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Lords reform and why it shouldn't happen

A new report by MPs says that the House of Lords should be reformed into an elected chamber, I think the current proposal is for a split with 80% elected and 20% appointed. Let's think for a moment about who has produced this report: it is a report by MPs whose job is to fight elections and sit in parliament. Them arguing for an expansion to the number of elected seats available for them to contest is a bit like me arguing for more criminal offences to be created so I get more business.

When I was growing up the argument against the Lords was that it was wrong to have a chamber of parliament made up in a very large part by people who get to sit in the legislature by virtue of their birth only. I believe about 80 hereditary peers remain and I have no problem with removing their seats.

The overwhelming majority of the modern lords are appointees. These are people who have spent their lives doing important and good work that has been recognised by their elevation to the upper chamber. Now I know that their are a lot of ex-MPs who have been stuffed in there and plenty of people who have obtained their Peerages through what looks like the old boys network. There are also a lot of lawyers in there... good chaps one and all. One thing that most members of the Lords have is experience and expertise. Both factors lacking in many members of the Commons, in my humble opinion. This experience comes to the fore when elected politicians seek to pass bad laws.

The Government recently tried to remove legal aid from people seriously injured through clinincal negligence. The proposal was for the legal costs to be met from compensation, which is bad because that compensation is often required to provide care for the injured person through the rest of their life. It was the experts in the Lords who opposed the government and stopped it happening. When the last government tried to introduce ID cards they met with stiff opposition from the Lords and the legislation was ultimately dropped.

The experts in the Lords provide a good and very helpful reviewing service to the elected Government. They cannot prevent the elected chamber from passing whatever legislation they like, but they can and do put up opposition to the commons that forces the government to reconsider its position. Because the Lords exist the laws passed by Parliament are better.

Don't forget they give value for money. Like leaders in the Boy Scouts, Lords do their duty free of charge.

Let's think about the position if we do away with the lords and switch to an elected second chamber. First, we'd have to pay a salary. Will it be a salary close to the average wage? I wouldn't put money on that of I were you. So, already the new Chamber will go from being cheap to very expensive. Will the new MPs of the new chamber by experts? No. Experts become expert through hard work and dedication to their subject area. The majority are unlikely to want to spend time campaigning for election. Presumably, they would then be expected to turn up to vote at their party's behest meaning that they would be required in Parliament far more often than might be the case under the current arrangements, making it even less likely that real experts will be interested in serving in the new chamber.

So, now we have a new chamber that costs more and has none of the expertise of the current Lords, so far it's sounding like a great plan.

It's an assumption, but I think it's safe to say that the existing Commons isn't going to want its own power and importance diluted by this new chamber - have you have encountered a politician who has really tried to give away power rather than just talking about it? The reforms thus lead to a more expensive, less expert chamber that has less power that the other elected chamber next door.

Maybe the new chamber should be called Commons Lite? Will Commons Lite attract the brightest and best? Well, you could argue that the full flavour House of Commons doesn't manage to attract the brightest and best in our society so why should Commons Lite be anything more than a second division debating group for the beginners cutting their teeth, the not good enough for the real commons and those who made the leap to the big league but got relegated through poor performance.

You may think that this more expensive, less expert, under powered Chamber filled with second rate advocates is a good idea. But, there you and I are in disagreement. I hope this post looks and reads okay. I should say that I am writing in court while waiting for something to happen on my iPad and it's not ideal for writing with blogger.

Comments

  1. As far as I'm concerned, the point of the Lords is to have people who are able to take a long view, since elected representatives are unable to work beyond the next election. The problem with appointees is that they're likely to be sympathetic to the government that appointed them, and therefore less likely to kick back against bad legislation from that party. I'd much rather see a system disconnected from the parties completely: choosing people by birth is actually not bad at all for this purpose, but random selection (for a life term) would be nearly as good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Don't forget their expenses.

    I agree with Roger, choice by birth and then a seat for life is a good method of selection. The old "Lords" were actually OK, IMHO. They had experience, they were there for the benefit of the country and, although they individually lent right or left, they owed allegiance to no party. Various Prime Ministers tried to swamp the Lords with their appointees (Life Peers). It never worked. They gave Wilson a hard time, also Maggie had to use the Parliament Act to get some of her legislation through, so they didn't make it easy for her. Pity we can't reverse all the Blair changes. Solve the problem and save us all a lot of money.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey,

    I disagree. It's important to have a professional legislature. 'Unpaid' legislators are those who can afford to take a holiday from paid work. Let's say, for example, they have substantial investment portfolios. But it's then unrealistic to expect that they'd vote in favour of inflationary policies that would reduce the value of their investments, even if high unemployment made inflationary policy the 'best option' for the population as a whole.

    There's a strong argument to be made in favour of legislative experience though. In part, we can see that in the case of American states (which often have 'unprofessional' legislatures with short term-limits, and little or no staff support for legislators). What happens when legislators are inexperienced (and not backed by experienced, publicly-paid staff) is that lobbyists can come in with well-crafted, thought-out and researched proposals skewed to favour the outcomes their clients want. This 'legislative subsidy' is highly dangerous, because it affects even scrupulously honest politicians.

    I'd recommend longer electoral intervals for the upper house, and shorter ones for the commons. Say, elections every 3 years, with the entire commons up for re-election, and 1/3 of the 'lords' up for re-election (the 1/3 would rotate, so every seat would be contested once every nine years.

    JMH

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We are currently lead by professional politicians with little or no experience of real life thus we are governed from Brussels and by Whitehall mandarins. I don't think that is good.

      The old HoL could not overrule the commons. If the commons wanted to get legislation through that the HoL kept rejecting they used the Parliament Act. The resultant delay usually caused the commons to think a bit harder and usually improved the legislation. In addition the old Lords did not rely on any party for their seats. they weree thus able to listen to the arguments and then vote for what each individually considered best, not what the party wanted. If they did nothing else they did know the sharp edges off legislation and prevented extremes.

      Delete

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