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Lords reform Wednesday, 30 June, 1999, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Your views on the Lords - part three
Lords Reform
Reaction from BBC News Online users on the government's plan to reform the House of Lords.

Send us your views by clicking here.

Dear BBC Editor-

I have been doing some reading on the subject of reform of the House of Lords. There are some weaknesses with Labour's plan. If you are to abolish 600 Hereditary Peers, how will you fill the void? Will you elect them or appoint them? I don't like that idea; because it will allow 10 Downing Street to put "their" people in. I live in America. We have a two-house congress. Our upper house is called the Senate. Each of our states is given two Senators who serve for six years. This would work well in a modern Britain. This would give the British people more choice and democacy if an elected upper house replaced the 600 or so Hereditaries.

Thank you very much.
Joshua Holman, Jacksonville, NC, USA


Blair merely wishes an entire administration that will sit up and beg whenever he deigns to do anything. It is an offence against democracy that he and his kind, amongst whom Baroness Jay can be numbered as one of the least illustrious people to have ever gone to the Lords, should be allowed to demonstrate their contempt for this country with such a free hand. We do not need a different type of second chamber - the one we have had for these past centuries will do perfectly well to call to question the excesses of envy politicking.
Kerie Receveur - London

Dear BBC Editors,

  The Commons debates over reforming the House of Lords baffle my simple Yankee mind. 

  An elected upper house in place of a largely hereditary one seems perfectly reasonable, but Prime Minister Tony Blair's preference for a chamber of appointed members serves no discernable democratic purpose. 

  An appointed house would leave UK voters with two lousy possibilities: Lords would emerge as either a political dumping ground for superannuated MPs (woolly hacks on woolly sacks) or a committee-tailored gaggle of dull, gray functionaries (The House of Boreds).  Either of those options would be no more democratic and far less functional than the House of Lords in place today.

  Democratic institutions are created by elections.  If the lords are to be legitimately democratic, they must be elected. But the very democracy to which Mr. Blair pays such passionate lip service is likely to undermine Labour's hold on power. 

  Three hundred years of electoral mandates have given the commons an upper hand over Parliament's upper house.  It stands to reason that an elected House of Lords is bound reclaim some of its old clout and might even do so at the expense of Her Majesty's Government. That sort of power shift would become particularly evident if the Conservatives won a majority in an elected House of Lords.

  What would Labor do then?  Mr. Blair couldn't possibly justify abolishing an elected upper house -- at least not in the name of democratic reform. His only choice at that point would be to join the hereditary lords in pining over the good old days.

  Of course, the prime minister is unlikely to let matters get to that point.  He won't allow the lords to be elected, and consequently, will fail to redeem his promise of a thoroughly democratic Parliament.  He'll replace a nearly useless house whose existence is justified by tradition with a completely useless house justified by political expediency.

  Perhaps for his own sake Mr. Blair should just leave well enough alone.

Tim Ireland, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Dear Sir:

The abolition of voting rights for hereditary peers in the Lords is yet another sad milestone in the degradation of the British state.

Bit by bit and day by day, Tony Blair strips away the heritage, the traditions, and - ultimately - the fundamental truths of Britain. It grieves me to see this deconstruction proceed virtually unopposed by the British people and the cowardly political hacks in Parliament.
David Towne, United States

Keeping with tradition is good...but not at the expense of democracy!

To Whom it May Concern,

As an A-level student currently studying Politics, and the House of Lords as a current topic, I have heard many reasons why the House of Lords should and should not be reformed, and the many options available for reform. After looking at these views I feel that the only real solution is to abolish the second chamber completely, as Unicameral systems are more streamlined and effective, as shown in countries such as New Zealand and India, or perhaps having a system similar to that in the USA. It is understandable that perhaps the second chamber would be useful for holding the executive to account, but in this current system, the Lords are both unelected and unrepresentative. I think it is time for a change, and as for losing our traditions and "Britishness", there are plenty of things still around that make us British, such as gool old fish and chips and the State opening of Parliament.
Charlotte Larsen, A-level student

Dear Sir:

