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Monday, February 05, 2007

Reforming the House of Lords

Why is it so difficult to reform the House of Lords? Jack Straw is the latest to attempt reform. At the last serious attempt, the House of Commons voted down all the options. That perhaps was inevitable given it was presented with various options and had to vote on each one.

There still seems to be division about the extent to which the upper chamber should be constituted of elected members. Many prefer an appointed element.

The real problem is that if the House of Lords had a majority or all of its members there by election, there might be a constitutional crisis especially if a more recently elected House of Lords sought to overturn an old House of Commons. The likelihood of this problem arising could of course be minimised if the powers of the respective Houses were better defined. But encoding convention is not as easy as it sounds and raises all sorts of issues. It also takes time. I wonder just how many politicians really want to plough through such a task.

The other angle on this is that some would say the House of Lords should be able to offer mature, considered views that are immune (to a great extent) from electoral considerations. Therefore an appointed element (or even the whole lot) is preferred.

I believe we should ultimately have a completely elected House of Lords. We are a democracy after all. We can construct an electoral system that promotes the longer view in members if necessary. We can get to a completely elected House by a slow route, gradually replacing appointed peers with elected members. And we are just going to have to sit down and better define the role of the House of Lords as a revising chamber, second in importance to the House of Commons.

There are no quick fixes when attempting such a constitutional change.

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