Sunday, October 22, 2006

Thoughts on House of Lords Reform

House of Lords reform seems to be back on the agenda at long last. Labour has indulged in many acts of constitutional vandalism since 1997 but none has been as bungled as their efforts to reform our Second Chamber. The trouble was that they embarked on the reform process without any idea at all what they wanted to end up with. If you start on a reform purely based on class hatred you're bound to come a cropper. Anyway, the past is the past and we are where we are.

Reforming the Lords is a tricky one for the Conservatives too. I have no doubt that the leadership wants to go down the road of 80-100% elected Peers - and they are quite right. How anyone can support a wholly or majority appointed second chamber in this day and age is quite beyond me. Those who do, tend to trot out the old line about the House of Commons being undermined by a powerful second chamber. Rubbish. If the House of Commons lacks confidence in its pre-eminence, it says a lot about the quality of the people in it.

The Conservative dilemma is the reaction of its existing Peers, who will have no truck with an elected second chamber. David Cameron should be strong and tell them how it's going to be. Frankly, he's got little to lose. The Tory old guard in the Lords will never approve of what he's trying to do anyway, so if he has to upset them, so be it.

One idea I've been toying with is whether to formally suggest to Ken Clarke's Democracy Task Force that one Peer/Senator should be elected per County/Metropolitan area, rather like they do in the USA. I haven't researched how many there are or what the populations split is, but it would link Peers to an area and probably avoid a huge predominance by one particular party. It would also have the added bonus of entrenching the country structure within our system of government.

But one thing I am very clear on is that whatever system is chosen, the Second Chamber must be either wholly or mostly elected. I am quite happy for it to retain an appointed/crossbench element but any appointed Peers should be able to speak but not vote. Voting should be reserved for those who have a democratic mandate.

UPDATE: Having read the Comments section, let me make clear that I wouldn't have started from this point. The House of Lords was doing its job as a revising chamber under the old system, and for that reason alone it was dangerous to tamper with it. If it wasn't broke, why fix it, apart from pure class hatred? But we're not there anymore. The reform process has begun and needs now to come to a conclusion.

59 comments:

Anonymous said...

if we go down the (wrong) route of an elected second chamber why not have one?

Johnny Norfolk said...

I read that the reformed Lords would cost twice as much to run.

All that needs to be done and they are messing about with this.

It should be opposed all the way.

steppenwolff said...

Yet the appointed Lords actually perform the work of scrutinising bills the Commons should do. If there is an elected system a whip system should not be introduced to allow peers to speak their mind as they do now.

BorisforPM said...

Iain, I have often been heard to say that you and Boris Johnson are the two people in the public eye who articulate something closest to what I would consider my own politics. On this, though, I am disappointed to discover that I must part company with you both. The HoL only has value precisely *because* it is unelected.

I posted a comment about this some time ago on CH:

"It is precisely because this is an *appointed* group of scrutineers that they are able to uphold ideals that may not be populist but which are right. Like the Justices of the Supreme Court of the US, their life-appointment safeguards their integrity; their career is not at risk if they do the unpopular "right thing." It is on this basis that they have been able to stop or at least curtail bad legislation on ID cards, authoritarian internment in the name of "anti-terror," etc, so spectacularly in the course of this last Parliament.

There is no problem of democracy here; if necessary, the supremacy of the Commons is legislatively protected by the Parliaments Act, and now enshrined in the common law since the HoL decision on the Hunting Bill [Jackson and ors -v- HMAG]. So the electoral will always can and will prevail under the current system.

The "elected dictator" that our office of Prime Minister is often termed to be can only become stronger when *all* of the legislature is governed by *elected* members of the party which s/he leads, whipped and directly answerable to him. At the moment, these people do not need to be politically subservient to the PM in order to safeguard their careers; under the elected proposal they will be.

The House of Lords has recently been our only defence thanks to cross-party action against the rabid authoritarianism of this government, while the supine lobby-fodder in the Commons could not afford the career costs of a principled disagreement. To replace the HoL with a worse version of the House of Commons, filled with slightly-less-powerful political careerists answerable to their party machine would be a gross mistake.

The fundamental ideal of increasing the stake that voters feel they have in their society and government is a virtuous and important one. But the ways to enact that are to make sure that our supreme elected House is taken seriously and not nonchalantly over-ridden by a cabal of the sofa as now; and to make electable more offices [police chiefs, maybe senior education officials] where that *is* appropriate.