  As an American I'd like to point out that we have a judicial system where the highest magistrates are appointed for LIFE by the serving President pending approval from the Senate.  I'm speaking of our Supreme Court justices.  While this body is far from an exact parallel to the House of Lords, it does show that even we ardent republicans can find room for a non-elected counterpoint to our popularly chosen representatives.  While I don't have the depth of knowledge to judge whether your upper house is in need of reform, I offer this as a potential model.  Let the Prime Minister nominate a candidate and the Parliament judge his/her worthiness.  It's served us rather well.
Fred Krough  

Dear Sir,

The Lords' is what sets the UK apart from any other country and is an extraordinarily valuable asset. The primary benefit of having a second house is twofold : (i) to take a sanguine and impartial view of proposed legislation on our behalf and, (ii) as the Highest Court of Appeal of existing legislation. Thus, it should be involved most strictly with the law and not with the processes of government. The problems and my solutions of the Lords' today is twofold and I suggest solutions as follows:

1. Party Affiliation: The existing structure based upon party allegiances with its concomitant representational imbalance is truly what has given rise to the current reform. However, alliegence to political parties has been only for Governments' benefit and actually conflicts with that of we who are governed.

Solution: All peers should be cross-benchers and neccessarily remain outside the democratic elective process, as the Queen does. Patronage and lobbying of the Upper House should be strictly legislated against and submissions to it should only be allowed as put forward by the three main parties in the Lower House. Thus they would become the place of appeal for Government.

2. Sourcing of incumbents: Any form of appointment where nominees have to ask (whether explicity or by currying favour with the right people) produces competition which is both self-seeking and corruptive viz. the USA senate. Any which does not has historically been attributed privilige and is divisive viz. the main body of hereditary peerages.

Solution: There is none directly, since random selection of "butchers, bakers and candlestick makers" to do (e.g.) a 3 year stint while their business declines would be unworkable. Instead, we should work within the current system and leave untouched the right of all three parties to appoint Life Peers, the Law Lords and the Bishops but, for hereditary peers:

a) retain their right to vote.
b) make them all decide whether they want to work for their positions by contracting to attend the House daily.
c) Peers not so contracted to the House would be unable to use their titles until they do so contract but should be able, at their option, to renounce their titles immediately in favour of their own heir.
d) Abolish use of courtesy titles except for the Monarch's immediate heir.
e) Provide for the parties to create more hereditary peers under limited circumstances.

That way, the democracy can easily identify who is working for it and know that it is getting value for its money whilst preserving the valuable historic colour of the titles themselves. It also dilutes the divisiveness and privilege of accidents of birth to simply an option to take on a serious and onerous contractual commitment.

Yours faithfully
Richard Oliphant of Condie

To whom it may concern at the BBC:

Quite simply, the United Kingdom is not a democracy. We live in a constitutional monarchy. Our current government was set up in 1661 by King Charles II with the consent of parliament. It provided certain checks and balances, two of which have been destroyed. THAT is our government, and our people do not run the nation. Our parliament and our Queen run the nation. The hereditary peers provide a finer check and balance to the House of Commons than anything we could possibly devise. They have worked well, unfailingly, for the past 600 years. Why change the system now? This has only been an issue since Mr. Blair became PM. I believe it to be VERY short-sighted to "modernise" because it is a fad. There is no good logic to it. Even with said "modernisation," we would not be a democracy. The only way to become a democracy would be to disestablish the monarchy and the Church of England. These are not good things either. This destroys our nation. It is the same as the United States destroying the Senate and taking power away from the President. "Democracy" is full rule by the people. The United Kingdom is NOT a democratic nation. There are NO true democracies on Earth. If Mr. Blair wishes a Republic, it is only to give him more power. Strangely, with all this talk about democracy, Mr. Blair continues to support destroying the hereditary peerage, in spite of overwhelming POLL evidence that the British people do not wish it to be destroyed. To quote an American proverb, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." To quote me, "Destroying the present system of government destroys the UK." We cannot rightfully destroy the hereditary peerage. Such is simply treason.
George Percival-Symington Haverstrom, London

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