturing Group, said that because of its constitutional significance, the Lords should never have been part of the wider deal stitched together by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats when they agreed to share power.
Lord Bhattacharyya, a member of the Upper House since 2004, said none of the three main political parties were fully happy with the proposed changes and the whole thing had ended up as a “big charade”.
Prime Minister David Cameron eventually pulled the plug after 90-plus Tory rebels refused to toe the party line.
“Given all the problems facing the economy, which is what our leaders should be concentrating on, this was a huge waste of time,” said Lord Bhattacharyya.
And, while accepting that it was never going to be the last word, sure to ignite again at some stage, he urged a moratorium for the foreseeable future.
He went on: “To try and have a second elected chamber competing with the main one, the Commons, was doomed from the beginning.”
Had it somehow gone through then many able members would not have stood, unwilling to put themselves through such a public examination. That would probably have applied to many in the professional world and also a considerable number of politicians who crossed into the Lords from the Commons, either retiring or through losing their seats. “They have trod that road – why would they want to do so again?”
Lord Bhattacharyya implied that politicians could be two-faced in their attitude. “When in the Commons there are those who talk about the Lords being a class-ridden nuisance – but when they are offered elevation frequently they are the first to accept it.”
The Labour peer highlighted how his party, with a history of hostility to the Lords, had pushed through important reforms while in office – for example, cutting the number of hereditary peers to less then 100. There were still elements needing addressing, he accepted.
At over 800 in number, there were probably too many peers. The danger was that the House became unwieldy, crowded and debates went on too long.
There was the matter of longevity – there was arguably a case for a retirement age to be set, albeit peers well into their eighties continued to make telling contributions.
And, while most Lords did their duty, there was an attendance issue in some cases. But he insisted that peers did a good job in their primary role of scrutinising Bills coming through from the Commons. Most Bills, he suggested, were better for the attention they got in the Lords.
Much of that was down to the expertise and experience of peers. “I continue to be amazed by the quality of the people and the knowledge they have,” said Lord Bhattacharyya.
“To have thrown all that away was daft from the beginning. Completely barmy. By and large the Lords operates well. Most Lords do contribute”
He added: “We are talking about centuries of tradition which has proved its worth. You have all these people who know so much about things like the law, health, education and much more. I have travelled all over and I have not seen a better system. For the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to trivialise this in a ‘we’ll support reform of the Lords if you support boundary changes’ shows the level to which the debate came down. It ended up purely political and there was no rationale to it. People accuse the Lords of being old fashioned and fuddy-duddy, but this does not impinge on the work that is done there. There is enormous respect around the world for the institution.
“There are always exceptions but seldom do you get anyone who is an idiot. My message is – leave us alone; it works.”