If we must reform House of Lords, ban the main parties from it
The upper house is far more cosmopolitan than the House of Commons. Here's how we could keep it that way
JIM CALLAGHAN once threatened to resign as Labour Leader rather than accept Tony Benn's policy of abolishing the House of Lords. Yet the Coalition is planning to replace the upper chamber with a new version based upon a proportional voting system that would effectively ensure that most people who lost their seats would be replaced by members of their own respective parties.
Give that a moment to sink in. An elected second chamber would have a Conservative-Lib Dem majority on a permanent basis, a bolthole for all those Lib Dem ministers who are about to lose their Commons seats in the expected wipe out at the next general election.
In the 1970s, there arose a university-based New Left. In a total departure from the Labour Movement through history, it always hated Parliament along with all other historic institutions. That New Left eventually became New Labour.
In the 1980s, there arose a university-based New Right. In a total departure from Toryism, it hated the State and it therefore arrived at a hatred of Parliament. That New Right eventually became the tendency that now controls the Conservative Party.
Thank goodness that, in the current House of Lords, there is still some part of our parliamentary system from which it remains possible to speak from outside the nasty but inevitable union between the New Left and the New Right.
From that union, together with the SDP's misguided alliance with the Liberals around their practically Bennite constitutional agenda, derives the Political Class's desire to abolish the House of Lords.
But why should we go along with them? The Lords has a higher proportion of women, a higher proportion of people from ethnic minorities, a broader range of ethnic minorities, and far more people from working-class backgrounds generally and the trade union movement in particular, than can be found down the corridor.
More significantly, the House of Lords retains a broader range of political opinion, more reflective of the country at large. But that is under grave threat, both from natural wastage and from the party machines.
To ensure this healthy composition continues into the future, we should allow each current life peer, at least those who attend regularly, to name an heir. This heir would by no means necessarily or even ordinarily be a relative - rather a political and a wider intellectual soul mate. The heir would become a peer upon his or her nominator's death, and would thus acquire the same right of nomination.
Each party should choose its own working peers by seeking nominations from its branches and putting out to a ballot of the entire electorate those individuals with the most nominations, up to one and a half times their respective allocations. Each of us could then vote for up to half that allocation, and the highest scoring allocated number would get in.
The law should further require that every four or five years, the 12 constituencies already used for European elections would each elect three Crossbenchers - peers not aligned to any party - with each of us voting for one candidate and with the three highest scorers being ennobled.
If there must be an elected second chamber, then let each of the English ceremonial counties, the Scottish lieutenancy areas, the Welsh preserved counties, and the traditional six counties of Northern Ireland, plus perhaps the London Boroughs and the Metropolitan Boroughs, elect an equal number. Say, six.
Each of us would vote for one candidate, with the requisite number declared elected at the end. There would be no ministers in that House, although they could appear before it for Departmental Question Times.
And, which is perhaps the most important point of all, parties that contested elections to the House of Commons would be banned from contesting elections to the second chamber.