But to push all our constitutional scrutineers a short way up the greasy electioneers' pole is a bad, bad idea. If we are Conservatives at all, then we *must* reject it."


It is fashionable to denigrate the "unelected Lords," but the work they have done for us as a chamber of scrutineers is first-rate. We shouldn't be so keen to jump on the bandwagon...

Shotgun said...

Absolute rubbish and you are missing the whole point on how and why the second chamber worked for so many years.

Any partisan loyalty previously, mostly, was transient. The Lords never relied on the HoL for their income, or the Commons or any party for their position, and therefore even while being associated to a party they were unbiased at their heart.

So you want a second chamber that relies on partisan cronyism? What is the point of the second chamber then?

If we go down the route of an elected second chamber then we should just scrap the whole thing because that would be better than having lords who rely on the likes of Bliar for their position.

Peers will never truly speak their minds or vote on conscience while they rely on political patronage to become peers, and it would be silly, in th ereal world, to suggest they would.

David Boothroyd said...

We have an elected chamber of Parliament. A second one is rather pointless. In a bicameral system, the second chamber is there to make up for deficiencies in the first: the first is good at representing public opinion, but not good at including experts. Our second chamber should be so designed as to include those people who are experts in their field: and you won't get them by elections.

Rog said...

Surely an elected second chamber would become a near mirror of the HoC.

Imagine the (even worse than has actually happened) crap that would have been foisted on us by this allegedly popular government, had that been the case.

TB and NuLab have totally changed my mind on this one: NO to an elected second chamber. Checks and balances required.

If you really want a new system, how about a national lottery type thingy, with a follow-up aptitude test instead?

Anonymous said...

I think that the old, unelected, chamber had strengths but that the time has come to move on.

The key (for me) to reform of the Lords is reform of the Commons. We cannot continue with such an unbalanced constitutional settlement as we currently have due to asymmetric devolution. I think that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should all have devolved governments with identical powers. Thus the Commons becomes an English Government chamber.

The Lords would then be a "federal chamber" deriving it's elected members from the whole of the UK, and having responsibility only for those powers not devolved (such as foreign affairs, defence, and so on).

Of course, this would be a completely new constitutional settlement and the political elite would probably fight it tooth and nail but I believe that it would have public confidence and that it would stand the test of time.

I expect that this position will be attacked as being the end of the United Kingdom, but I don't believe that this is so. A federal nation state is no less a nation because of it (ask America or Germany).

Ian Deans said...

The ancient Greek philosophers used to speak about the 'kyklos', the cycle of government: monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, and repeat. I feel that much of the reason Britain has been so stable over the centuries is because she is a mix of these forms of government. The people must absolutely be represented, but it seems foolish to throw away a tradition of stability to add a little more power to the people.

Anonymous said...

The HofL's has over the last few years done what the commons should have been doing, that is scrutinizing and highlighting bad laws! For this reason alone it must be allowed to continue to do its job.
As for a 2nd elected chamber, it will simple become a house of commons mark2 which the poor taxpayer will have to fund.

Anonymous said...

The only reform necessary is a name change. I think that House of Corrections ia more appropriate.

Benedict White said...

I have to say I also disagree Iain. There was nothing wrong with how the HOL worked in 1997, and there is not a lot wrong with it now, other than it is a bit easier to stuff.

The House of Lords job is to be a pain in the ar*e and if it isn't able to do that through political expediancy, party loyalty etc than it is pointless.

So I agree that this pointless act of constitutional vandalism needs to be stopped.

Also I find it bizarre that the BNP and CRE agree that Labour is going too far on the veil/Muslim bashing issue. See:

http://aconservatives.blogspot.com/2006/10/bnp-and-cre-agree-that-labour-is.html

Vlad the Impala said...

the Scotsman, which writes with a much higher level of consistency on the subject of English Devolution, raises the subject of devolution in the context of Lords Reform quite well in an article today. http://news.scotsman.com/opinion.cfm?id=1566332006 - unfortunately you have to subscribe to read the opinion piece, although elsewhere it discusses the advocacy of greater Engllish parliamentary democracy by one of the founders of contemporary Scottish devolution. The Scotsman's core point is that Lords reform should be the starting point for creating a new political entity better reflective of how power is being reshaped and shared in modern Britain. With pro-independence within strong sighting distance of victory in Scotland in May, this may well unseat not only Jack Straw's plans for the Lords, but the way we think about The Commons as well.

garypowell said...

