The most recent disagreement in the coalition concerns the House of Lords reforms being abandoned as David Cameron states it’s better to discard these plans now than let them die a “slow death.” Creating an elected House of Lords is not a very popular idea amongst the Conservative party, with over 90 Tory MPs defying the Government and voting against it in July.
Nick Clegg, on the other hand, doesn’t agree and sees it as a betrayal of the coalition contract and now refuses to support the Conservative desire to reduce the amount of constituencies for the next general election. This coalition breakdown was likened to a marriage by BBC news, Cameron and Clegg are the parents who get on but the children and in-laws can’t stand the sight of one another.
House of Lords reform has been a long-term goal of the Liberal Democrats, the reform would see 80% of peers elected and reduce the total of peers to 450. At the moment, 10% are hereditary and the rest are officially appointed by the Queen.
Although I’m ashamed to admit it I honestly quite like the romantic tradition behind a hereditary House of Lords. My more ‘Labour’ orientated side rebels against this thought and yells out to me that electing lords is far fairer and democratic.
As I’m conflicted over this issue I thought I’d hash out the arguments here.
Firstly, why do we have a House of Lords?
The second chamber is necessary as the Lords are the final guard against the Government and have the ability to check, change and delay bills. However, they will always approve a bill which is in the Governments’ manifesto (Salisbury convention). Also, generally peers are more in touch with ‘normal’ life than most MPs, so they are able to scrutinise bills that affect daily life more effectively.
Why should it remain unelected?
|Can act as a check on the executive
||Can only delay bills, Salisbury convention – always pass bills which are in the Governments manifesto
||The government was elected so shouldn’t be stopped from enacting their manifesto
|Peers are more independent of party whips
||They owe their loyalties to the PM of the day
||They can’t be thrown out if they go against the government
||Some people believe in it
|Peers normally have a wider experience of public life than MPs
||The hereditary ones probably don’t. Not all MPs are from privileged backgrounds
||There is still under- representation of women and ethnic minorities
|Final constitutional safeguard against the government
||The Salisbury convention. Can only delay bills.
||Salisbury is only a convention so can be ignored, with no implications
|Can be an effective agent of scrutiny
||Some have party allegiances
||Not affected by the party whip
|The public wouldn’t know enough about each nominee
||The Government can provide information
||It would expensive to do this
|The turn out at general elections is already low, electing the House of Lords would never attract enough voters to be democratic
||Could hold elections at the same time as general elections
||Could lead to confusion, and then there wouldn’t be much of a distinction between the two chambers. Also, elections would make it more political and perhaps party-orientated.
Why should it become elected?
|They are currently unelected and unaccountable
||Being unelected they don’t have public pressures so will be more honest
||Being unaccountable they can’t be punished for corruption
||The government could be able to take them out of the Lords
|Life peers currently owe their loyalty to the PM of the day, weakening their independence
||This allows the people that were elected in to pass laws they believe in
||Independence is important as it allows the Lords to make decisions which will benefit the country
|Idea of hereditary peers is out of date
||This is traditional
||Get rid of all the hereditary peers
|The ‘loans for peerages’ scandal in 2006
||This was only a few, most are legitimate
||Make them elected
|Under-representation of women and ethnic minorities
||They are also under-represented in the House of Commons which is elected
||This has been improving over recent years
||Appoint more women and ethnic minorities
|Power of the lords is weak
||They can still delay bills
||The Salisbury convention
||Give them more power
Due to the practical implications of reforming the House of Lords I think it’s not a realistic goal. Although there does need to be increased accountability I doubt electing peers is the right way to achieve this. Do you believe it would be beneficial to introduce elected peers? Or should they be appointed by the Government for their expertise rather than risking turning the House of Lords into a political-party battle similar to the House of Commons?