The Government should legislate for elections to the House of Lords within the next Parliament
Labour has been promising an elected House of Lords since they were elected in 1997, there has been progress with hereditary peers leaving however there has been no movement to having the House of Lords elected rather than appointed. If we are going to lecture dictators on the benefits of democracy we should show that we believe in them too, an appointed chamber such as we have now shows that we do not take democracy seriously. But is legislating to create an elected House of Lords really a priority with the economy in such a bad state?
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A promise 13 years overdue
Constitutional change was supposed to be a priority when Labour were elected with a large majority in 1997, and is as important today as it was then. It was part of their election manifesto yet has been watered down and delayed again and again.[[Deborah Summers, Labour's attempts to reform the House of Lords, guardian.co.uk, 27/1/09, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jan/27/house-of-lords-reform%5D%5D As with electoral reform for the commons it is something that parties in opposition think sounds good but then like when they are in power. The Prime Minister decides it is not a priority because he likes to be able to appoint members of the lords. If parties keep delaying discussions on these important issues then who is going to trust politicians? People need a chance to vote for the key issues, and who makes the laws simply must be one of those!
As the timeline shows there was constitutional change. Almost all the hereditary Lords were removed from the house in 1999 and were replaced by Lords who are appointed for life. These make up more than 600 of the peers. Some of these peers are non political and are appointed by the Lords appointment commission. They are people "with a record of significant achievement within their chosen way of life that demonstrates a range of experience, skills and competencies... who are able to make an effective and significant contribution to the work of the House of Lords". There are also political peers who are nominated by the party leaders.[[Guide to Peers and House of Lords, BBC News, 27/1/09, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4828094.stm%5D%5D
Completing a half-finished job
The Labour government did take some steps to change the makeup of the House of Lords, it ousted all but 92 hereditary peers, but the obvious question is why all but 92? It is clear that the hereditary principal is completely opposed to what British politics is supposed to be about, and so their removal makes sense, however when clearly what is wanted is complete overhaul, why leave a few, the modernisation has begun and it should be a priority to finish it and have a body that can move Britain forward in the new century.
The Ministry of Justice says: "It is still the Government’s clear intention that the remaining hereditary peers will leave as part of the process of moving to a mainly or wholly elected reformed second chamber.
The Government is currently looking at options for the timing of this departure. The latest proposed date which the hereditary peers would leave at would be the third set of elections to the second chamber."[[http://governance.justice.gov.uk/about/faq/house-of-lords/]] This does not seem to be moving towards completing the job very quickly even in the event of an elected Lords occuring.
Democracy demands that the people decide the laws
Democracy demands that the people have not just some contribution, but the major contribution in deciding what laws they are to be governed by. That is the very core of democracy. As democracy is in Abraham Lincoln's famous phrase "Government of the people, by the people, for the people".[[http://www.democracy-building.info/definition-democracy.html]] To suggest that the people who ultimately have a huge input in the drafting of laws, and the implementation of them be unelected, and there on the basis of their position within a church that most people do not believe in, or because they happen to be born in one family rather than another is so anti-democracy that it is nothing short of shocking that we still have it in a country that likes to call itself a modern democracy. The idea of appointment is equally anti democratic even if they are elected representatives who are doing the appointing.
The House of Lords do not have the power that you assert them to have. All the House of Lords really have is a delaying power. A Bill that is passed through the commons gets discussed and voted on by the House of Lords. If they fail to vote in favour of the Bill the House of Commons are free to reassert the Bill in the next Parliamentary session. If this is rejected once more, the House of Commons can seek the Bill to receive royal assent without the House of Lords consent. Therefore, most of the legislation is decided by the elected parties, and not the House of Lords.
The Lords are an effective limit on the Commons
In all forms of government it is necessary to for there to be checks and balances on the government. And currentl in British politics, with the party whip meaning that leaders in the commons have immense power over decisions. The Lords acts as an important contrast to this chamber and allow a period of more calm reflection. In a period when politicians seem ever so anxious to make quick policies, a body that does not depend on the electorate and can take the necessary time to consider and discuss a policy rather than rush in is more valuable than ever before.
Just because the Lords has some power to slow down legislation in its current form does not mean that a reformed Lords would not be better at it. Ultimately the Lords can only slow down and revise legislation not stop it entirely.[[http://www.politics.co.uk/briefings-guides/political-guides/house-of-lords-$450895.htm]] This means that when one party has a large majority in the House of Commons, as they have tended to have in British politics then there is no check or balance. An elected lords would be able to demand the power to actually stop legislation. What is the point in being able to scrutinise legislation if they cannot really do anything to stop that legislation if they dont like what they see?
A mirror of the House of Commons is not needed
There is much discussion on a second elected chamber but this would itself be a somewhat pointless step. The house of Commons is an elected body and represents voters; an elected second chamber could only mirror it and inhibit democracy. If you look at the American model with an elected upper and lower house there really is very little difference, in fact what seems to happen mostly is that one chamber mirrors the other.
There is no point in having a second chamber just as another mirror to the first chamber as that would simply waste time and drive low voter turnout further down.
There is a big need for a mirror to the House of Commons as it would most likely be in opposition to the commons. At the moment councils and Members of the European Parliament tend to be dominated by the opposition as part of the reaction to the governing party. It would be much better if this role was being filled by a second elected chamber. There needs to be some check on the government. Because the government nearly always has a large majority in the commons it is almost never defeated.
[[Nick Clegg, Nick Clegg: Democracy? What a great idea..., The Independent, 20/5/08, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nick-clegg-democracy-what-a-great-idea-830986.html%5D%5D
So on the contrary what is needed is a second chamber that is a mirror, one where the power is held by the opposition and where the opposition can excersise the demands of democracy and actually scrutinise and have the chance to stop bills from going through.
We need experts not people pleasers
When discussing proposed legislation, the House of Commons will debate. Each minister will be speaking for the views of their party and speaking for the views held in their constituency. They will be trying to please these two camps in their speech. Therefore, they will not offer an unbiased opinion. Being that the House of Lords is unelected; their appointment is based around their expertise. We need such expertise in order for a healthy discussion to take place which is not based around popularity. Even if the House of Lords discussions are not legally binding or effective, the arguments they provide helps the House of Commons; it provides them with different insights. Surely this is what democracy is about.
The House of Lords is a misunderstood institution
According to Dr Meg Russell
[[Dr Meg Russell, The House of Lords needs a ‘Clause IV Moment’ Written evidence to House of Lords Information Committee Inquiry on ‘People and Parliament’, 27/4/09, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/files/research/parliament/Information%20Committee%20Evidence.pdf%5D%5D
This means that The Lords has already been reformed, it has simply not managed to change public perceptions as there are strong interest groups in favour of arguing that the Lords is unreformed.
What do you think?