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Lords reform Wednesday, 30 June, 1999, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Your view on the Lords - part two
Lords Reform
Reaction from BBC News Online users on the government's plan to reform the House of Lords.

How would you like to see the Lords evolve over the next year?

Send us your views by clicking here.


Your reaction:

I think this house should consist entirely of elected members as soon as this is possible. It could be modelled on the USA Senate or the Australian Senate, both systems work well and provide a balance to the lower house.
Meg, East Sussex

The House of Lords is currently unfair. But then so are most of the proposals for its replacement.

So how about each constituency elect a represenitive for around 10 years, and ensure that they can only elected for a single term, and them put in place a system simaliar to the current Life peers. Then remove the rights of bishops to sit in the upper house.

Then on top of this, remove any system of official party whips.

Hopefully you will then get a mix of publiclly elected officails, who since re-election is impossibile, and without the whip system are going to be free to vote in line with their own beliefs and the life peers that this is counterbalanced.
Andrew, South Wales.

Dear Sirs  

I believe that the House of Lords should not in my view be reformed, but since it is going to be reformed then we should make it the best upper house that we can have. My proposal mainly involves the destruction of all the hereditary peers in the House. With the hereditary peers gone the life peers should keep there place in the House and have the same voting rights as they had before, the two Archbishops and the Bishops of the Church of England shall also keep there seat and voting rights as should the Law Lords, the crossbenchers should keep there independence from any party as they wish. The places of the hereditary peers should be replaced by 450 life peers elected by the public, if elected they shall receive their titles for there lives, but they shall only have the power to sit and vote in the House of Lords for 15 years, or three House of Commons terms, the elected peers may only serve one term of 15 years in the House, but they may keep there title what ever it may be for the rest of there lives. 50 members of the new House should be appointed by a commission that appoints new members for their life, this committee should have equal representatives of each political party so that the 50 do not come under one parties control, these peers would be chosen by either there business capabilities, there service to the country, there achievement in the arts, former Prime Ministers and senior ministers etc., these 50 have the choice of which ever party they wish to join. Two of the members of the House would be Government appointed these two would be the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House of Lords, the word Senate sounds two republican. The robes that all members of the House of Lords where at the moment for ceremonial occasions should not be disposed with and the new members of the House should receive one of these rabbit fur robes and all the other honours that Lords at the moment receive.  

I'm a patriotic conservative and do not believe that any of our nation and historic institutions should be dissolved, but this countries must be modernised in some ways for the better.    
Ian Lewer  

Dear Sirs:

I am an American with a great interest in British history and culture. I am rather disturbed by some of the proposals for Lords reform currently being considered by the British Parliment. One need look no further than my own country to see some rather significant flaws in an elected upper house. The US Senate is easy prey for wealthy special interest groups like the Tobacco Lobby and the National Rifle Association because of the need to raise such large sums of money for election campaigns. Under the seniority system currently in place, senators are appointed to chair important committees irrespective of their qualifications. This leads to unfortunate results like the Helms-Burton Law which presumes to extend the jurisdiction of US laws banning trade with Cuba to other sovereign nations. A profile of the views and actions of some members of the US Senate would be enough to convince anyone that electing an upper house is no guarantee of competence.

In short, it seems to me the current Lords system of a mix of Hereditary and Life Peers works to insure a truly independent upper house which can consider matters in light of what is best for the nation. Because the power of Lords is limited, it does not interfere with the democratic process, but rather on some issues of vital importance allows time for reflection and national debate. I personally see no good reason to alter a system which has served Britain well for so many centuries. As we say in Texas: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Very truly yours,
Gerold Reimondo-Jandrok, Houston, Texas, USA

Dear sirs,

The lords is definitely what makes England different from any other country, and this heritage shouldn't be destroyed just because Tony Blair sees this reform as a means of stopping the torries' historic domination of the second chamber. That's right, if the Bill goes thru, Blair will get an entire administration devoted to him. But where is the democratic purpose in the Lords' reform ? I am more affected by the loss of tradition occuring in Britain. The peers provide a balance to the house of Commons, so why would we change something that have worked great for almost a millenium ? England is a monarchy and getting rid of more than 600 peers is somehow destroying the basic concept of this constitutionnal monarchy. Furthermore, the hereditary peerage represents an interesting range of the English population, that you can hardly find in an elected body.

