Tales from the Cultural Wilderness - Journal

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2002-01-09 Entry: "Ten Lords A-Leaping"

I've got two more events of note to cover for the Christmas period, but first I've got to get in a rant about the House Of Lords reform discussions going on over the next couple of days in parliament.

It seems that Government deem hereditary peerage an anachronism and that it should be abolished. So, they've done away with the hereditary system. Now however, they're planning to make it "more democratic" - a phrase that seems to indicate all things positive about our form of government.

So, what do we have now? A large number of life peers who have been appointed over the years by various political parties; a bunch of lawyers (or Law Lords); some bishops; and probably a partridge in a pear tree.

The decision has been taken to make the Lords partly elected, and the argument seems to be "how many do we elect?" I'm convinced this is the wrong question. Firstly, the electorate are apathetic to elections already - introducing another one definitely isn't going to help the situation. Secondly, any election that does take place will leave a makeup of Lords that exactly reflects the Commons, which makes them fairly pointless. Also, they'll be career politicians concerned with toeing the party line and getting re-elected rather than working in the best interests of the country.

You see, the second house isn't about democracy. It's about scrutiny. It's there to make sure bad laws don't get into power. They have no choice over what laws are proposed, they just get some time to try and modify it and get rid of the rubbish. For this purpose, they should be as far divorced from politics as they can possibly be.

The current proposal, 20 per cent elected, another bunch appointed by the Government, and a third bunch appointed by an independent commission has the worst of all worlds. Twenty per cent will be career politicians and a big chunk will be Government cronies.

Now, the guy who headed the independent report into how it should be reformed wants a large majority to be appointed by an independent commission, so they're free of bias (or at least, their bias is known up front). He also wants the elected portion to be elected for a long time, about 15 years or so, so that there's less pressure on them to tow party lines.

Meanwhile, a number of politicians are trying to push for a much larger elected portion, or even a wholly elected house. Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad!

Personally, I think the commission guy has got it mostly right, but I'd have the commission appoint all the Lords. Every damned one of them. They'll be an open commission, made up of one member of each party who holds a certain number of seats in the Commons (is 3 seats too few?), plus some sort of judge, and maybe a random member of the monarchy (why not - it'll give them something to do). They take applications from anyone (so any member of the public can apply), and they appoint people for a reasonable term (10 years?), with a rolling turnover (so there's always a reasonable amount of experience in the chamber). But then, what do I know?!

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