House of Lords Reform

My ha’porth on the House of Lords:*

1. Don’t stop here. Just because the hereditary peers are largely gone does not mean we have ended up where we want to be.

2.  Elect the upper chamber in rotation – eg a third of the house every 2 years. With fixed election dates. 

3.  Have non-geographic constituencies. Base them on other characteristics such as occupation (doctors, financial services, retailing) and activities (churches, sports clubs, motorists, geeks) and let members of those interest groups elect people to represent them. We all have interests other than where we live.

4.  Cut the crap from both Houses: no more wigs & tights, archaic processions, Black Rod, voting lobbies, "Right Honourable and Learned Friend", late nights. etc.

* Note for American readers: "ha’porth" = "my 2 cents" though the exchange rate was different in those days.


<i><b>Update 21 August: </b>I have added two new posts. One summarises the various blogs on House of Lords reform. The other sets out this proposal (bullet number 3 above) in more detail.</i>

1 thought on “House of Lords Reform”

  1. I agree with (1) (strongly), (2) (probably) and (4) (absolutely). But I am doubtful about (3) — the idea of having the second chamber composed of representatives of major (and minor?) interest groups. First, it has a distinct whiff of Mussolini-style corporate state about it, which certainly doesn’t rule it out but which makes one just a teeny bit suspicious; secondly, the task of identifying which groups should be represented and how the numbers of representatives of each should be weighted seems likely to present appallingly difficult and probably insoluble problems (for example, why ‘churches’? what about non-believers? if non-believers are to be represented, how are they to choose their candidates and by what criteria does each non-believer qualify for a non-believer’s vote? is multiple voting allowed and if not, how does a voter choose which group to vote in, if, say, she’s a black, handicapped, Methodist, badminton-playing, banker and motorist? do Christian Scientists qualify as a church? Scientologists? happy-clappy evangelical churches that exist in only one location and come and go like may-flies?) All ripe for the ‘too difficult’ tray, I fear. An attractive idea until you look at the mechanics.

    The better alternative, surely, is to recognise that the UK is now a federation, which will ultimately have to be completed by the creation of regional assemblies or second-tier legislatures for the English regions, with the Westminster parliament becoming the federal-level legislature with a written constitution defining the exclusive powers of the federal and regional legislatures respectively plus the joint or shared powers exercised by both federal and regional legislatures and their corresponding governments. At that point the smaller units (e.g. northern Ireland, south-west England) will need constitutional protection against being dominated by the larger ones: best achieved, as in the US and Australian Senates, by giving each region (state, province, or whatever) equal representation in the second chamber regardless of population size, and providing that all legislation of constitutional or other special importance must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the second chamber. Also elect the lower house (House of Commons) as now by First Past the Post (best for the chamber that chooses the government) or, at a pinch, Single Transferable Vote: but elect the second chamber by proportional representation (each region free to choose the specific type of PR) to ensure that no single party will ever have an overall majority in it.

    I think there is also a strong case for having around 15 per cent of the membership of the second chamber (which should of course be called the Senate — no-one needs to have the ludicrous title of Lord thereafter) nominated by an independent Commission charged with filling the nominated seats with persons likely to make a useful contribution to the chamber’s work from a party-politically independent position based on past experience in public life, nominees serving for ten years with no right to be re-nominated or to stand for election to either House and removable only by a two-thirds majority in both Houses. No, I have no-one particular in mind: if invited, I will not accept nomination: if nominated, I will not serve, in the classical formula! But you might be interested?

    However, Mr Blair has set his face against an elected or even a mostly-elected second chamber because of his dislike of having his off-the-cuff on-the-hoof policies frustrated and rejected by people with more judgement than he possesses, so I guess we’ll have to wait for a few years before we can hope for a left-of -centre radical reforming government willing to bite these particular bullets. And I feel sure that our soi-disant Labour prime minister is much too frightened of the more bone-headed of the tabloids even to dip his toe in the icy waters of federalism for Britain, even though we’re already right in them up to our nipples.

    I have aired a number of these views previously, including here (see also the various links on that page). Not, of course, that that makes them any more persuasive or valid. But perhaps they all add up to a contribution to your debate.


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