Could not agree more with the above posts. I dont think Iain has given this enough thought.

One alternative would be this

1 New lords would be elected by the then exsisting members of the House of Commons.

2 Election to the Lords would be for life only.

3 Elections held every 7 years.

4 Places in the lords would be finite and would only come up when the peer is dead or retired for good.

5 Nominations for election to the House of Lords would be made by the PM and the leaders of the opposition parties reletive to their own number of MPs.

6 A commision comprising of exsisting lords would be elected by all members of the HOL.

7 This commision to have the power to scrutinise nominees on the basis of specific profesional experience on a widely based list of subjects.

8 This commision would have the power to veto nominees who do not have sufficient experience or knowledge of their specific subject business or industry. Or are even suspected of taking any party whipp.

9 This commision would have power to suspend any member who did not make at least some contribution to relevant debates and vote on the members specific subject or subjects.

10 An minimum age requirement of over 55 to be applied to all prospective members.

11 Anyone found selling the right to be nominated to be a member of the House of Lords to be publicly hung drawn and quartered. However much their chimpy grim might fool the old bill and a few judges that they themselves appointed.

12 Failing most of this just scrap the whole dam thing.

This government has been conducting its bussiness like a starlinist bunch of ESN despotic schoolboys and got elected 3 times doing it. So it seems the people of Britain dont care about the future of this places democracy anymore anyway?

wonkotsane said...

Glad to see other people saying what I've been saying for ages - an elected House of Lords would be worse for democracy. The upper house doesn't need to be elected to be accountable. The HoL should be put back to how it was before Labour butchered it and the Parliament Act amended so that instead of the Commons being able to steamroller over the Lords in the event of a dispute, a binding public referendum should be held. Sure, referenda will cost money but the financial cost of a half-elected/half-appointed HoL is almost 4 times the cost of the current system which, in turn, is more expensive than the old system. The cost to democracy is immeasurable.

UK Daily Pundit said...

I don't care what they do but if Billy Bragg ends up in there I'm emigrating.

David Boothroyd said...

There was something fundamentally wrong with the HL before 1999: it was fundamentally skewed towards the Conservatives. Barmy Conservative proposals got through on the party loyalty vote, whereas minor quibbles with Labour proposals were turned into major constitutional fights.

Anonymous said...

Recently the House of Lords seems to have been slightly more representative than the Commons.
Elect them all I say.

Shotgun said...

UK Daily Pundit said...

I don't care what they do but if Billy Bragg ends up in there I'm emigrating.


If Bragg ends up in there, that talentless commie, refuses-to-soldier yellow backed fucker. I will start a campaign designed to have him removed, starting with a website called www.braggisatwat.com.

Odious fucker.

Jefferson said...

Does anyone actually think an appointed or even half-appointed second chamber is appropriate in this day and age? I agree with you Iain (although would have opened this pandora's box in the first place!) and like your idea about linking Lords representation to the regions, similar to the Senate in the USA. Can we change the name too? House of Lords sounds like we still live in feudal times! And whilst we're at it, what about the House of Commons? Needs a bit of work as well doesn't it? Why not go the whole hog and have a proper separation of powers?

Antony said...

We need a consistent package of parliamentary reform from Cameron. How about:

1. A reduction in the number of MPs, not a large one but say around 100 or so.

2. Genuine equality for MPs to bring Scotland, Wales and NI in line with England.

3. Some kind of reform of the Whip system

4. It has now to be an elected 2nd chamber. I like the idea of (senator style) maybe one or two representatives for each county based upon local govt boundaries. Elected every 7 years and maybe even (gulp) with a PR top up part to it.

A great post Iain.

Chuck Unsworth said...

What evidence is there that an elected house is any better at governance than an appointed or hereditary body?

The elected Government - elected by an actual minority - of the last nine years or so has shown itself to be monumentally incompetent. Are we really in the business of compounding those failures by electing a second house which will merely mirror the lower chamber? If so, one might wonder why. Is this a means of providing a stipend for one's supporters?

Surely the great virtue of the mixed bag of peers is that they have been largely independent, despite some nominal divisions along party lines? It is precisely the testing process of the Lords which ensures some balance, rationale and commonsense. In the end the Commons can and does over-rule the Lords anyway.

All this is being done on the basis that somehow Government business is being destroyed, or at the least delayed, by a bunch of wealthy and recalcitrant old buffers. What utter nonsense. This move should be seen for what it is, and that is a scheme to eliminate any means of opposition or scrutiny.

