Reforming the House of Lords is set to dominate the coming session of
Parliament. It remains a totemic political demand of the Lib Dems and
the Government has agreed to fast-track reform into law by including in
the Queen's Speech, the Coalition agreement to elect by PR at least 80
per cent of the Lords.
If rumours are to be believed, the joint
committee charged with realising this goal is to recommend an Upper
House of 450 peers, 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed, with a
15 year non-renewable term. The biggest shock has been the committee's
recommendation for a referendum on any constitutional change, a move the
Lib Dems, fearing a repeat of the AV fiasco, bitterly oppose.
real shame is that the committee is ducking the issue by endorsing some
very bad ideas for reform while passing the buck to the electorate in
the hope they will vote the whole matter down. By failing to produce a
viable alternative to the Coalition's proposals, the committee is
eschewing its constitutional responsibilities, leaving us with a choice
between the indefensible and the unconstitutional.
For it is not
clear that an elected House of Lords is a good, progressive or even
constitutionally literate proposal. The proposed electoral system will
simply extend the dominance and control of the main political parties
and increase the writ and power of the executive. Moreover, the joint
committee has bizarrely recommended an open preferential voting system
which in Australia has resulted in parties controlling the lists,
further strengthening their grip.
If the reform proposals
succeeded we would see a decline in the diversity of opinion expressed
and a House less representative of the population than it is currently.
Representative democracy in a modern society simply lacks the means to
deliver anything but party dominance. Independence of mind and distance
from party dictate is exactly what people find most democratic and
valuable in the Lords. Paradoxically, wholesale election puts this at
Plus, an elected House of Lords would quickly destroy the
complementary relationship that exists between the two Houses of
Parliament, providing the Upper House with a competing democratic
mandate. We would then replicate the worst of the American political
system through partisan conflict between the Houses.
worryingly, the proposed reforms are profoundly unconstitutional – they
fail to recognise our own tradition and act as if our mixed constitution
has no enduring merit. Britain survived the revolutions of the past two
centuries that ruined virtually every other European nation. And this
is due in no small part to our mixed constitution which secured the
practice of democracy by uniting it with the principle of plurality and
ensuring that the democratic process was never wholly captured by one
party, elite or faction. The endemic flaw of purely democratic polities
is that they cannot secure a general national good beyond the narrow
interests of sectional politics or naked self-interest.
principles of an organic and mixed polity should ensure that our
democracy is inextricably allied with the principles of plurality and
participation. In that respect the reforms proposed are a constitutional
dereliction. Yet, the status quo is equally unsustainable. We need to
think again and – in line with our constitutional principles – recast
the Lords as a hybrid composed a third each of appointed, elected and
The third of Lords selected by appointment
should be from civil society.Representatives could be selected by an
appointments panel whose express brief would be to populate the Lords
with distinguished figures from an array of professions, including
universities, trade unions, charities, the armed forces, the police,
business, sports, the arts, the sciences and all the major faiths. Our
politics needs those who are esteemed in their professions and not
subject to any political whip or partisan concord. These are the
crossbenchers of tomorrow.
To be truly representative of society,
the Lords must incorporate election but have some element of regional
representation. The surest way to engage a public exhausted by
traditional politics and revive their faith in elected representatives,
is to provide them with independent advocates for their towns or cities
whom they can truly regard as their own. Election is the obvious means
of selecting suitable regional representatives but a form of
non-partisan election which bans party-based nomination would do much to
enrich our electoral politics.
The House is political and so, a
degree of party involvement is essential. The final third of the Lords
should comprise members nominated by the parties, perhaps on the basis
of their share of the Commons vote.
So yes, let's reform but
let's note that an elected house would be the greatest extension of
government and executive power we have seen since Charles I dissolved
Parliament in the 17th century. For democracy's sake we must oppose an
elected House of Lords.
Find the original article here