If we must reform House of Lords, ban the main parties from it

May 9, 2012
David Lindsay

The upper house is far more cosmopolitan than the House of Commons. Here's how we could keep it that way

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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.

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Personally, I would prefer it if no political parties at all were allowed in the elected Lords.  This would ensure that members were free of the party whips, and able to represent the views of their constituents without censure.
The important thing that MUST be achieved in the Lords is independence of the political parties in the Commons.  That is the only basis on which I would find an elected Lords acceptable.
If we allowed parties, but disallowed those represented in the Commons, we would only end up with a mirror image set of the same parties, with the same policies and similar enforcement by the whips. 
The most important feature of the new Lords must be firstly independence, and secondly true representation of the views of the majority of ordinary people.  Allowing it to be controlled by parties, even if they have different manes and memberships to the parties in the Commons, would work against that..  

What a useless lot this coalition is, useless reforms (some that will benefit no one except themselves) more promises of the same promises: to reduce the deficit and get the economy growing.  HOW! They've had two years and so far they have increased the deficit and reduced the economy, surly someone of their ilk would point this out to them, maybe not!   There are all these useless reforms that we do not need or want when children are going hungry and mums and dads, as well as grans and grandpas losing their jobs.  Someone needs to give Cameron and Osborne a bang over the head to try and wake them up to reality.  Who that is living on the breadline, who that is suffering sleepless nights over how they will pay their bills has the deficit as their first worry.   This is where the Tories are so out of touch, they are too rich to comprehend what it is like to have so many money worries, they have never experienced it.  Forget Clegg he can't do anything, he is too much of a nothing man.  Of course he will be there to get the tea when Cameron sacks the tea lady!

An interesting but ultimately naive article, whilst it would be nice to imagine a non-party political upper chamber filled with members who vote purely on their own consciences, that's not how the world works, any proposed reform of the Lords (whether it be from the Left or the Right) is going to include party affiliations, I say embrace the inevitable and cut the best deal possible, which for me is the recent Joint Parliamentary Committee report on Lords reform, but with three added clauses; the new upper chamber would be renamed the Senate, the new upper chamber would be able to block indefinitely and even veto legislation (but not initiate it), and the new upper chamber would have oversight and scrutiny committees similar to the U.S. Senate... or alternatively just repeal all Lords-related legislation, save the 1911 Parliament Act and the 1958 Life Peerages Act, cap the membership at about 700, and let the Lords work the way it did so remarkably well for nearly a thousand years, but unfortunately, that's unlikely to happen, alas... 

This is what Damian Thompson, blogs editor of the Daily Telegraph said about David Lindsay last month: "You ranting may or may not be the result of mental illness; but if this campaign of vilification continues I will take you to court, without the slightest anxiety about anything you may say in your defence. To repeat: you lost your blog because it was not of sufficiently high quality. It was rambling, self-important and defamatory."

Why have a house of lords at all most people whom have been elected, either got there through support of political parties or retireing MPs the minority seemingly the do gooders probably are not interested anyway.