This Government has spent vast amounts of its time and our money on proscription of virtually everything. That huge undertaking has done almost nothing to genuinely benefit the electorate, although it's clear that many of the favoured are recipients of huge largesse and - dare one mention - honours.

The Government has failed to put up a single decent intellectual justification of its proposals. It has entirely relied on visceral, antiquated and unjust class divisions to support its position. Why does a Labour Government seek so energetically to repeatedly raise the matter of social class? Does it not accept that social class now is frequently considered to be a matter of personal wealth rather than breeding? The belief that the House of Lords is stuffed full of millionaires is rubbish - with the exception of those who have coughed up the odd million for their titles, of course.

That is no basis for change. The Upper House has done well over centuries to moderate the extremism and occasional downright stupidity emanating from the House of Commons. It should be allowed to continue unchallenged by those who seek permanent constitutional change in order to further their short-term - and entirely personal - political aims.

newmania said...

"If the House of Commons lacks confidence in its pre-eminence, it says a lot about the quality of the people in it."

This is a bit glib isn`t it and I somewhat concerned about the idea of yet another shadowy representational body. We already have far to many votes which have excatly opposite effect from increasing democracy .In the case of the regional assemblies that was precisely the intention . Euro votes , probably no less.

Take a mental tour of Africa and Asia and you will see how little votes alone have to do with democratic accountability. I see no place whatsoever for an elected House of lords which will once more have the effect of seperating people form power . Power will be even more firmly in the cluthches of a small self serving elite and we are far far to far down this road already.

( Thanks for link )

Boristhespider said...

I say elect the HoL, but eliminate party politics within it. No whip, no party appointees. Each and every candidate would have to convince the local electorate to vote for him or her purely on the basis of their experience, intelligence and gravitas, rather than solely on the basis of party allegiance. The HoL could then truly be representative of the electorate, in a way that the HoC will never be. Or have I just been watching too much Mrs Pritchard?

Anonymous said...

I disagree with having an elected House of Lords. Iain says that if the HoC is undermined by an elected full-time Lords then it's effectively tough luck on the Commons. That's not really the point. It's about whether we as a country want to try out a new system of legislative logjam. And as for the quality of any elected 'Members of the Lords' I suspect they'll be even lower than MPs.

It is a difficult balance to strike between having a second chamber checking the first, while avoiding logjam. Somehow we have stumbled onto the right balance now. Why risk wrecking it? I don't see much democratic about having third-raters elected on a 30% turnout (would it be this high?) according to gender and ethnicity quotas.

The Lords has a special role in scrutinising legislation affecting our constitution and our civil liberties. This is what it does. An elected one is more likely to bow to tabloid demagoguery on issues such as 90 days detention, while also engaging in more partisan opposition to a government's manifesto commitments.

Editor said...

If we are going to do down the elected line I think we should look at the election of Lords to regional systems.

I have always thought that we could do the USA system of maybe 2 Lords per county of the country. With cities obviously having a slightly different representation dependent on population.

However I see no need to change the name. We are a country of great history and I certainly do not feel cheated or a lesser humanbeing because some people have the right to call themselves a Lord. Lets embrace our heritage for once rather than racing to destroy any element of historic character we have left.

But we should make sure any reform makes the second chamber different to the Commons. We should be enshrining that the Lords is the House of experienced members, religious representatives etc.

CityUnslicker said...

The paper released to the Times is a disgrace in that it does not start with a review of the current government strucutre.

(As I have said on my blog)
Why should the Lords only be reformed within the current framework? Where is the role of the EU parliament vis a vis our own governments? What of the West Lothian Question? What about the consequences for the legal structure of the UK Justice System?

I don't think the Lords should be elected either, then we have no balance of power in the system.

The whole approach needs to be re-thought from scratch; half-arsed reform will not do now that we have reached this point.

CampbellStephen said...

It has always struck me that a wholly appointed chamber will be far more independent.Its just democratically unacceptable.

Once the peer is in the Chamber they owe nobody anything. The elected peers will be endlessly looking over their shoulders at the party machine and be actually much less challenging. We see that week in week out and have done for the last 25 years.

Not very democratic but true

So for me it has to have some appointed peers. The main problem with Straw's proposal is that they will be 100% "working peers". This will eliminate a lot of talent.

