With the creation of yet more peers to fill an overcrowded House of Lords, I was reminded how, when the institution works, it works well, There is sustained debate in that chamber – unlike the other one – and it’s mostly free of petty political point scoring. They quite regularly throw things back at the House of Commons (who quite regularly don’t listen) demonstrating an ability to think things through that MPs just don’t seem to be able to do. However, there are still party constraints within the House of Lords and it is far too big to be either economical or effective. However, I have a proposal for ‘fixing’ it:
- I don’t want an elected House of Lords. This would embed party politics further into the HoL, not minimize it. You only have to look at the PCC elections to realise that some people just vote blindly in accordance with the colour of rosettes. In addition, any electoral process for the HoL would inevitably be complex and opaque – anything championed by Nick Clegg, lover of AV and European bureaucracy, would probably put people off voting for an elected HoL which would, naturally, further embed the political parties who would make sure their voters turned out.
- So what do I want? Well, I want the size of the HoL to shrink – but gradually. So my first point would be that, until the Lords is the same size or smaller than the Commons, only half of the peers ‘lost’ in a year would be replaced. This would take some time to sort out the problem but it’s fairer than an outright cull of peers and, realistically, there is a high turnover in this area. Also, peers holding a conviction for, say, expenses fraud, should be investigated and thrown out instead of returning to their posts.
- Then – and this is the important bit – no peer takes on the banner of a political party. All peers would be known simply as cross-benchers until the political presence died out completely in the House of Lords and they were simply ‘peers’.
- Under this system, the government would be forced to nominate people who could do the job, not people who will defend their party interest in the Lords. There would be no party interest in the Lords.
- Of course, individuals will still have leanings sympathetic to either the government of the day or the opposition. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, the pressure to vote a particular way will be removed and the peer can debate and vote according to their conscience and beliefs. Take this for an example. If David Cameron was elevated to the House of Lords after leaving the Commons, he would take on a role not affiliated to the Conservatives. For the most part he would probably take the side of the Conservatives in the Commons but on some issues he wouldn’t feel comfortable. Say that in ten years we have a fiercely Eurosceptic government which, given his current record, Cameron wouldn’t agree with one bit. He would be free to vote against the party he once represented without feeling he was betraying it.
- As far as debate goes in the new HoL, it would easy enough to nominate one peer who’s on the side of whatever legislation is passing through to lead the debate and one peer on the opposite side to lead the opposition. Where’s the problem with that?
This is radical, I know. But party politics is ruining our country. It’s pretty much done for the Commons because turkeys won’t vote for Christmas but there’s a chance to make the Lords function better than it already does while simultaneously trimming its size. I’d like to see all party leaders bluster and tell me why it’s a bad idea.