Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The case against House of Lords reform

I remember, 20 years ago now, studying for my Government & Politics A Level.

I was very angry in those days about many things but somewhere very high up the list was the House of Lords.

I was disgusted that as recently as the turn of the twentieth century a bunch of hereditary toffs could stop democratically approved legislation being enacted pretty much indefinitely.

What right did 'the upper house' have to take such action?

Surely in a country aspiring to be a beacon of democracy everything the Lords stood for was abhorrent?

And of course it was.

But time moves on and we get older... and wiser.

Of course in my early days my anger towards the Lords was entirely focussed on the abomination that was hereditary peerages.

I am very proud that it was a Labour government that took significant steps to reduce the power of hereditary peers several years ago, and although 92 remain even here there is an element of selection.

Of course I would like to see an end to those who sit in the house through birthright but we have come a long way.

Hereditary Peers aside though, I have come to admire and indeed be proud of what the House of Lords stands for.

The Lords is a magnificent beacon for scrutiny.

It is a chamber populated by experts who are passionate for their fields.

A group of men and women who may well express a party allegiance but because of not ever having to worry about an election can be a great deal more independent than their colleagues in the Commons.

I fervently believe that the Government, of whichever colour, should listen to the counsel of the Lords more. Not necessarily to be bound by them but to hear their wisdom.

But if we change the composition of the Lords to a wholly elected one we change its very nature.

Both houses would be elected, so which would be more important?

How many real Independents would we see in a wholly elected House of Lords, or would virtually everyone originate from a political party?

How many experts would we see elected, or would more and more become nothing more than professional politicians?

Most of all I believe it is because our Upper House (overall) does such a good job that there is no public appetite to change it.

I have never spoke to anyone not loosely described as a 'politico' who has ever been remotely interested in the House of Lords.

In general ordinary men and women around this country have other more pressing things to worry about - like paying bills.

If we thought AV disconnected people just imagine what a referendum on the Upper House would do.

Anyone that demands a major legislative battle would, I believe, come across as being out of touch with the issues that really matter: jobs, homes and our economy.

Yes, minor amendments in an ideal world would be nice, but there is always a time and a place to make changes to our democratic system.

That time or place is neither right or here or right now.

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