Oh and for some of us the getting rid of the automatic Tory majority in the Lords is one of the governement's finest achievements. I notice you guys never went on about it as an issue when it was blatantly rigged in your favour.

Lee Rotherham said...

Since someone has brought in the Greeks, it may be worth recalling that Aristotlean form of durable government compounded aristocracy, monarchy and democracy. Oh look, that's what we have.

I have never met an hereditary who has been anything other than apologetic of his position and seeing it as a public duty to be fulfilled for the benefit of others. Queen Mathilda's reign it ain't.

Whacking the House of Lords seems to be the in thing at the moment in the Conservative Party. I have seen many faults - one example being the ridiculous retreat by Cranborne during the Nice debate on a key amendment purely because it thought to be one amendment numerically too far.

However, the situation will only get far worse as we either tinker with the system or dump constitutional stability in order to expunge the sins of the dominant party of the Commons.

A reshaped House of Lords will bring constitutional uncertainty; introduce party patronage to the Lords to a degree it hasn't seen since the Seven Years War; reduce the role of the Commons (as more Cabinet members and even ultimately Prime Ministers could come from the Upper House - no more Lord Curzon not standing for the post); remove swathes of intelligent legislators who shine as professionally competent in the fields they debate; cost a packet (a busy backbench peer I once estimated costs a tenth of his green bench colleague); create a subsequent sense of public disrespect for the Upper House; undermine the position of the hereditary monarchy; reduce the number of independently minded legislators; jam the place full of lobby wonks and representatives of politically correct causes ... I pause merely for breath.

If you want to fix the system, look again at the whips system in the Lords; foster the role of the cross benches; and shake up the system of honours that includes the designation of Life Peers - a task for a Commission involving Highgrove, perhaps, identifying the unquestionably commendable and great, rather than the politically bought and the businessman buyers.

cynic said...

First, we mustn't have more elections than we do already. It's hard enough getting people to the polls for anything other than a general election these days and a whole different cycle for the upper house would be expensive, chaotic, and would get minimal turnout.

Second, whipping and party loyalty works because of the prospect of re-election so enforce a one-term-only policy for the chamber. I think that people would quickly find their independence when they realise they have nothing to try and hang on to.

To make this work, and so that we wouldn't lose talented legislators after a short spell, the terms for each member should be long.

So we have:
- A limited number of regional members elected on a transferable vote system (say, 50-100 total)
- A single term of 8-14 years (i.e. in most situations two general election cycles, to end whenever there is a general election in that period), with elections to be held at the same time as a general election
- Splitting off the role of the law lords who should be wholly separate from a political, elected chamber.

It would also be good to remove some of the pointless formal split between the chambers, for example:
- Have the PM attend the upper house for questions on a regular basis
- Have joint Commons/Senate (?) committees, weighted towards the Commons

Little Black Sambo said...

Antony: "It has now to be an elected 2nd chamber." Now we know.
Did you READ the previous comments? Aren't there arguments that need answering.

Neil Craig said...

The main argument in favour of a second chamber seems to be that we have always had one.

For it to have a point it has to be built on a seriously different basis from the Commons. The original idea was it was the House of the Lords but this would not be consistent with our democratic age.

If elected by PR it would inevitably become more representative than & thus more popularvthan the Commons.

It could be appointed with lifetime tenure thereby making it less effected by the vagaries of fashion (if the role of the Lords is to provide negative feedback this could be useful) but I forsee problems,

I would abolish it & replace it with a constitutional court & a lot of constitutional limits on government like the US amendments.

In any case this should be done by something like a Speakers conference - it should definitely not be a party political football.

The Druid said...

I have expressed my views on this subject via the letters page in The Times and other places so I thought for once I would let others express their views first.

IMHO as a nation you can only approach such matters via principle, national consensus and simplicity

Consensus

To take consensus first. As the views expressed here indicate there are a whole range of opinions and these need to be taken into a/c. Parliament is the forum of the nation. Some form of elected constitutional convention is needed. NOT another "Mate of Tony" Commission or Royal Commission. Or a deal by politicians from the Commons that entrenches their powers. I'd like to see a referendum on what ever the Convention produces. We the people should choose how our constitution is framed. Not our servants.

Principle

First, the people are politically sovereign. Parliament should be elected to represent that sovereignty. The H of C is the house of government. First past the post provides stable govt. But Parliament as a whole should be representative. So the upper house should be elected by PR. To preserve the independence of the upper house I would have a long term of office, rotating membership and term limits. And no party lists.