Sincerely,
Stephan Martin-Michaud, Paris, France.

Perhaps the question is why do those people who can afford to look beyond the pressure groups, popularity polls, and the next election date are so strongly allined with the Conservative policies? I can understand that the Prime Minister is frustrated that these people refuse to toe the party line and obey him. I do not understand his mathematics when he axes most of the peers only to find that there would be more Labour affiliated peers afterwards than before.

The argument about democracy is totally irrelevant to what is happening here. We are talking about installing an unelected, unaccountable group of Blair supporters. This is a motion of censorship of the opposition, nothing else. So far the most sensible approach to the reform is that which was proposed by Lord Archer when suggesting that those who do not bother to show up and fulfil their duties on a regular basis should be removed.  

Why is it that so many people believe that a bunch of professional politicians, who are being backed by businesses and special interest groups are more reliable than the hereditary peers? Finally, considering the recent votes on allowing men to have sex with 16 year old boys, I still wonder: if we remove the Lords, who will remain to reflect the choices of the majority of the people? Who will stand against the abusive powerful special interest groups?
Peter Leeson, Milton Keynes, UK

Dear Sirs,

I am an American who has followed closely the proposals and the debate over the reform of the historic House of Lords of your great nation. As I have done so, I have seen some disturbing correlations to events which have transpired within the last ten years in my country's government and across the world.

The first of these is the concept of government by the popular opinion of the moment; the opinion poll. For over six hundred years, the House of Lords has sat in an insulated position to the popularly elected House of Commons. The history of Commons has been one of fluctuating and varying ideas and opinions promulgated just as in my country, by the fickle outcome of an election process which is subject to the spin, half-truths, and propaganda of special interest groups who are able to influence the outcome of elections in ways compatible with their particular views of the moment. The Lords have provided a voice of consistency and reason to the "politics of passion", not being pressured by the special interests through need of funding to win election to their position. Those serving in a consistent fashion in the House of Lords do so with the best interest of the people of Britain as seen through the eyes of those who are keenly aware of tradition and the historical view of time. The very bill which seeks to reform the Lords is the epitome of the effect of the "politics of the moment" being promulgated by the current PM, who from my point of view, is a clone of our current US president, and who is a national embarrassment to our people and a testament to the failure of our system of government in its ability to clean its own house. This is due to the elected form of both our houses of government who must constantly scrape and kowtow to insure re-election.

Secondly, the history and government of Great Britain has been the bedrock foundation and beacon for the foundation of an incredible number of governments worldwide, made possible by the assistance and support of the Crown and Parliament. The British people should never lose sight of the respect and admiration of those whom they have assisted and continue to assist. The traditions, pomp and ceremony of your government, and its stability should be seen in the view of history, and not in the view of the immediate gain to the current Labour Party political agenda.

The people of Great Britain have been well served by the current system of government they possess. If anything, a moderate increase in the ability of the House of Lords to affect legislation proposed as well as to provide reasoned, detached debate should be a welcome reform to a system of government which has been the envy of the world due to its stability and longevity across the ages. This stability will only be disrupted by any scheme which makes the political appointees, elected officials, or comprises a mixture of these forms. Beware of what you wish for...you may receive it!
John Wade Daniel, Texas, U.S.A.

Dear Sir,

I think the present House of Lords is an archaic system which should not exist in a modern country.

In fact, the House of Lords is composed of 600 hereditary peers who really do not represent the British population. I do not know the exact composition of the population but I am sure aristocrats are not numerous compared to the 58 million of Briton citizens. The hereditary peers have no legitimacy because they have not been elected. Their right to sit comes only from their parents even if they are uncompetent. The problem touched upon is the way the members of the Upper House are choosen : the hereditary Lords are the relics of the past.

