It is time to re­form the House of Lords

Rutherglen Reformer - - News From The Pews - Ger­ard Killen

This week, MPs will have the op­por­tu­nity to take part in a de­bate in West­min­ster Hall on House of Lords re­form.

The de­bate will cover a re­port by the Lord Speaker’s com­mit­tee to re­duce the House of Lords by a quar­ter to 600 mem­bers and cap its size, with new mem­bers ap­pointed on a 15-year term.

The re­port also sug­gests that no po­lit­i­cal party should have an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity and 20 per cent of seats should be re­served for in­de­pen­dent cross­bench mem­bers.

With 800 mem­bers cur­rently, few peo­ple would ar­gue that hav­ing ever-in­creas­ing num­bers is sus­tain­able and any ef­forts to ad­dress this are wel­come.

That said, in my view, the re­port does not go far enough, not least be­cause it fails to tackle the fun­da­men­tal is­sue at the heart of the House of Lords: democ­racy, or lack thereof.

I be­lieve that par­lia­ments ben­e­fit from hav­ing a sec­ond cham­ber – it makes for bet­ter laws and it is prefer­able to the com­mit­tee sys­tem used in the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment which, in the past, has been dom­i­nated by SNP MSPs who were un­will­ing to prop­erly scru­ti­nise or criticise the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment.

Hav­ing a bi­cam­eral par­lia­ment is good for democ­racy be­cause it dis­trib­utes power within two houses that check and bal­ance one an­other rather than con­cen­trat­ing de­ci­sion mak­ing in a sin­gle body.

But, if we were to de­sign the UK sys­tem from scratch in 2017, it would be un­think­able that any­one play­ing a key role in par­lia­ment would be ap­pointed rather than demo­crat­i­cally elected.

The ar­gu­ment most of­ten put for­ward by those who seek to pre­serve the House of Lords is that many of its in­hab­i­tants are ex­perts in their field who can bring their own valu­able in­sight.

But there are also many ex­perts in var­i­ous fields in the House of Com­mons and they had to fight an elec­tion to earn their place in the par­lia­ment.

If pro­po­nents of the cur­rent sys­tem be­lieve that hav­ing an up­per house with a broad range of skills and ex­pe­ri­ence is im­por­tant, this ought to be re­flected in the way in which ap­point­ments are made rather than be­ing left to the whim of suc­ces­sive party lead­ers and prime min­is­ters.

In his six years lead­ing the coun­try, David Cameron ap­pointed 189 peers to the House of Lords.

Per­son­ally, I would not trust the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter to make me a cup of tea let alone to ap­point law mak­ers to the sec­ond cham­ber. Why should one per­son hold that level of con­trol over the shape of laws that have still to come many years af­ter they have left of­fice?

The pace of change is slow and re­form will not hap­pen overnight.

Sig­nif­i­cant Tory gov­ern­ment de­feats show that Labour Lords are right to con­tinue to play a role in the House of Lords while it ex­ists in its cur­rent form, but we must never lose sight of the demo­cratic im­bal­ance cre­ated by our cur­rent sys­tem.

Only an elected up­per house can ad­dress the fun­da­men­tal un­fair­ness at the heart of our democ­racy.

I would not trust the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter [Cameron] to make me a cup of tea

Lords of the manor The House of Lords

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