“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!