Moreover, the presence of 2 Anglican bishops and 24 bishops who serve as "Lords spiritual" as long as they retain their sees in the House of Lords is quite ridiculous : why are the other religion communities such as Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, ... not represented ?

Finally, the life peers whose titles are not hereditary may deserve to sit in the House of Lords. They represent anybody but an increasing number of them are created in recognition of distinguished service (often in politics). It tends to prove that they are able to accomplish their mission.

I think the House of Lords needs a reform to make it more competent, more representative of the common people and so more respectable. Although no vote from the Upper House is necessary to pass legislation, this assembly is very important. It often suggests revisions and provides a forum for debate free from party politics.

I hope Blair's government will reform it because it gives a conservative, old-fashioned image of Great Britain.

The "new" House of Lords should be composed either of elected Lords (directly or indirectly) or of life peers or of a mix of both.
Fred Sigel - Paris

Dear Sir/Madam,

I thank our American cousins for their interest in the Labour Government's reform of our upper chamber. However, much reference has been made to a sadness which we should all be feeling as a result of a loss of what they consider 'an important tradition'. Let me inform those who are in some doubt that what it is to be British goes far beyond our archaic traditions. The character of the British people, their creativeness, assiduity, and desire for a democratically elected parliament cannot be ignored. The Upper Chamber in its current form is an affront to democracy, and the fact that people who have not found favour with the people (through the ballot box) have an influence upon our nation's legislation is disgraceful. Let us alter this poor state of affairs, so that no Briton has to mutter under his/her breath that ours is the 'mother of all parliaments'. Let us acknowledge the changing nature of our political system and have an Upper Chamber which, wholly elected, represents the regions of the UK. Poll after poll of the British people signals a desire to remove the 'vermin in ermine' who, lacking legitimacy, cannot hope to hold the House of Commons to account as a democratically elected Upper Chamber would. Reform at this time would have wider advantages, especially with regard to the work of our politicians. It would then be possible for them to talk about a Britain where people can achieve anything they wish through hard work and determination. Presently, this is particularly difficult when one coniders how peers, who acquired their seats through accident of birth, can make and break OUR laws. It is time to realise that Britishness is much more than outdated, undemocratic, traditions. It is time to trust the people over the aristocracy. It is time to embrace full democracy.
Paul England, Politics Undergraduate, University of Essex

Sir,

The principle of a person being given a job on the basis of the identify of his or her parents is unfair and outdated. Hereditary peerages glorify the exploits of medieval buffoons who first succeeded in becoming parasites of the nation, and then founded a line of parasites. The principle of a person being given a "job for life" is also unfair, and in 1999 it is outdated. Rather than move from a House of Lords dominated by hereditary peers towards one dominated by life peers, may I suggest that, after escaping the medieval timewarp of a hereditary legislature we go all the way towards producing a chamber of the modern age instead of stopping off at the 1950's? Legislators should be decent people unstintingly devoted to public service, who regard it as a privilege to serve in their capacity. They should forever be aware that the public can throw them out of office if they fail to serve the interests of the nation. Any system where legislators can take their position for granted will produce a class of arrogant, self-seeking incompetents. Democracy may not be perfect, and has produced more than a few arrogant, self-seeking incompetents, but the electoral mechanism is genuinely the best system of producing our leaders.
Aidan Neal

Ladies & Gentlemen,       

When I think of Great Britain, I think of The Queen. When I think of America, I think of The Constitution.  The Constitution and Declaration of Independence are kept in a nuclear bomb-proof hosing in Washington, D.C. that still allows the public to view them. Why do we keep these documents at such expense? Because they define what America is.  British culture, traditions, and history created America. Do away with British traditions, and I will miss a part of my country's history. I know little on British government, but if hereditary peers are to be taken away because it is undemocratic, then explain the monarchy.     

Democracy is not always good.  America is not a democracy, and I think we do run our government just fine (A few minor repairs necessary, but we still function!). In my opinion, we created more problems when we became more democratic.  For example, our "upper" house, comparable to The House of Lords, was not always elected by the people. We had to amend our Constitution to allow that.  The founders of America never intended the federal government to be so close to the people. As a result, we have a senate governed by popularity polls. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."      

