House of Lords

Since I’m a fan of electoral reform, it should come as no surprise that this also includes reforming the composition of the House of Lords.

I dislike the current system because somebody enters the House of Lords through the Prime Minister’s patronage. In my book, any patronage is bad – your progression in life should be dependent on your ability, not on your relationship with someone, even if that someone is the Prime Minister. And I’m not at all a fan of anything hereditary – as I have already mentioned, I think you should progress based on your ability, not your ancestors’.
I also disagree with having an elected House of Lords, but to understand why, we need to explore its role. I think the role of a second chamber is to take a look at the decisions of the first chamber, sometimes raising an eyebrow and saying “are you sure?”. I have absolutely no problem with a second chamber amending things as if to say, “here is an approach that we think would be better”, I think that’s more helpful than just saying “don’t like it”. Ultimately, the decision should go back to the first chamber, to decide whether to accept the second chamber’s advice.
The big point here is that the role of the two chambers is different, the.lower chamber is more responsive, and the upper chamber is more reflective. Plus, of course, I think that because of this, you’re also looking at a second chamber which is less party-political – I do think you’re looking for thoughtfulness over fervour. Because the lower chamber is elected based on party politics, I think you’d have great difficulty introducing an election for an upper chamber which is based on other criteria. Especially difficult if the two elections are held at the same time. So really, these two drawbacks put me off the idea of elections.

On balance, I think I’d support an upper chamber for which somebody qualifies. I’m quite open to exactly what kind of criteria would allow somebody to qualify. I’d suggest things like:

  • when somebody becomes one of the major bishops or archbishops,
  • when somebody becomes sufficiently senior in the armed forces,
  • when somebody becomes a sufficiently senior judge,
  • when somebody becomes sufficiently senior in politics.
for example. You’ll notice that there is lots of wriggle-room here.
Many of these categories, of course, sit in the Lords already, although of course there is scope to tweak the rules. The politicians are interesting. I’d be tempted to suggest something like existing privy counsellors, although one important difference is that, if there was to be an oath of allegiance, it should be to the state rather than to the sovereign. It’s perfectly reasonable these days for people to be either monarchist or republican, so I think we need to look past that. This goes for all public servants, by the way, for me. Certainly, at the end of this, I’m looking to tap into a pool of resource which has had experience of dealing with matters of state in some capacity. Which might easily include opposition politicians.
I’m quite open again on whether these people serve a fixed term, or whether they serve for life. If fixed term, maybe 10 years or so? I think I’d want to look at the numbers before I thought about that – I think you need to bear in mind the size of the nation, having a second chamber comprised of thousands of people seems a bit silly. The thing I would be against is any notion of hereditary-ness. And, I think there should be a mechanism for removing people from the second chamber if they don’t perform/attend. I don’t think you want to get to a point which we have done with Andrew Lloyd-Webber, say, where this guy has turned up a handful of times out of thousands of possible occasions to vote. I’m not sure “musician”, or even “entrepreneur” are particularly valid qualifications in any case.
Anyway, some food for thought. These are just ideas and could be polished further, but they’re thoughts that I’ve had for many years. 

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