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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
House of Lords: Will the reforms work?
A joint committee of MPs and peers is to be set up by the government in an attempt to break the deadlock over reform of the House of Lords.
The proposals effectively mean that five years of work on reform including a royal commission will now be abandoned.
The new committee will initially look at the role and composition of the House of Lords and examine how much power it should have.
It will then draw up detailed proposals for reform, with MPs and peers being given a free vote on the options.
Conservative and Liberal Democrats have welcomed what they say is a government climb down but the Tories warn it could indefinitely postpone the reform process.
Are the proposals an important step towards reform of the House of Lords? Or are they merely a delaying tactic? Tell us what you think.
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Reform of the Lords is a long overdue modernisation to a constitutional settlement dating from 1688. Since then modern politics has changed out of all recognition, particularly with the development of party politics and the Cabinet based system. These have drawn more and more power to the executive and, concurrently, undermined the effectiveness of the legislature. Maybe that is why the courts have had to compensate with a more intrusive form of judicial review! The Commons (in the guise of the ruling party) will always do its best to retain its near absolute power and an elected House of Lords will help redress what is now a dangerous imbalance.
To those who want an mostly elected second chamber: what is the point of needlessly duplicating the elected Commons? To those who think that Lords reform is so important: first look at our real problem, the unrepresentative, confrontational, archaic Commons. To anybody who thinks that either Commons or Lords can function with over 600 members: be realistic and take example from other countries which have fewer than half this number of members in their parliaments.
David E Flavell, England
To counterbalance the overwhelming power politicians now have what about a "House of Experts" with members elected by the various organisations such as the BMA, Royal Institution, CBI, the trade unions and local councils? This house would be completely politically independent and so would be free of the political interference that has ravaged the House of Lords ever since Lloyd George.
Also, to ensure that the government will take notice of this new house it must have equal power to the House of Commons - the Parliament Act should be replaced by a law that puts the onus to compromise on the Commons: for example, if a Bill is rejected six times by the House of Experts it could automatically lapse. (At the moment if a Bill is rejected six times by the House of Lords it passes!)
Dan Cook, UK
Firstly, let's remind some of the USA contributors here that the US system was modeled largely on the UK's - albeit 200 years ago. Secondly, if we compare the changes made in the two countries' constitutions the UK has adapted more probably because it is unwritten and more flexible that that of the USA, so we really don't need lectures for our American 'cousins' on democracy!
Second, like most UK institutions, Parliament works because it is adaptable and doesn't stick to rigid procedures or principles - the current parliamentary arrangement was in place before universal suffrage. Reform is something that needs to be approached with thought and care not for short-term fixes or immediate political advantage. The last reform was a hashed compromise to save the Government's face. No prime minister is going to willingly give up the monarchical powers of patronage they currently have or allow a rival seat of power to be created. So either strip the PM of his powers to appoint peers or accept that cronyism is inbuilt. Quite how this is more democratic than the previous hereditary system is lost on me but let get real here.
Reform of the House of Lords is nothing to do with democracy but more to do with the greater cause of New Labour and their assured existence for years to come. I seem to remember Labour banging on about proportional representation until they got into power and I see that that has been miraculously dropped when they realise it didn't favour staying in power!
Mark, USA, we need no lessons on democracy from the land where you had your President decided by a partisan court, after Republicans tried to stop ethnic minorities using their franchise.
Britain is not ready for true democracy. It still wants and needs a privileged elite to tell the masses what and how to think, and to act as a brake in case they get any wild ideas about deciding for themselves what government policy should be. Perhaps in a hundred or two hundred years from now they might be given some more democracy, and then again, maybe not. This infection from America about equality must be stamped out.
Why do we need to waste so much time and money trying to destroy a system that has worked perfectly well for hundreds of years? Stop wasting our money and leave the system alone.
This is a farce! This Government is destroying our mechanisms for democracy! The Lords will, one way or another, become a pit of cronyism and manipulation, doing away with Parliament's only safety valve. The supporters of these reforms should be ashamed.
Brian Clowes, Wales
The idea suggested previously by a contributor of having a local person from each individual council is an excellent one as it would allow people to amend national legislation with an eye to how it would affect people locally. It could in effect be a more relevant revising chamber than the House Of Lords is. Failing that how about having the House Of Lords with people elected by PR, with the House Of Commons still by the "first past the post" system?