Resist temptation to move with the political winds. Be proud of you traditions, culture, and history. 
Anson Groves, Fairfax, Virginia, USA

Sir  

The reforms are long over due...However, they do not go far enough...

  I do not consider it appropriate for a chamber of parliament to sit and develop laws and then go about interpreting those laws that they have been a party to.   If there is to be a second chamber of parliament - then they should be duly elected by the people.   The highest court of the UK should not form part of parliament and more importantly should be as remote as one can be from the executive Government as to ensure as far as possible the independence of the judiciary....

  Certainly the two functions - a (review) chamber of parliament and that of a court should be separated...
    Ross MacInnes, Justice of the Peace, Melbourne, Australia

The existence of the house of lords acknowledges the fact that the rich and powerful really do control to a great extent the politics of a nation. If the hereditary peer is not rich or powerful then eliminate his position. Rich and powerful families will always be the powers in any nation. In modern "democratic" nations they skillfully hide behind politicians and bureaucrats. Keep the house of lords and keep the powers that be out in the open.
Greg Follis, Memphis, Tennessee

This will seem strange coming from an American, but my leaning is toward a relatively-unreformed House of Lords. I can appreciate the unfairness to Labor governments of having what is probably a permanent Tory revisory chamber. A compromise is therefore in order: allow all peers, hereditary and appointed, to vote, but have the peers supporting the government dividing a total of 40 votes, the peers in opposition dividing a total of 40 votes, with the cross- bench peers casting a total of 20 votes.

The hereditary peers bring to legislation a diversity of occupation and experience (even eccentricities) which electoral politics some- times fail to produce. This compromise will allow them to have a say in legislation in a manner which will not render their contributions things to be ignored by the government of the day. Labor would do well to remember that the Thatcher governments were given some difficulties by the House of Lords. I think that the security of position and the independence of viewpoint which comes from the hereditary principle allowed them the self-confidence necessary to represent the permanent things in British politics. The limitations of the Parliament Acts are sufficient brakes on the ability of peers to thwart the workings of the House of Commons
Ed Unneland

Sir

It appears to me that the Government is destroying as much of our country as it can manage during its hopefully brief tenure.

When we have backbench MPs - of all parties - unwilling to speak out against their leaders it seems only right that we have a group in Parliament to defend the people. Only the House of Lords, complete with hereditary peers can do this. We do not need more political appointees, nor do we need elected members who are keeping half an eye constantly on the electorate and whips office.

The government must not be allowed to abolish the peers voting rights without consulting the public first. A constitutional issue of this magnitude deserves a referendum for once the principle of abolishing a hereditary peerage is established the logical next step is the abolition of the hereditary monarchy.
Louise McLaughlin, Glasgow

Sir,

Whilst it is clear that the house of lords in its present state is no longer relevant to today's britain, we must avoid a democratically elected upper house. if it is up to the electorate to decide who should hold the government in check then the whole concept of checks and balances will be disrupted. both houses will essentially be made up of the same party. positions should be appointed by an independant committee, e.g a royal commission. and please can we get away from the suggestion that the new house will be a bunch of tony's cronies. this is a very childish statement and is very unhelpful. we must address this issue with a national debate, highlighting the real issues and not some pathetic claim that we will lose our identity. as long as we do not go down the American path we should be o.k.
K P Howlett, student, Hartley Wintney Hampshire

Sir

  It was G.K. Chesterton who observed that only a fool would saw through a beam in his loft without first making certain that it was not the one holding the whole house up.  This government has set about dismantling constitutional institutions which have taken centuries to evolve, with scarcely a thought for the consequences of its recklessness.  The importance of the House of Lords - like the Monarchy - lies not in the power it has, but in the power it denies to others.  Without a second chamber independent of the executive in the Commons - which an appointed House would not be - there is no effective check on a government using its Commons majority to ignore the views of the electorate. 

