Lords reform is back on the agenda. It was in the Coalition Agreement and Cleggy banged out his proposals last year which are now coming up for discussion. After their abject failure to win the referendum on voting system change, this issue is the next one the Lib Dems are hanging onto desperately hoping they can say they have actually changed something by the General Election in 2015.
Of course, this has been an issue for ever and a day. Since the Parliament Act 1911, the Byrce Commission in 1917, the next Parliament Act in 1949, through to the establishment of the Salisbury Convention in the 1940s, the arrival of life peers in the Life Peerages Act 1958 to the Peerages Act in 1963. In recent times, Tony B-liar established a Royal Commission in 1999 which led to a Joint Committee in 2000 and then a White Paper in 2001 followed by a further consultation in 2003 and then another White Paper in 2008. All of which went nowhere.
And it is topical again now: see here, here and here.
The problem with Lords reform, as demonstrated by all the previous failed attempts at coming to a generally agreeable solution, is that people always start looking at the issue from the wrong end of the question. They start by fretting about ‘who should sit in it’. Wrong question. The start point should be ‘what do we want it to do’. Seems to me, this is simple:
First, we want it to be Bagehot’s ‘revising chamber’ - ie we need it to be packed full of people who ‘know’ stuff (experts) rather than people who ‘believe’ stuff (politicians).
And, second, to forestall any future constitutional problems, we want it to be very clearly the junior chamber to the Commons - ie we don’t want the intransigent battles for future supremacy between the Lords and the Commons as has happened in the past (which is what you get if you stuff it full of egotistical politicians).
Both these two statements very much seem to mitigate against having it elected, with all the attendant cost, fuss and nonsense. Of course, this is anathema to all our elected politicians who continually promote the idea that only ‘pure’ people like them should be involved in politics. Utter bollocks of course. As we continually have seen, elected politicians have severe drawbacks, principally that they often know fuck all other than how to work their party’s system to get them selected to a winnable seat, a skill that is totally useless in a revising chamber.
So my suggestions would be:
1. 300 members.
2. 100% appointed, annually topped up to keep it at that number (transitional arrangements would of course be needed initially and for the first few years).
3. Hold rights to your seat for 10 years and then automatic resignation.
4. All members get life peerages on appointment.
5. A balance should be maintained between differing professional backgrounds – we want doctors, lawyers, teachers, union leaders, architects, town planners, social workers you name it, but as few professional politicians as possible, ie normal people not political party hacks and retired Commons 'seat blockers' put out to grass (it's a legislative chamber, not a retirment home for old politicians).
6. Give them an MP’s salary but you only get it if you actually attend, reviewed quarterly, and if you don’t attend enough for two quarters, you lose your seat.
7. Keep the principle of crossbenchers.
8. Clear out all the clergy but the leader of each established religion gets a seat whilst they hold that office.