Monday, May 17, 2010

The House of Lords

One of the worst characteristics of the Blair-Brown governments of the last 13 years has been their cavalier attitude towards our constitutional arrangements. Nothing has been sacred to them, from a botched Scottish devolution to the abolition of the heretidary peerage.

Here is my plan for reform of the House of Lords.

There should be an elected House of Lords, populated by Senators. These Senators would be elected under our normal first-past-the-post arrangements, with two Senators from each of our ancient counties with extra ones from London and a few other large cities. They would serve a fixed five-year term. None could serve more than five terms or for more than three consecutive terms for a particular county. Minimum age would be 40 and retirement would be automatic on reaching the state pension age.

One of the most noticeable things about the recent election was the almost total absence of women from the national campaign. This is carried over into the current government, with only one major office filled by a woman. So each county would be required to elect a senator of each sex.

A major objection to an elected House of Lords is that we don’t really need another layer of party politicians. Obviously, you couldn’t prevent political parties putting up candidates but you could discourage them by banning Senators from being members of the government of the day. They would have to resign.

It is often said that the current arrangements means that the House of Lords holds lots of expertise and experience. This might be true, but it also houses a lot of clapped out ex-politicians. Personally, I can’t see why Melvyn Bragg, for instance, should be making laws for me. The new Senators would be salaried and would have a substantial budget to pay for any expert advice and research they needed. The remaining hereditary peers and the life peers could retain their titles but would lose access to the Palace of Westminster.

As they are serving for a fixed term, there would be a fixed date for Senatorial elections. This would be the first Sunday in May and 20% of the Senators would be up for election every year. This would also be day for local elections. The current government seems to be inching towards a fixed term for the House of Commons, so perhaps this “Election Day” could serve us for all three types of elections.

This new Senate should inherit the powers of the current House and its first task should be to instigate a joint commission with the House of Commons into their future relationship. If this commission resulted in proposals for change, then they must be put to a general referendum.

Indeed, this is my final proposal. The switch from appointed Lords to elected Senators must be first agreed by the electorate in a referendum.