Sunday, August 14, 2005

Why the House of Lords shouldn't be reformed

I've always been opposed to the House of Lords reforms and I've had to explain myself so many times I thought it was about time I put it down in writing somewhere in one place.

The recent reforms involved the abolition of the hereditary right to sit in the House of Lords. The proposed reforms are for a directly elected House of Lords.

The argument for both of these sets of reforms is that it is democratic. Having someone in a position of power purely by accident of birth, they tell us, is just plain wrong. "They're not accountable to the people", they say. We can't have a modern democracy without both Houses being elected, they inform us.

But, and it's a big but (no jokes please, this is serious stuff), this is just government bullshit.

The real reason the government don't want hereditary peers is simple. They have no control over the political balance in the House of Lords.

When Labour first came to office the House of Lords had a Conservative majority. This simply would not do, things had to change. The undeniable proof (if you needed any) that the government had an ulterior motive was the announcement last month that the Labour Party had finally appointed itself a majority in the House of Lords.

The reforms introduced by Traitor Blair's government mean that Lords no longer sit in the House of Lords by virtue of their hereditary right to do so, but because they have been appointed there by the Labour government. This is democracy in action.

In case you are still missing my point, let's just quickly examine the role of the House of Lords. Basically, the House of Lords is there as a buffer to the House of Commons. They scrutinise proposed legislation, make amendments, offer advice, sit on committee's, etc. In effect, the House of Lords are an oversight committee. Their ultimate purpose is to take the legislation the government want to introduce, decide whether it is for the good of the country or the good of the government and then approve or reject it as necessary.

So, to summarise - the pre-reform House of Lords could have the same party in majority as the government or, equally likely, it could be an opposition majority. The reformed house of Lords has new members appointed by the government currently in power, enabling them to appoint themselves a majority.

The new set of proposals are for the House of Lords to be directly elected by the public. This, the spin doctors tell us, is democracy. This is what happens in civilised countries with modern democracies. It is important that the people who run the country should be elected (I won't go into Labour winning the last election with 60,000 votes less than the Tories, as tempting as it may be).

If you are still don't see the problem with these proposals, let me explain it to you.

Who did you vote for in the last elections? Was it one of the main parties? Conservative? Labour? Lib Dem? If there was an election for the House of Lords on the same day who would you have voted for? If you voted Conservative in the general election, would you have voted Labour for the House of Lords? Of course you wouldn't and herein lies the problem.

A directly elected House of Lords actually has less chance of producing an effective or independent opposition to the government. An appointed House of Lords contains too many members that are there because they display the necessary qualities required by the government - obedience and loyalty. A directly elected House of Lords will merely be an extension fo the House of Commons with carefully placed candidates to ensure government policy passes without a hitch.

The only way to reform the House of Lords to make it better is to reinstate the hereditary peers and repeal the Parliament Act. A House of Lords containing hereditary peers would have the randomness required to ensure that there is a good chance the government will have an effective opposition. The government regularly disregards its obligation to take into account public opinion when proposing new legislation, whereas the House of Lords has a long history of blocking or amending unpopular proposals.

When you have no political ambition and don't have to fear for your job, it is much easier to make the right decision.