Saturday, 14 May 2011

Elect the Lords

I was disappointed to see my Labour friend Dan defending the status quo in the lords by opposing an elected senate to replace the crony, undemocratic, 12th century farce that currently exists. His blog post set out five reasons for keeping things as they are and below is why I think he is wrong:

Firstly, primacy: Would a proportionally elected upper chamber have more democratic legitimacy than the commons? Would it therefore have primacy and more power than the commons? Yes it probably would but the fact that we have a sham system in the commons should not block Lords reform. And while we are at it, let's have a constitution too. In the meantime the new senate will have some clout.

Secondly, the suggestion that a senate elected by PR would block reform of the commons is simply wrong. Having a chamber with more democratic legitimacy than the commons is likely to drive reform of the commons. Why stop with Lords reform?

Thirdly, should we have experts in the HoL rather than politicians to provide scrutiny of legislation? This is a favourite argument of the un-reformers. Experts by their nature are experts in their field and not wider political matters – how would they take a balanced view? There is also a saying that goes along the lines of ‘ask two experts for an opinion and you’ll get three answers’. Experts may have detailed knowledge but not necessarily the answers. Finally, how many experts would you need to cover the range of possible topics?

The value of politicians is that they should be more balanced and provide a voice for the people. Experts are rarely this - call them to give evidence but don't put them in charge.

Lastly, cross benchers, perhaps someone could explain what is so great about them and who do they represent? No-one but themselves. We need demoracy in government.

Despite some concerns from Labour activists, it seems that Clegg is going to publish a bill for an 80% elected HoL which would allow for the bishops and law lords to stay there. Personally, I think keeping them in there is pointless. We have a supreme court and a scrutiny and evidence system to ensure that legal people can at the highest level, judge cases and advise on new legislation. Why do we need them in the Senate?

As for Bishops... while I have a lot of time for some of them (Rowan Williams) and while I am fairly religious, I simply don’t accept that they have any place in parliament. On what legitimacy are they there? Can we really accept that they are representing God (or the Goddess)? Surely not in a modern democracy.

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