Sunday, June 19, 2011


Should the Lords be Elected?

Plans to reform the Lords are still a little vague. Clagg, still smarting from his AV debacle, hopes to garner some credit from this next constitutional foray, but it is by no means certain. The essence of the proposals is to maintain the same functions- debate, revision amendment- but to elect a 300 strong house for 15 year terms by PR. A variation of that, which now seems to be government policy is that 80% should be elected with the remainder appointed. Apart from the anomaly re PR- if one chamber why not the other?- these proposals have been severely criticised.

Lord Strathclyde, who appeared with Andrew Marr this morning, once opposed an elected House but is now in favour, arguing it will strengthen both democracy and the House itself. He hopes the first new members will be elected in 2015- Marr was sceptical. The opposition is indeed fierce. Root and branch reformers, claims new-boy Peter Hennessy:

believe that, if everyone engaged in legislating in the public’s name should be accountable to and removable by the electorate, a fully elected chamber is the only answer. The 'physicians'(moderate reformers), who have a feel for the consequences for Parliament as a whole, sense that the Coalition’s range of proposals are dripping with unintended consequences. Echoing Sir John Major’s point that the answer to the Lords’ problems is not more politicians, they stress the indispensability of having, somewhere in the parliamentary cycle, a group who are there primarily because they know things, rather than believe things

Thew fear is that an elected Lords will clash with the elected Commons and gridlock will result. The beauty of British government, compared with, say, US government, is the ability of the executive to take firm action. A clash of 'legitimacy', especially for a PR elected chamber, might subvert this quality. Moreover, the Commons itself might well veto such a reform. Hennessy's further point is that the glory of the Lords is its protean blend of experience and brilliance. This is the result of appointment; having to suffer a bruising election campaign would probably scare off most of these people from standing and democracy would be the poorer for it. People like Lord Norton, also oppose the plans whilst 'radicals' like Chris Mullin, oppose it on the grounds that it would undermine the authority of the Commons:

I can’t say that I'm overjoyed at the prospect of the Lords being filled with C list candidates who have failed to get into our end of the building – or rejects from the Scottish, Welsh or European parliaments. The idea that a wholly elected house will be any more democratic than the present arrangements is likely to prove fanciful since the odds are that it will involve some sort of list system and inclusion on that list is likely to require the imprimatur of the party leader in any case.

Simon Jenkins, who seems to gravitate to the right by the day, argues that an elected house will be a 'whippable' house and so reduce the dose of genuine democracy the present Lords provides. On balance I'm against an elected house too, for the above reasons.

Unfortunately, people don't get into the House of Lords because of what they know. If they did, it may be a better house.

I'm in favour of a mainly elected House of Lords, but I think that the amount of seats for the regions and nations should be 145.

The government has proposed using the single transferable vote system, which is so complex that even I struggle to understand it. Either single non-transferable vote, or regional proportional representation should be used. Both systems are fairer and less complicated. I favour SNTV.
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