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Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 11:15 GMT
Should the House of Lords be elected?
Tony Blair's plans for reforming the House of Lords lie in tatters after MPs rejected all of the options available to them ranging from a fully elected chamber to a fully appointed one.
The prime minister had already made clear his preference for a fully appointed "revising" chamber but that option was one of the first to go in one of the more decisive votes of the evening.
MPs were being given a free vote - meaning they do not have to follow party policy - on seven scenarios ranging from all future 'Lords' being appointed, to all being elected.
Opening the Commons debate, Mr Cook said: "The house has an opportunity to bring down the curtain on what has been the longest political indecision in our history."
In the event there was no conclusion in what is likely to have been an extremely embarrassing episode for the government.
How should the House of Lords be reformed? Would you like to see the second chamber elected or appointed? Or should it be a mixture of both?
This Talking Point was suggested by Chris, England:
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
A fully elected House of Lords with fixed term elections and while we're at it how about an elected Head of State as well? That way Tony might get to be President at last.
K. Budden, England
It should be elected to act as a balance to the Commons - hence elected in a different fashion - in proportion to the parties' votes for example.
I seem to recall the Lords were hailed once as the only opposition Margaret Thatcher had!
The Lords should be appointed, but not by Parliament. They should be elected/appointed by professional bodies. The bishops should stay, added to by churchmen from other religious groups. Accountants, doctors, lawyers, trade unionists, etc and yes, a few politicians, elected by their party, should all be there but the mix of them should be decided in advance.
The requirements for the upper house is that it consists of those people best able to advise and instruct the commons, basically so they don't do anything silly. That used to be peers who were generally better educated etc. Now this is no longer the case, but the requirement is the same. Let them be appointed, let them be experts, but please, please, please let them not all be politicians.
I think people are confusing democracy with election. It is not necessary for a political body to be elected to be democratic. We already have too many elections these days, as is shown by low election turnout figures. The last thing we need is another one.
I agree with the system like Norway: the best of both worlds. We need two chambers for a democracy to work. It would also mean dividing up electoral wards so as to vote in more people - surely this would have the side effect of giving better representation of the people. Separate elections for the Lords would have a low turnout; just think of the tiny turnouts for voting in European MEPs: this must be taken into account.
William Sutton, British Columbia, Canada
I'm all for a fully appointed house. The current Lords has many crossbenchers, independent of any party, and these members can often act as a brake against party zealots trying to ram the executive's agenda through Parliament. Such people would be unlikely to be elected in our party-dominated system.
The recent Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act contained some of the most frightening threats to our civil liberties since the rise of fascism in the 1930s and 40s, and it was left to the 'undemocratic' Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Crossbench peers to deal with this, while the 'democratically elected' Labour party in the Commons meekly acquiesced to the wishes of the Home Secretary.
We elect the House of Commons to run the country, so we should let it do its job unimpeded by a second chamber. If House of Commons committees were given sufficient powers to revise legislation then the House of Lords could quite simply be abolished. It is already a scandal that they are able to thwart the will of those we have elected. No wonder people don't vote, when even MPs cannot change anything.
At this point it would be better to save the money and abolish the House of Lords. An elected upper chamber has all the disadvantages of the lower house, ie. position is based on what is basically a popularity contest with no reference to actual talent, experience or ability.
I'm not convinced we actually need a second chamber at all, as long as the main elected legislature does its job properly. The House of Commons should spend longer debating and scrutinising bills, and holding governments properly accountable instead of rushing ill-considered and unwise bills at breakneck speed through the Commons like the Terrorism Act.
Standing Committees may be boring, but at least they ensure that issues get properly thought through. Too often the government passes kneejerk Acts, reacting to public hysteria, like the Dangerous Dogs Act or the one about firearms. In their wake follows confusion and infringements on human rights unintended by the framers of the bills.
I think that politicians should be banned from the House of Lords. I was disgusted to see my local Tory candidate who failed to be elected two terms ago find himself with a peerage and a job for life. The public clearly voted that they did not want his representation. The second chamber should be selected members of the general public who have been brought in as they do with jurors in court cases. Then the general public would be truly represented.