Two, the constitution should be balanced as Blackstone indicated. Thus the upper house should as the Lords once did have a territorial function. The constituencies in the upper house should be regional/national.

Third, the Parliament Act 1911 was only ever a temporary fix. With the exception of money bills the new upper house should be equal with the lower house in terms of powers. In other words it can veto the Common's legislation but cannot prevent it raising revenue to govern. The original Act was drafted in large part to secure the passage of the 1909 People's Budget. The executive in the Commons is too powerful. We need the proper checks and balances restored. Don't forget that the founding fathers of the USA all had Blackstone et al and took their constitutionalism from there. Checks and balances are British. We need them back.

Simplicity

All of this should be achieved in a simple four or five page Act of Parliament and not some telephone directory nu Labour Act. It is possible. Heck I could easily draft it myself! Piece of cake.

Taxcutter said...

Iain is spot-on in calling for an elected 2nd chamber. Its somewhat hypocritical to call for democracy elsewhere when its so severely missing in the UK's second chamber and the PM to closely resembles an elected dictator.

There's quite a bit of detail to work upon to get the optimal structure. However, an empowered second chamber, may well have stopped some of the recent bad laws in say tax and criminal justice, and better held the executive to account in such key areas such as foreign policy. At present Lords scrutiny is too hand-tied.

Dr.Doom said...

Iain, I've read none of the comments posted for this blog but I am totally mystified by your thoughts on peer reform.

Totally perplexed, baffled and confused.

You slander Labour for 'class hatred' because it's finally getting rid of class politics and then you champion an all elected House of Lords?

Are you for real?

The proposal is half elected, half appointed. Not bad in my view but an all elected one may be better.

I reckon PM's would prefer half appointed depending upon the time and circumstance along with current thinking for now and in the future.

Political parties would need appointed Peers to push agenda through or fight the PM's corner.

The current system still relies upon who shagged who and that can't be right, can it?

Doom.

Anonymous said...

However the House of "Lords" is reformed, the members should no longer have the title of "Lord" as it will no longer be suitable at all. They are not supposed to be aristocracy, wasn't this the class reason all this started.

Cicero said...

I believe in the Second chamber as a check and balance upon the Commons.

Making it another wholly professional political arena would be bad news.

I like the idea of some people being appointed ex officio as members- like the Bishops are now. I like the idea of a lot of non political figures being in the second chamber- from the Chief Rabbi to the chairman of BP and therefore do not think that there should be 100% elected membership.

For those that are elected, the franchise should be quite different than for the Commons. Representatives from Counties- why not?

For those who are elected, they should be given a much longer mandate than for the Commons- 10 years for example. I would also like to see fixed Parliaments for the Commons- say four years.

The House of Lords should be as different from the Commons as possible- as it is today, but more open.

JT said...

To say that simply because reform has started and therefore must continue and should not be reversed is a non-sequitur. I think the reform can be left as it stands, or if not, it should be reversed. I see no unarguable reason why this cannot be. Alternatively, as Tebbitt suggested, make all the current peers hereditary so that their eldest child will inherit. That will keep them happy.

Hey said...

Bring back all the hereditary peers and the granting of real peerages, none of this Life Peer twaddle. Governments are naturally much more reluctant to hand out perpetual titles willy nilly (or at least to demand far higher bribes) and the more remote and aloof perspective of the Lords provides great insight and oversight. In some places a regional house makes sense (Canada and the US), but it doesn't make as much sense in the UK (county or "nation" representation wouldn't work all that well and would introduce bad stresses into the system).

Legalise the Hunt and bring back the Lords!

John Hirst said...

If equality is to mean anything these days, should there not also be a House of Ladies?

Shotgun said...

Taxcutter said...

Iain is spot-on in calling for an elected 2nd chamber. Its somewhat hypocritical to call for democracy elsewhere when its so severely missing in the UK's second chamber and the PM to closely resembles an elected dictator.


It is not hypocritical or undemocratic for the calling of an unelected second chamber, because the second chamber does not make laws or pass statutes; it ensures they are good and feasible.

Enlightened despot said...

Over the past 25 years the Lords has been the only democratic institution we have, ready to amend poor legislation under the Tories and Labour regardless of party considerations. Comparing the Lords with a supine, whipped Commons makes one wonder about the benefits of electing representatives.

Anonymous said...

Why not put it back the way it was before the 1999 House of Lords Act and stop tinkering?

Chris Palmer said...

