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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK


UK Politics

Give Lords 'more authority' - Cranborne



Viscount Cranborne's family have been sitting in the House of Lords for centuries - some of his ancestors served Queen Elizabeth I and James I as ministers. But as a hereditary peer he stands to lose his seat in Parliament.

Last year, Lord Cranborne was sacked by the Tory leader William Hague as opposition leader in the Lords after he went behind his back to negotiate a temporary deal with Labour to keep some hereditaries in the House.

In the third of a series of articles written for BBC News Online on Lords reform, Lord Cranborne sets out his vision of the chamber's future. To send us your views on Lords reform click here.

The main purpose of the House of Lords is to make the House of Commons work better.

The present chamber fails to fulfil that purpose because of its composition: a chamber dominated by the ethos of the hereditary peerage no longer carries the authority to insist that the House of Commons passes legislation of higher quality.

Lords Reform
The House of Lords therefore needs to reform its membership if it is to acquire the authority it needs.

At the same time, if the new upper chamber were to possess too much power it could challenge the ultimate authority of the House of Commons. This would lead to legislative gridlock.

Walking the reform tightrope

The trick therefore for Lord Wakeham will be tread a tightrope which enables him to avoid falling into the trap of an impotent chamber on the one side and a chamber that is a threat to the House of Commons on the other.

It is a task that has eluded previous reformers, not because there is a shortage of schemes that would work, but because any scheme that increases the power and the authority of the upper house reduces the nominal power of the House of Commons.

This is something that up to now the House of Commons has refused to countenance.

If he is courageous Lord Wakeham will grasp the opportunity to propose a scheme that will give the House of Lords more authority.

Parliament as a whole will work better and the government will become more accountable to Parliament and ultimately, to the whole electorate.

Paradoxically, by giving more authority to the upper house, the standing of the House of Commons will rise as it becomes more effective.

Parliament - 'a home for poodles'

On the other hand, if he is cautious, Lord Wakeham will do nothing to halt the decline of Parliament and the increasing contempt in which the public holds governments of both hues.

Their authority comes from Parliament but they are no longer held to account by Parliament which, with one or two glorious exceptions, has become a home for their poodles.

Reform of the House of Lords should have come after the reform of the House if Commons, since it has not we should look at reform of the upper house as merely the first step in the reform of Parliament.

With luck Lord Wakeham will look at both compositions and powers.

A cocktail of elections and appointments

As far as composition is concerned, a wholly elected upper house would challenge the authority of the House of Commons.

A cocktail of routes to membership would be one attractive option: some directly elected members, elected perhaps for 12 years and for one term only; some nominated so that we do not lose our experts, including law lords and bishops; some to represent the regions and local government.

As for powers, we should think of maintaining the existing powers of delay and the ban on power over money bills.

However, we should give the upper chamber the power to amend secondary legislation, to forbid excessive delegated powers, and Henry VIII clauses in particular [which delegate powers to ministers rather than Parliament], and, most importantly, a right to refer to any substantial constitutional bill to a post legislative referendum.

The electorate is more representative than a constitutional court.



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The Royal Commission on Lords Reform

The House of Lords


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