No, it won't work at all. We should bring back the Hereditary Peers and put Margaret Thatcher back in charge of the Lords. That would provide the government with some reasonable level of scrutiny. What a delight it would be as well!
People misconceive the whole notion of democracy, thinking that democratic legitimacy is only maintained by ensuring that the decision-makers are democratically elected. But the purpose of the House of Lords is to act as a check and balance on the democratically elected government. It is a constraint on the abuse of the political mandate by the prospective elective dictatorship of majoritarian government. The House of Lords may be constituted of members of particular political patronage, but such members must operate on conscientious grounds in order to protect the citizens from the oppression of over-zealous and ill-advised government. An elected upper house would negate the effectiveness of its conscientiously used guarded opposition and would essentially emasculate any necessitous opposition, thus allowing a strong government free, unobstructed rein for the length of the electoral mandate. So I say let us stop the rot of the emasculation of the upper house and concentrate on properly strengthening its checking and balancing functions for the good of democracy as widely defined.
As usual, people are giving you very glib answers to complicated questions. For example, the notion of an elected Senate "that all mature democracies of the world have". I wonder if the person who wrote that has any idea of how many problems the US Senate, to take one example, causes. The US Senate was deliberately set up to give each state equal representation, independent of its population, and as a result, farming states control half the votes. Want to guess what that gets you? Yup, the recent increase in farming subsidies that Europeans have denounced as "obscene". Sorry, guys, but there are no easy answers, and the current House of Lords is by no means the worst possible solution. Just electing every public official is not a magic wand.
We have two elected houses, and look how we're doing.
What is the point of constantly arguing about the makeup of a new House of Lords, when you have not first decided upon what its role will be, and what it's relationship to the house of commons will be.
Why not just pick people of the electoral register at random to fill the second chamber? Women and ethnic minorities will be better represented, and party campaign funding issues will be irrelevant. It could be like jury service, except it should pay better and it will last a few years rather than a few weeks.
John G, London, UK
The second house should be fully elected with one member coming from each of the elected local councils. This will avoid the redundancy of regional assemblies whilst still providing a voice from each borough. The members would be chosen by the council itself as this would be more likely to reflect the make up of the individual wards. It would also avoid adding complexity to the public ballot papers. As local elections tend to be decided on local issues (rather than along national party lines) this would provide a far more representative national body than the existing Commons or Lords without the huge electoral upheaval required for PR. Problem solved!
The idea of having two elected houses is frightening and pointless. The House of Lords is a safety measure against megalomaniac grinning PMs who ride roughshod over regular parliamentary etiquette. Imagine having two Blairs in power. The House of Lords has no real teeth except its ability to draw the public's attention to any matters which it feels are not in the interest of the country. Why should the election of Lords members vary at all from those elected to the Commons? What would therefore be the point in the second house?
Just what we need, another set of elected politicians. Along with the upcoming regional assembly ministers, the MPs, MEPs, councillors and even people representing particular areas of a town, does the government really think this will stop voter apathy or is that what it is hoping for?
Since the Government is intent on foisting regional assemblies on us, why not save a bit of cash and scrap the second house all together? We can only support so many levels of government and the House of Lords was only ever a sop to the aristos disempowered by Cromwell's revolution anyway. So why bother having a second house at all?
A non-elected upper house is essential in ensuring a parliamentary majority does not enable the Prime Minister to rule as a virtual dictator.
Shahidul, London, UK
Given the apathy and often dismal judgement of the British electorate I am horrified at the thought of a mainly elected second chamber. More party hacks equals less real democracy
With the problems the government has had progressing Lords reform and the recent proposals for devolved government in England, isn't the best way forward for the elected regional assemblies to take on the role of second chamber?
The second chamber needs to be abolished and replaced with a body democratically elected by the voters of this country. Until this matter is sorted out, Parliament should permanently adopt the Parliament Act and render the House of Lords powerless. The Lords could then act as a simple advisory body until it is replaced.
The reason the Government is having to abandon the process so far is because the whole thing was structured around political dogma, envy, greed and the need for control. There was little reason in any of the arguments and as a consequence the parameters for the various enquiries were flawed. The whole lot was doomed to failure. They should all be ashamed of themselves and the control freaks involved should be sent the bill for costs to date.
14 May 02 | UK Politics
Lords rethink 'not delaying tactic'
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