There was nothing wrong with the House of Lords as it was in 1997. Tony Blair and his Labour party (which in reality had never really changed what it believed - just that the front man had been replaced) were buoyed up by a sizeable majority and were intent on removing hereditary peers because of class hatred. Nothing else. They went in and legislated without ever thinking about the consequences.

Anonymous said...

The Lords is the West Lothian Question MK11.legislation for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
increasingly by passes the lords and dealt with in a democratic manner in their own parliaments.
If a new lords is to deal with pan-British affairs that is fine, but if Straw is to invite non -English peers to scrutinize English only legislation then he'd better think again.

verity said...

BorisforPM - I agree. Its value is it is not a home for sleazy politicians.

What is wrong with reverting to the original system? Who says that just because Tony Idiot Blair embarked on an ill-judged reform, it has to be continued. If you see your vehicle is going to crash, you apply the brakes.

The hereditaries turned up for debates in which they had a special interest and about whose subject they had special knowledge. Otherwise, they didn't really want to be there. They had their own things they were pursuing. In other words, they were not compulsive legislators or attention-seekers.

They have a long history of service to the country and their instinct is to conserve. They did a exemplary job and we were lucky to have such a system.

But compulsive legislator and egomaniac anxious to cock his leg against every lamppost in Britain, Tony Blair, came in with a wrecking ball.

It can be put back together. The lifers shouldn't have the power to sit in the Lords. They have no vested interest in the continuity of our country. As far as I'm concerned, the system should be terminated. Giving people a knighthood should be plenty.

Let the current lifers keep their toy title of "Lord", but don't create any more, and take away their voting privileges in the Lords.

I would like to see a "Bring Back The Hereditaries" campaign mounted.

Sluice out the lifers, although let them keep their titles. Tony Blair's created more lifers than any other prime minister since this silly system began, so no surprises there, but it shows us how a corrupt prime minister can gnaw at the foundations of our democracy.

verity said...

Shotgun - I agree. That is why we must restore the hereditaries, whose roots in Britain go deep, who are loyal to their country and wish to do their best by it, and who have been brought up with a sense of duty and responsibility.

And, as with their estates, their instinct is to conserve.

Ian Deans - the system was thrown away because Tony Blair is a malicious, spiteful little man. It is not irrecoverable. There is no need, Gary Powell, to tinker around with new formulae.

Wonkotsane - d'accord.

Anonymous said...

Do we actually need yet another tier of professional politicians dunking their snouts in the public trough?

youdontknowme said...

I haven’t read all the comments here but I was mentioned on 18 doughty street (Wayne Blacklan) last night and they didn’t say my full comment.

What I believe should happen is:

Keep the hereditary and life peers if they want to stay but don’t pay them. Most if not all are probably right anyway and only want to be lords for the status and they can be paid to make snobby speeches. These lords also wouldn’t have the same voting power as the elected lords.

There would be an elected element of the lords of around 10% of MPs which would be around 65. They would have their own ‘super’ constituencies (10 mp constituencies = 1 lord constituency).

When the government uses the Parliament act to force through legislation it would only work with the unelected lords. Only the elected lords would vote for it.

Having an elected element may create a danger of creating a House of Commons clone. I think that the elected lords should be purely independent and the elections for lords would not include political parties. They would also have to fund themselves.

This would probably create trilateral legislature rather than a bilateral legislature though but I think the government would be far more accountable than it is now.

youdontknowme said...

oops

Most if not all are probably right

that should be:

Most if not all are probably rich

verity said...

youdon'tknowme: I think the task is to simplify and cut away the mess deeply stupid and malevolent Tony Blair has created.

No elected element. Dear God, this country does not need any more politicians.

No element appointed for his own political gain - including being used as a reward for services rendered to him - by a prime minister.

Bring back the hereditaries. It worked, which is why Tony Blair couldn't stand it. He couldn't control them. They weren't beholden to him.

Stop this idiotic practice of "life peers". You're either a peer or you're not. Let the current lifers keep their trinket titles, but no membership of the H of L. And no new ones created.

Most real peers are busy in business or managing their estates and family interests and only came in when it was vital or they had particular expertise to contribute to a debate. They weren't busy little bees. They're not compulsive interferers.

If a prime minister wishes to reward someone for services to him personally or his party, a knighthood is as high as it should go. If the Crown wishes to reward someone for services to Britain, the Crown can create a new, genuine, peer.

