Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Thoughts on House of Lords Reform

I missed all the news about the House of Lords reform last week as I was on holiday. However I have found it very interesting catching up on all the news in the papers and on the Internet.

I remember reform of the House of Lords being an essay topic when I did A-Level politics. My view then (1994) was that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The mixture of hereditary peers and life peers seemed to work. It provided an effective check on over powerful Governments. It wasn't dominated by the whips and it contained significant expertise. It was an effective revising chamber.

I think given the choices available MPs were probably right to opt for a wholly elected House of Lords. Essentially there were really only 3 choices: 1) a 100% elected chamber 2) a 100% appointed chamber 3) scrap it entirely.

Anything in between really just creates more confusion.

Given all the problems with cash for peerages and the appointment of cronies I think going for an appointed chamber would really be a bad move.

Scrapping it also seems very wrong given the check the House of Lords provides on a powerful Government. There has been significant erosion of parliamentary sovereignty in favour of the Executive over the last ten years. A strongish second chamber seems more relevant than ever.

So that leaves an elected chamber.

An elected chamber brings its own problems though. It means yet more politician and more expense to the over taxed tax payer. It creates a danger that the Lords will attempt to expand its power given is greater legitimacy and this might create parliamentary deadlock (although less legislation may not be a bad thing!). A list system hands a great deal of power to political parties. It will mean the parties chose those most likely to get elected and it means that the whips would tend to dominate.

Dan Hannan made an interesting suggestion on the Direct Democracy website (I think before the actual vote took place). His suggestion was that County Councillors and Unitary Authority Councillors are seconded for periods at a time to serve in the second chamber. Initially this seems like an odd suggestion. Although the more you think about it the more merits it might have. It introduces indirect democracy. It avoids the need for yet more politicians. It introduces a geographical link as each Councillor represents an area of the country. It would mean more independent minded people. Councillors aren't usually career politicians. The whips would be less powerful. It would enhance the prominence of local government and might encourage better people into local politics. You could have the Councillor for each authority selected by lot rather than appointed. It would given smaller parties and independents a voice.

This system would by its nature create a second house of junior importance to the Commons.

Worth a thought.

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