Reforming the house

Fresh from her nomination in the Green Party internal elections, Green Party House of Lords nominee Molly Scott Cato outlines her plans should she be asked to enter Parliament’s second chamber, including submitting a proposal for a fully elected second chamber, wider constitutional reform and advancing Green policies.

Molly Scott Cato MEP
Molly Scott Cato MEP
Molly Scott Cato

I am so delighted to have received the support from party members and to have been chosen to head the list of future Green peers. While it always feels rather ambivalent seeking power in the unelected house, when we know how our awful electoral system deprives us of power in the elected house, I share Natalie Bennett’s view that the Lords are actually putting up much stronger resistance to this awful government than the Commons.

An excellent example was the Agriculture Bill, where Jenny Jones (Baroness Jones of Moulescoomb to give her official title) managed to work with peers from other parties to ensure the passage of amendments to prevent poor-quality, cheap food from the US flooding our markets and that future farming policy needs to respect the climate emergency. We wait to see what the government will make of those amendments when the bill goes back to the Commons but it is a clear demonstration of the difference just two Green peers can make.

Having made it a priority to defend democracy and the rule of law it does feel somewhat strange to be relying on petitioning King Boris for the power I believe is ours by right. And I will be delighted to maintain the Green tradition of making it a priority to introduce a proposal to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a fully elected chamber. I think the party is right in seeking this route to power for our vital and urgent politics, even if it can feel uncomfortable at times.

My own proposal would be for a 300-member chamber elected by thirds. 100 members would come from the regions, elected by D’Hondt PR as was used for European Elections. This would mean a high but not impossible threshold but would ensure that the present metropolitan bias of the Lords would be redressed. The second 100 would be elected by a national PR list, ensuring representation for smaller parties. More controversially, I would propose electing the final third of 100 peers via an electoral college made up of experienced politicians: these would be the expert peers who add so much to our legislative process.

As for my own priorities, constitutional reform would be one, as it has been for Natalie Bennett (Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle), not just to ensure that we have a fair voting system and democratic parliament but also that we have a written constitution to prevent unscrupulous politicians playing fast and loose with power. Behind all the crises we are facing lies a political crisis and a crisis of democracy and this needs to be addressed urgently.

Our top political priority is still the climate emergency and we should link that with the post-Covid sense of solidarity and with the need to Build Back Better. With Covid recovery investment we have an opportunity to achieve the triple win of creating thousands of jobs across the country, reducing CO2 emissions, and providing warmer homes and better, more accessible public transport and active travel options.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I will have much to say about the economy which I always think should be a central message for Greens. This is not just about a Green New Deal but how to fund it, taxing the wealthy and preventing tax avoidance, and our radical proposals like Universal Basic Income. As Labour moves to the centre ground there is a real opportunity for us to win members and voters by inhabiting this more radical ground.

I’m well aware that the Tories throw the Greens the bone of a peerage to sweeten other pills they want the public to swallow and with this government I am not holding my breath. But I am ready to serve and excited for when the chance does come.

Molly Scott Cato is a former MEP and is currently the Green Party’s Finance and Brexit spokesperson.