I can't remember the exact figure, but the creepy Tony Blair has created something like 300 new peers - twice as many as any other prime minister, which tells us this current, rinky-dink system is open to abuse in the wrong hands. And the British public is perfectly capable of electing, as we have seen three times, the wrong pair of hands.

Bring back the hereditaries.

Anonymous said...

It's a long and complicated subject but I comment just to disagree that because the "reform process has started" we have to become activists on this.

The reform process actually started with the 1911 Parliament Act, then came life peers in about 1958, then cutting the hereditaries in about 1999. So normally there is a further step in the reform process about every 40 to 60 years. Apart from entrenching the present hereditary element, I vote for a review of how it's working in about 2040. Based on the last 5 years, it's working quite well so far.

The House of Lords is generally wiser than the Commons precisely because it has more normal people in one important sense, i.e. people who would not stand for election. I don't think many conservatives out here would want to change that.

youdontknowme said...

anonymous-you forgot about the second parliament act in about 1948

meader_boy said...

I'm delighted to see all the rubbish being shouted about why a primarily elected 2nd chamber would be such a terrible idea - it shows that Conservatives still dont get that the country has moved on. The 10-point lead from today's poll will evaporate when the public sees the rantings of this lot nearer election imte :)

Anonymous said...

I think there is some legal question as to whether the 1948 Act is legally valid isn't there? But thanks for the correction. Does not alter my point that there is no need to dance to the radicals' tunes on this.

The Remittance Man said...

Glad to see the Second Chamber debate widening in the blogospere.

I bunged up a couple of posts on this subject here (http://remittanceman.blogspot.com/2006/09/how-to-sort-out-swiss-tonys-mess-in.html#links)

To my mind while change was unneccessary, it is impossible to go back now, so the system needs to be "reformed" properly (as opposed to the half-arsed clusterfuck we have at the moment).

The trick will be to make the place democratic while removing the perpetual need to pander to the electorate that re-election brings. My solution would be for the Lords Elect to sit for a single, long term (eight years) with no chance for re-election.

I'd also ban party whips and make each vote a free vote.

A sprinkling of hereditaries and bishops (perhaps with no voting rights) would add colour and probably raise the level of debate.

Further, I'd repeal the Parliament Act and return the power to kill a bill to the upper chamber.

And to round it all off, I'd make it part of parliamentary procedure that all bills must undergo a "cooling off period" (six months minimum) between Commons and Lords. This would hopefully reduce the amount of bad law enacted by the publicity conscious Commons in the wake of some manufactured public outcry.

youdontknowme said...

My solution would be for the Lords Elect to sit for a single, long term (eight years) with no chance for re-election

Why? elected officials are supposed to represent the people and not their own interests. If they had no chance of re-election they could work for their own interests and not bother about the people.


I'd also ban party whips and make each vote a free vote

You wouldn't need to ban whips if the elected lords had no chance of re-election.

The power of the whips is shown mostly in the Commons because their power comes primarily from having that MP de-selected at the next election if they disobey, so if they wanted to keep their seat and they were de-selected they would have to stand as an independent.

At the moment I think there is only 1 independent (called DR Richard Taylor) who campaigned to keep a hospital open.

The whips don't have much influence in the Lords because even if the party whip was removed they would still be able to sit in the Lords as an independent for life as they are there for life.

Your banning party whips argument wouldn't have any effect.

Anonymous said...

Mr Dale - I cannot believe you think the House of Lords needs reforming !"! Don't you listen to 'Today in Parliament' ? They are the only ones with any sense in the whole damn place ! They even put a stop to some nonsense about abolishing [sorry, 'merging'] the Prisons' Inspectorate. Cinderella stuff like that would disappear were it not for the good old farts there!

And besides, I want to be one !

Mazzini 21 said...

The focus on the Lords is misplaced. The Commons is the problem and always has been.

It grossly under represents minority parties (Lib Dem, UKIP, Green, BNP etc) and so prevents us from influencing debate in parliament leading to the convergence of the 3 main parties we see today.

The Executive also completely dominates the legislature making it almost impossible (save for a few examples) for government to be held to account.

We must clearly separate out government from the legislature in our bi-cameral system and that should be the roles or Lords and Commons respectively. We also need more PR to ensure we can at least influence parliament enough to talk about what are our real concerns.

Finally, Scottish and Welsh devolution must be reversed. The only true form of devolution is for government to stop legislating and meddling in our own affairs. That way we will naturally express our nationality within the UK.