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Cameron flooding the Lords prepares the way for its abolition

House of Lords, by UK Parliament, file at http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/2701203056/sizes/m/in/set-72157606364064387/The House of Lords is beyond redemption. While recent scandals have brought this issue to the forefront of politics, the reality is that the Lords has been an outdated and defunct institution for over a century. At the last election Labour proposed to replace the Lords with an elected Senate representing the regions and nations of the UK. However, calls to reform and indeed abolish the House of Lords have been proposed by the Labour Party since our foundation.

The Lords is a chamber of privilege and patronage. There remains the old guard of hereditary peers granted their position by accident of birth as well as the theocracy consisting of 26 bishops of the Church of England known as the Lords Spiritual. Alongside privilege sits patronage, with failed and retired politicians sitting beside party donors granted their position based upon their ability to sign a cheque.

The situation is likely to get worse. Despite a promise to cut the cost of politics David Cameron is getting ready to flood the Lords with another set of political cronies in order to tilt the balance further in favour of the present Tory Government.

Reform of the House of Lords usually focuses on replacing the undemocratic chamber with an elected assembly. While this would be a positive step forward in terms of democracy, there isn’t a great public zeal for creating more politicians. I am not convinced either that a weak Senate, a poor and powerless replica of the House of Commons would enhance our democracy.

We need a radical alternative, and while the Commons chamber is the theatrical showpiece of Parliament, the real engine room of our democracy is the Committees. Their work is often overlooked, however, at their best and as shown in the last parliament they have the capacity to hold powerful interests to account. From the Public Accounts Committee investigating tax avoidance by companies like Starbucks, Google and Amazon to the Culture, Media and Sports Committee holding Rupert Murdoch’s feet to the fire over phone hacking.

Through enhancing and empowering select committees we can create a powerful system of oversight and scrutiny. If we also allowed committees to amend and revise legislation there would be no need for a second chamber. The role of a backbench MP would be greatly strengthened with an ability to influence legislation in a way that is currently not available to them. Committee chairs would be an alternative option for independent minded MPs who are unlikely to be favoured by their political parties.

It would demand more from MPs and help end the scandal of MPs second jobbing and taking paid outside interests which conflict with their parliamentary duties as well as ridding us of over 700 unelected legislators in the Lords which is costing the taxpayer close to £100 million a year.

David Cameron is laying the foundations for the final demise of the Lords and his next wave of peers will delegitimise this archaic institution which has become nothing more than a holding pen for those willing to do political favours for the political elite.

This article previously appeared at Graham’s own blog

8 Comments

  1. swatantra says:

    Either we go for an American style Senate of around elected 100 to 250 Senators, or maybe an Italian style Senate, or a French style Senate, but the present appointed system of placemen and women is unacceptable.
    Either we fill the Senate with former leaders in politics the arts and culture and sciences or mixture of experience and novices.
    Its a tough decision.

  2. Mervyn Hyde says:

    Could someone tell me what the Lords are supposed to be there for?

    I remember quotes saying they were there to amend bad legislation, Shirley Williams said she was opposed to privatising the NHS but then voted in favour of the Bill. It went through the lords and became law.

    If they allowed that piece of pernicious legislation through, what possible purpose do they serve?

    I don’t believe the Lords serve any real purpose and a second chamber makes government irrelevant, we just don’t need them, if bad legislation needs amending, parliament can do it itself.

  3. jeffrey davies says:

    whilst that bishop of c stood up and told the house cams and co were culling his cattle yep the following day retracted it bishops it seems sup with old nic jeff3

    1. swatantra says:

      Jeff could you translate that into plain English please. Merv raises an important and fundamental question, do we really need a 2 Chamber. Its there to revise and give added value to the Commons, presuming they’ve mucked it up in the first place, which they shouldn’t do if they were up to the mark, anyway. But most countries have 2nd Chamber; its a job for the boys the elder Statesmen and women who just can’t retire to the country and seaside but eat and breathe politics, and would be vegetables without a place in the Lords, like Prezza.
      In some cases the 2nd Chamber initiates Legislation because the Commons has too much on its plate, which it shouldn’t have in the 1st place if it were run properly.
      I’m coming around to the view that we need smaller Govt, because modern politics simply provides spads and career politicians with something to do, and make money. We honestly don’t need that many. And please don’t dress it up as ‘service to the public’ and ‘helping people’. it isn’t its helping themselves.

      1. swatantra says:

        Good to get back to normal, and not have a blog on the Leadership, which is now done and sealed. I refuse to comment any more on the Leaderships. Labour needs to get back to the more important things in politics.

        1. John P Reid says:

          Like not even being the Oppostion, this article is silly too, there should have been 50 Ukip lords by their result and 12 greens

      2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        Even more than I do; Jeffry Davis who, (who is nether entirely well nor as young as he once was,) was nonetheless a frequent, sensible and articulate contributor to Micheal Meacher’s blog, sometimes has some difficulty with grammar. spelling and formal expression.

        Nonetheless if anyone is prepared to extend to him the courtesy of applying a modicum of patience and intelligence too what he writes, they will find that he is passionate, well informed and committed socialist, from the heart as much as from the head, whose views are almost always worth considering.

        I had no difficulty at all following what he wrote above, it’s a valid point and I largely agree with it.

  4. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    Yes the committee’s at their best can do useful work, though from what I’ve seen watching them on television that is far from always being the case, particularly when they’ve tried to hold groups like G4S or even their fellow MPs to account at which they to often descend in into farce.

    What is needed is second chamber independent of the first, (which is what, in principle, if seldom in practice the Lords is supposed to be,) that can scrutinize and amend legislation.

    It a radical idea; but one still based firmly on democratic principles, but as with juries, it’s members might best be selected by lottery and serve for a single fixed term.

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