  At present, much of the legislation which passes through its Commons stages reaches the Lords very poorly drafted. If it were not for the very valuable role the Lords plays as a revising chamber,  many laws would reach the statute book in a form which would make nonsense of any attempt to implement them.

The government makes much of the alleged inbuilt conservative majority in the House of Lords, which drives its haste to remove the right of hereditary peers to speak and vote.  While it is the case that there is a majority of nominal Conservatives in the upper House, peers' independence of party patronage made it possible for them to vote against the last Conservative government whenever they felt the situation warranted it.
Patti Fordyce

Sir

As a student currently studying for a politics degree, the reforms Tony Blair are considering or carrying through ranging from reform of the Lords to devolution obviously play a large part in my course.

I myself am of the opinion that the Lords should become a wholly elected body or be done away with altogether as there is no place for this undemocratic house in what we term a "democracy", it completely baffles me that merely because your father, whose father before that, whose father before that, sat in the Lords you should be conceded that same right. It is as bizarre as saying that because your father was a great mathematician, you should take over his position when he passes on, even though you may not have the same interest or aptitude for it.

One of the key concepts of democracy is legitimacy. The only thing which gives the Lords legitimacy is tradition....... however, what gave this tradition legitimacy in the first instance???

The Lords is merely one of the last remnants of a class society in Britain...... the days for a stuck up, land owning aristocracy who are more interested in feathering their own nests than the interests of the country have gone...... It is time to move on, it is time for reforms, we must move forward. We must look towards the future of our great country and not dwell on what it used to be!!!!!
Graeme Taylor, London

Sir,

I am dissapointed to read of the views of the many Americans who have responded to the question of Lords Reform. If such an undemocratic system were suggested for their Senate, there would be an almighty backlash from all parts of American society. There is no place in a prominent 21st century nation for a second chamber with members who have not earned the right to be in it. It must be said, however, that the Lords does perform it's function of holding the Commons to account well, due its lack of party politics, and this should be the prime consideration when looking at what form a new chamber should take. Indeed, if the Lords had some legitamacy, it would be able to do this job far better. At the moment, whenever the Lords kicks up a fuss about a bad piece of legislation which has been passed to it, the government does not have to take their objections seriously. The Lords always has to back down, when many people in this country do support what the Lords is trying to do. A good example, I believe, of this, is the issue of closed lists in the elections to the European Parliament. The government may have got the legislation through, but I do not believe that they have won the arguement. The House of Commons should always be the dominant chamber in parliament, and as such should be able to defeat the Lords on any issue, but increasing accountabity and legitimacy for the Lords as a revising chamber is essential. I therefore believe that the Parliament Act, where the Commons can defeat the Lords if no resolution is found between the houses after a year, should be extended so that the Lords are able to hold up legislation until a general election, or a referendum is held. As far as the constitution of a new House of Lords goes, it should be made up of people from many varied backgrounds, and they should be appointed to the house in many different ways. There is a place for some if it's members to be democratically elected. This would close the gap between the Lords and the Commons, and mean that the ridiculous situation of Labour having a massive majority in the Commons at the moment, and the Conservatives having a massive majority in the Lords comes to an end. Perhaps a quater of all members should be appointed this way. By no means should the proportion of those democratically elected exceed 50%; we don't want a mirror image of the Commons. I am very interested by the idea that people should be picked at random out of the electoral register, to sit for a term in the Lords. This would give the house true accountability, without the dog eat dog style of conventional politics. I also believe that with the new Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly coming into fruition, there should be places for representatives of those bodies. Consideration should also be given to having a seat associated with a job, for example, the Govenor of the Bank of England, the head of different police forces etc. This already occurs to some extent with bishops and archbishops in the Lords, as well as the Law Lords. I would like to see these elements remain untouched. We would become the laughing stock of the western world if we retained the Lords in it's present form just for posterity, and we can have no place in being critical of dictatorships when half of our parliament is based on birthrights.
Justin Berry, Undergraduate Student, Imperial College, London

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