Friday, 28 August 2015

Lords Reform: The Never Ending Story

Time flies. It has been eight years since I last blogged about reforming the second chamber. On that time-scale I am a mere Johnny-come-lately. Reform of the Lords has been going on for over the past century, or rather talk over it. In real terms, very little has been achieved. The main problem with the issue is that those at the top of politics really enjoy wielding the power of patronage. As David Cameron has made clear by today's announcement of the appointment of forty five new peers, mainly Conservatives, the main purpose of the Lords is rewarding those loyal to the leadership.

 So why not just elect the second chamber? It is a popular idea. The Liberal Democrats have put forward plans for single-term elected Lords. Elected peers would not be eligible for reelection to the House and would serve for ten years. It is not a bad idea, as far as it goes, but an elected Lords does have flaws. The primacy of the House of Commons is based upon its democratic mandate. If the Lords are elected, they will have just has much of a mandate to block government bills as the Commons currently has. An elected Lord would be even more at the behest of the existing political parties, especially if they were not to serve a single term. The role of the Lords is to advise and amend bills that have passed through the Commons. While it is not an elected house, it is an elder house, giving time to reflect and change laws. Only rarely does the second house attempt to directly thwart the Commons but when they do, it is often for a very good reason. One that springs to mind is Tony Blair and Labour's attempt to introduce ninety six day detention without charge. That saw the Lords in full revolt.

 My original idea, back in 2001, was to take the selection of the Lords completely away from political patronage. New Labour attempted this with their so-called "People's Peers" but since the committee who carried out the selection was made up of the Great and The Good, most of those selected would have probably been in line for the privilege anyhow.

 Take the selection completely away from politics and privilege and have applicants selected by jury, called in exactly the same way that juries for trials are selected now. Each jury would serve three months, during which time they would sift through the applications. They would at, by the end of the process, have created a shortlist. The final choice from that list would be left to the next serving jury. Jurys would have the power to call applicants from the shortlist for interview, with questions put by a panel of judges. Naturally, an applicant would not have to appear if they chose not to. A jury's final choice would not have to be unanimous: a nine-to-three decision would be acceptable.

 Once selected, a new Lord would be free to decide upon a political affiliation or remain independent. A retirement age may be set - eighty as an upper limit perhaps, but a Lord would be free to retire from duty at any time. Other forms of patronage can stay with the politicians: knighthoods, gongs etc. They are nice but do not really matter. The Lords has real power and influence. Let it not be selected neither upon party fortunes nor on the current rotten power of privilege.

 Instead, let The Lords be selected impartially upon excellence.

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