Why not make a dual use of the votes made in general elections and fill the second chamber according to the proportion of the vote gained by each party? This would have three main advantages: It would rein in governments which have disproportionate majorities as a result of first past the post; give representation to groups which are numerically significant but geographically dispersed such as greens, left-wingers and anti-Europe flat earthers and avoid low turn-outs as a result of election fatigue.
More politicians? No thank-you!
The second chamber should be filled
with experts from various walks-of-life:
scientists, churchmen, industrialists,
doctors etc. People that have
actually done something with their
lives rather than just spout hot air
over those unfortunate enough
to be nearby. They should be appointed
by a committee of other members
of the Lords. The second chamber does
not make policy but it should have the
right people in to make sure that policy
I have seen no mention so far of the Anglican Bishops, all of whom as far as I am aware still have seats in the House of Lords. This is ridiculous, they should have been first to go when the reform of the House of Lords started. The Bishops are religious figures who help shape and run the Church of England. They should not have any role in government. Perhaps the Bishops are still there because they are appointed by the prime minister. This also needs to stop, the Church of England should be separated entirely from the government.
There is a hidden agenda here, in that Tony is manipulating our very well established system of government to his own ends, with the ultimate goal of absolute control over us all. The fact that he simply doesn't listen to public opinion is evidence enough for this. I would urge anyone who still has any power to try their hardest to stop this reform, because it can only be a bad thing.
Elected has to be the answer, but elected by who should be the question. A democracy is a system that a country uses as an equal and fair program that allows the free speech to come to a conclusion on a matter supported by the majority role. An elected house which is totally independent of the other which acts as the mouthpiece for the public and is elected by the public to represent and speak for the public. In the event that they do not get it right, then they can be removed by the same means, de-elected.
There is no limit to the damage an MP will do to the state's law, economy or foreign policy if he thinks he will stay in power. The Lords have so far managed to protect the state from too much of this behaviour, but if it is to be "reformed" then I would want a commitment by all MPs that the Parliament Act will be repealed - the second chamber must have substance!
W. Smith, US
There is only one reform of the House of Lords that is required and that is to reverse the last reform when a majority of hereditary peers were disgracefully removed, breaking an 800 year tradition. We shouldn't be breaking with tradition, but we should do our utmost to ensure that they continue! Its time to bring back the old hereditary peers and make it less easier for the Prime Minister to manipulate the Lords by appointing his set of cronies! Bring back the hereditary peers!
It hasn't been widely reported, but the ousted hereditary peers are apparently in the process of suing the government under human rights legislation for the loss of their "property". At least we can be thankful that, whatever format the upper chamber takes, its former incarnation is no longer considered acceptable by anybody except those who regard membership of the Lords as a matter of property rights.
Yes, our "Upper" House should be elected, and also renamed! What is wrong with a House of Representatives and a Senate - times have changed since the days of "Commons" and "Lords" and if the Government is serious about Parliamentary reform then it should allow us an elected second chamber using the PR electoral system!
Richard Gregory, UK
The democratic process is represented by the elected House of Commons. A purely elected House of Lords would only be necessary if the role of Peers was to introduce or impose legislation.
Let's not forget that the upper chamber is largely a reviewing body and as such could and should be composed of a mix of elected and appointed members. Perhaps the portion of elected Peers, (60%) should be restricted to candidates standing on merit and not backed by any political party. As regards the Lords Spiritual, (or Bishops), whose membership is technically more ancient than the hereditary peers, why not replace them with, or at least include, a panel of twenty-four leading scientists.
There has to be something in place to act as a brake on decisions passed by the Labour majority in the Commons, so having a fully elected Lords may be dangerous. Wouldn't it be better to have about 40% elected, who would be specialists in certain fields, and about 60% appointed from the general public? This would hopefully lead to an accurate representation of Britain today, and not just full of old conservatives as it is at the moment.
