Wednesday, February 07, 2007

House of Lords reform

Jack Straw MP, Leader of the House of Commons has come up with some proposals for reform of the House of Lords. He says that if we miss this opportunity to reform the House of Lords then we will miss it for a generation. Good. Lets miss it then.

In this White Paper and speech he has proposed a number of options.

  • All 92 hereditaries to sit in the new chamber until they die off
  • Current 605 life peers could choose to stay or leave with a generous redundancy package
  • A smaller chamber of 540 Peers * 50% to be elected, 30% nominated by Party leaders and 20% by an independent commission
  • Peers to be elected in batches of 90 over three elections every 5 years. Term limit of 15 years
(Borrowed from Iain Dale here)

The problem is of course we have been down this road before. No one option is liked by a majority in the House of Commons (or the Lords for that matter) so each alternative gets voted down by a majority and nothing changes.

He has proposed to change the voting system in the Commons for it as well, so that instead of vote for or against each separate proposal MP's have to rank each in order or preference. The least unpopular presumably winning.

Well, as David Clelland Mp for Tyne Bridge, (Labour) does not like the idea of fiddling the voting system to get something. He will be voting against the procedural change and I hope a lot of other MP's do as well. There is a sound reason why there is no agreement thus far. Most MP's think the current system is better than any proposals so far put to them. I agree.

Meanwhile some Labour MP's wishing to do grave damage to our constitution suggest abolishing our house of Lord's and moving to a unicameral system. That is one with only one house. There are clear reasons why that is a bad idea. It would lead to the dictatorship of the mob, or perhaps party machine. The House of commons needs checks and balances. If you want to see what sort of company we would be in if we had a unicameral system, Dizzy has this helpful map. I for one do not want to join that club.

My take on the whole thing is this. If you wanted to create a second chamber today you most certainly would not come up with the House of Lords. However you have to look at what it is for, and what it does. Fundamentally it is there to prevent government doing stupid things, at least with out a fight. It does not stand in the way of manifesto pledges but will seek to amend and alter bills particularly where daft or over authoritarian or both (like the various bits of anti terror legislation).

In an ideal world the commons would hold the executive to account, but frequently it does not because the executive commands a majority in the House of Commons. The Lords does it frequently and well.

Many say we must have elected members of the house of Lords, or that having a combination of hereditary peers and appointed ones is bad. So what? Does it work? Yes. The only thing that you could do is make the Lords more powerful. I am not sure that is a good idea, or less, which I am sure would be a very bad one. Others complain of the name. They think we are a laughing stock in the 21st Century for having a House of Lords. Well what about the monarchy? Are we to lose that too? What of all our old buildings, not very "modern" either.

We were a laughing stock in Europe when we had a parliament in the first place, why should we care what anyone else thinks? We are a separate country with our own traditions and institutions. Other countries have evolved their own. Why do we need to be sheep that follow? Why can't we keep on doing our own thing?

The BBC has this here.

nourishing obscurity has this here.


Innocent Abroad said...

As you know, I have predicted in Another Place that this will be kicked into the long grass.

As far as unicameralism is concerned, it works in New Zealand. This is the only Old Commonwealth country which is a unitary, not a federal state. Canadian and Australian State Leigslatures are unicameral too, and I'm not aware that there was ever any suggestion that the Scottish Parliament should be bicameral. (Or, indeed, that if Scotland does go its own way, that it should become so.)

It's quite an amusing exercise to get an academic political scientist to explain how large a democracy has to be before it needs a bicameral legislature. Not one of them has the slightest idea, but they can hardly admit to that, can they?

Benedict White said...

Thanks for the comment innocent.

As for how large a state needs to be before you NEED a bicameral system, that is an onteresting question. I think you need one to balance competing interests so I think small is the answer. As for federal states they defacto have one in that the federal legislature can pass laws to over rule the lower one.

What are you own views on the House of Lords? Leave what works well alone is my answer.

james higham said...

Will update and link to this post now.

Benedict White said...

Many thanks James.

Timothy said...

I'm not sure the House of Lords "works". It's let a lot of contentious and downright rubbish legislation [absent from Manifestos] through during the Blair years, and earlier under the Tories.

It's no surprise that a Conservative such as yourself should defend it. I did have a very good discussion about precisely this topic with a very posh [acting] Tory gent at Uni. We came to the conclusion that hereditary peers were superior to appointed peers on the basis that their identity was accidental rather down to patronage.

However, they are mostly old Tories, due to the effects of historical patronage. This means Labour legislation tends to get blocked more than Tory.

Consequently I favour an Upper house composed using the Jury system. 500 members to serve 6 months at a time, with generous compensation for themselves and their employers.

The executive should have to justify their legislation to a cross-section of the public. I would allow non-governmental interested parties to also present their arguments to the chamber, as well as the opposition parties.

I think this would reinvigorate interest in politics.

Failing that [professional politicos are hardly likely to vote themselves less power] I would favour a wholly elected upper chamber, using a strongly proportional system. British parties rarely get that close to 50% of the vote, so this would ensure that the government would be unlikely to command a majority in both houses.

Benedict White said...

Timothy, the reason the house of Lords lets a lot of rubish legislation through is because of it's limited power rather than composition.

I note your lack of principled opposition to the heriditary principle. Good. we should be working on an empriacle basis.

Conscription is an interesting idea however both the heriditories and appointees who take an interest are interested I am not sure conscripts would be. maybe we should have a pilot scheme?

paige said...

The Lords should be kept as they are, infact they should be handed the power to over rule parliament.

Parliament has become corrupt. MP's no longer represent the people they represent themselves, their party, their leader the EU. This is wrong.
Parliament is there at the behest of the British people, something has gone terribly wrong as we have ended up with a dictator whom we cannot get rid of until he wishes to go?
The only reform the House of Lords needs is to retire all those Lords who do not vote or sit in the house.. It is simple!

Furthermore it is apparent that some of the Lords instead of being there for the people, have become hungry for the success of the party and the monetary gain the EU can offer them. These too should be retired as they do not represent the people of the UK.
Many Lords of many parties make sound common sense judgements which protect the people. That is the 80% of this country's people who do not have enough money for their voices to be heard!
Unfortunately ALL parties without fail seem to prefer the power and prestigue of the EU and business rather than serving the British people. Give the lords more power and curtail the treason of this parliament