“It so happens that if there is an institution in Great Britain which is not susceptible of any improvement at all, it is the House of Peers!”
So says Lord Mountararat in Gilbert & Sullivan‘s classic light opera, “Iolanthe”. But it seems that the coalition disagree. And so, they have published a draft House of Lords Reform Bill which proposes the following radical changes:
- the number of Lords will be reduced to 300, with each elected for a single 15 year term (or three Parliaments);
- the House of Lords will be elected using the single transferable vote (STV), electing a third of members each time with elections normally taking place at the same time as General Elections;
- the Lords Spiritual (i.e. Church of England bishops) will continue to sit in the House of Lords, albeit in lower numbers (down from 26 to 12);
- the first elections would take place in 2015, meaning the transition would be complete by 2025.
So, in general – good. However, the Bills intention that the House remains impotent to block Commons legislation (being able to revise and delay at best) must in time be subject to stress if the Lords (elected proportionally) can lay claim to being more representative of the national will than the Commons (elected by first past the post).
Also, the bishops? What’s that all about? Now, I like the Church of England as much as the next bloke, but really I’ve no wish to have bishops revising legislation. If they want to be in politics, let them stand for election like everyone else. Moreover, the status of established church isn’t good for the Body of Christ and the bishops and the CofE should reject it (in my humble opinion). This viewpoint, by the way, makes me a disestablishmentarian – so there!
My idea has always been to make becoming a Lord akin to jury service – your name is picked out of a hat at random and you serve for the alloted period. Or like the national lottery – you pay a nominal deposit to be “in it” and if your number comes up – congratulations – you’re a Lord! I will submit these ideas to the official consultation exercise (perhaps). The deposits so gathered could go to good causes (opera houses, the Millenium Stadium, London 2012 etc.) like the lotto does.
I will leave you with the proposal they settled on in Iolanthe, as the Queen of the fairies decrees: “Peers shall teem in Christendom, And a Duke’s exalted station Be attainable by Competitive Examination!” And in case you think all this talk of Iolanthe isn’t true to life, let me remind you that when Strephon is returned to Parliament as a Liberal-Conservative!
I am a disestablishmentarian as well and would quite happily see the Bishops disappear from the House of Lords – that should be achieved sooner rather than later.
Electing the HoL by PR might give the Tories (and indeed the rest of the commons) the motivation to do something about getting rid of FPTP. I’m sure it will not have escaped their thinking that a house elected more proportionally than the commons would surely have more of a democratic mandate. Nor will it, I would suspect, have escaped their notice that for the commons to remain the higher of the two houses it must also be elected by a system that produces at least as proportional a result as the system used to elect the Lords.
I quite agree. I wonder if there are any antidisestablishmentarianists out there who would argue for retention of the bishops?
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Unfortunately the proposal to elect the Lord by STV will, as it stands put the issue of Commons reform out of the question. One of the key principles of the reform is that a different system must be used in both houses. So we must either find a better and more respected system than STV for the Commons or reform both systems at once intentionally making a retrograde step in the case of the reformed Lords.
This is not just my imagination … Nick Clegg was clear in the Commons on Tuesday, and if anyone doubted it, it was spelt out in the Draft Bill White Paper. Stephen Glenn has also commented on this… check out http://bit.ly/mAX9o9
You could still have a different, but proportional electoral system for the Commons, e.g. the Additional Member system employed in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. Or, as I’ve suggested above, a system of raffles or exams …
I like absolvitor.com , bookmarked for future reference