Some comments on this topic suggest that a House of Lords reform would be an opportunity to introduce 'real' or 'ordinary' people instead of arrogant, apparatchik politicians. Last year in the Netherlands we had new populist party with a crowd of 'ordinary' people entering parliament. They made a complete mess of it. Please resist the appeal of easy criticism on politicians as a group. Their bad sides are to a certain extent a side-effect of a democratic system we'll have to accept
Surely we would be poorer if the capable and the brightest in our society are turned away from having in an input in how this country is run. The Lords do not govern or run the country, they influence and amend the Commons decisions. Apart from an over representation of lawyers in the Commons how many people their have held down real jobs to any significant level? I would much rather have a selection of people with expertise and experience have a second look at proposed legislation on behalf of the people of this country than the self serving party dominated Commons members.
One's gut reaction is to insist that the House of Lords be elected, but the House of Commons is "elected", and just look at them! Maybe we should rethink what we mean by "elected", but the definition should not include "appointed by the so-called elected".
Oliver Adams, UK
I think Tony Blair is right. A second elected chamber would challenge Parliament. It would become very difficult to completely ignore the electorate making it near impossible to enter unpopular wars against everyone's wishes. Worse still policy on other issues might start to reflect the public's fears and desires.
Much better to stuff a second house full of human right's lawyers, lobbyists and old school tie boardroom failures.
The House of Lords doesn't add any value to this country so it should be closed down. To be honest Parliament treats the people with total contempt so should also be closed. Think of the money that could be saved by ridding the country of all the leaches (sorry MP's).
Alex W, Oxford, UK
As much as I want to shout YES, YES, YES I have to realise that most of us in my age group don't even bother voting in the general or local elections because we don't believe in any of the political parties. An election for the body that gets in the way of everything new and lets through the most oppressive and controlling laws simply would not work anyway.
In all the conversations about the House of Lords, no-one has mentioned its position as the highest court in the land. For it to continue to be so, of course there will be need for appointment - to appoint the Law Lords for a start - but I think this should be kept to a minimum: enough to appoint the Law Lords and Ministers/Shadow-Ministers in order to run the House. The rest should be elected, but on a longer term - perhaps even 15 years, with 1/3 being re-elected every 5 years.
In this respect, the major fault is that of the system electing members to the lower house. How the current government can have such a majority on the share of popular vote obtained appals me. Oddly enough, the government's zeal for electoral reform disappeared when they gained their large majority.
Darren Stephens, UK
We already have an Elected Body who fail to represent the views of the People in the House of Commons. Is there really a need to elect another body who would ignore us too!
The row over hunting has demonstrated that under the current Parliamentary system, a relatively small rump of unelected individuals (with still too many of them there by accident of birth alone) can attempt to thwart the will of the majority of the electorate and jeopardise the whole programme of a democratic government. That just can't be right and Tony Blair should recognise that this is one issue where there can be no consensus and meeting of minds.
In contrast, an elected second chamber can claim to have the mandate of the people in equal measure to the House of Commons - this makes for deadlock government. What happens if one house is dominated by Conservatives and the other by Labour?
The trick is to make the second chamber relevant, and that means giving it some teeth (molars but not incisors!); but get rid of hereditary peers and the religious leaders; and create a non-political body to nominate candidates for peerage that are then voted on by the House of Commons in a free vote.
Mark M. Newdick, US/UK
As a Liberal Democrat Councillor and member of the Electoral Reform Society I tend to agree with Mark Newdick on this one and it would be interesting to hear the views of Americans, Australians and Germans who already have elected upper houses in their countries. Blair has centralised too much over the last six years. A fully elected upper house could simply run along the lines of the Lords at present simply revise and amend bad legislation but don't give it any further powers.
Have the upper house on a fixed term, elected in either halves, thirds or quarters every two to four years and on a different voting system so that the members serve longer fixed terms. Better for democracy in that no party can fix the date of the election for party purposes. For all those who complain about 'deadlocks' surely that is better than seeing bad policies such as the Poll tax introduced and the endless list of health and education reforms passed. Fewer bills rather than more ill thought out ones.
The whole concept of the upper house is to act as a "checking mechanism" on attempted legislation drafted by the House of Commons. If the members of this upper house are appointed by the government, as opposed to being elected by the populace, this "vetting" process gets by-passed: this is what happens in many cases now. Therefore, a fully-elected upper house is the only way forward to preserve democracy and restore UK public opinion in the value and worth of the UK system as a whole.
There must be a second house in order to prevent the fall into dictatorship that always seems to happen in a one house system, it forms part of the checks and balances that keep democracy working. The problem with it being elected is that if it is elected at the same time as the lower house, and the lower house gets a big majority then it is likely they will have a big majority in the upper house as well. It can't be guaranteed to act independently, which is what is required. To perform its role of being a check against the current government it needs to be formed in a different way to the current government. Hence all the debate.
As an aside, do we want more jobs for the boys, most people hold politicians in contempt, why do we need every increasing numbers of them? Soon we will have local councils, regional parliaments, national parliaments, and European parliaments. The sole purpose of which seems to be to generate more jobs for the politicians.
People use the word democracy despite a prime minister who wishes to start a war against the wishes of the majority. Democracy is a vague concept that has been dead for at least as long as men have ceased to wear togas! We have a legislative process now, where the duty of the upper house is to scrutinise legislation from the lower house. To that end, we need people with experience of life rather than just career politicians whose only aim is to further their own importance.
We need a mixture of both appointment and election. The House of Lords as it stands is clearly both biased and undemocratic but an all elected Lords would be just like the Commons and therefore pointless. However, abolishing it completely removes the safeguards that stop governments with a huge commons majority - like this one - from running riot with legislation.
Paul, Essex, UK
What about the Norwegian option?
The Norwegian Storting (Parliament) is elected as a single body and then elects 1/4 of its members to form an Upper House, the remaining 3/4 forming the Lower House. If there is any prolonged disagreement between the two chambers, they join together to form a single body to resolve the deadlock, with a 2/3 vote needed to pass a disputed bill. Thus, in Norway you could say that they have both a unicameral Parliament and a bicameral Parliament, with all members elected but without the need for gridlock.
It just goes to show that Blair and his cronies never really knew what their plan was for the Lords beyond - get rid of them as they may hold us to account. Obviously all he wants is a second chamber to rubber stamp his latest ill-conceived headline.
The old system was not perfect, but at least they had independence and the ability to give the government of the day a hard time.
I feel democracy is not really what Blair wants at all!!
A two chamber elected parliament works in other countries, so why not here? I think it is arrogance in the extreme for David Blunkett to suggest that we shouldn't have an elected chamber simply because of the probable low turnout of the electorate. Low turnouts are a problem that need to be addressed separately, and should play no part in this decision.
Mark Kent, Darlington, UK
Of course it should be elected. But why not have the members elected for life from a list on a PR basis, then annual elections for any vacancies that arise on the same basis?
As long as the remit of an elected second chamber is clearly defined, there should be no problems with it becoming a 'challenge to the authority of the Commons'. Maybe a written constitution, which clearly sets out the roles and responsibilities of both houses and how these relate to the citizens of the state, would be a wise move. The only method of appointment that can be justified in a modern democracy is by the popular will of the people and it's called an election.
How about selecting members on the same basis (or at least a similar basis) to jury service? A five-year stint in the Lords certainly would not be a hindrance on your CV. Also, given that it's largely a part-time occupation, member's outside career and interests could still be pursued - indeed, that outside experience would be a positive boon.
The House of Lords should either be wholly elected or wholly abolished. There is no place for appointed "representatives" in a democratic parliament. If we are concerned that certain people, such as judges and bishops, will thus not have their current influence, in so far as such unelected individuals should have influence on government policy they can be appointed Privy Councillors; otherwise they can lobby and plead their case just as many other unrepresented special interest groups do now.
03 Feb 03 | Politics
29 Jan 03 | Politics
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