"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing." - Bunc
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest. Bunc

Mar 9, 2007

UK House of Lords reform

Where now with house of Lords reform given the vote by the House of Commons supporting in principle a 100% elected chamber - is this really the way forward?

The aim of achieving a reformed House of Lords - a reformed revising chamber for the UK parliament - is widely supported. The questions that have arisen when considering the nature of the reform that should be undertaken have tended to resolve around the issues of tradition, class, political power, legitimacy and expertise.

The supporters of tradition and class as the determining characteristics of the House of Lords as an upper chamber, have by and large been thoroughly routed - and rightly so. Tradition will continue to exercise its influence as whatever form the upper chamber takes it will undoubtedly carry forward some of its historical traditions. But it is clear that tradition and class will no longer in the future be determinants of membership - at least in the form of priviledged herditary peers.

The issues of political power, legitimacy and expertise have not been so clearly resolved though.

There is significant and justifiable concern that a 100% elected chamber while having political legitimacy due to being elected could provide a competing political power base for the House of Commons. However such concerns can be dealt with in large part by clearly circumscribing the powers of the upper chamber within legislation. The parliament act for example appears to secure the position of the House of Commons as the chamber of final authority.

Of more concern is the possibility that a fully elected chamber will result in a chamber where , within the scope of the powers that it is given, the main concern of that chamber will become its internal politics. Moreover, as the machinery of politics and elections is firmly in the hands of exisiting parties there must be concern that these parties will simply replicate themselves, meme like, within the upper chamber.

Should we be concerned about this possibility? Without a doubt we should. The role of the House of Lords and any good revising chamber must be as far as possible to rise above the day to day of political game playing and to consider proposed legislation with a more disspationate and balanced eye. At its best a good revising chamber can be a restraining hand on the less well thought out legislative desires of the main elected body. A revising chamber can inject pauses into the process of enacting controversial legislation and force dominant parties to reflect on minority concerns. All this is necessary in a mature democracy.
Is a 100% elected House of Lords likely to be able to play this role? Or is it more likely that the political games and tensions within the House of Commons will simply be mirrored in the House of Lords?
Legitimacy can however be achieved in ways other than by direct election. Politicising such a body is not the only way of ensuring that it is legitimate and "representative". We can be represented by those who stand for the best in our society by reason of their expertise in different fields. By people who are members because of their skills, knowledge and expertise. Above all by people who have demonstrated a commitment to improving and contributing to our society. But these are exactly the type of people who are unlikely to come through an elected process.
What needs to be achieved is a nominated House of Lords - with the political parties participating but not fully controlling the nomination and selection process. Perhaps there could be some election process at the end of that to choose between different candidates. The intial nomination and selection however must not be in the direct control of the political parties.

Perhaps what is needed is to have nomination committees for the arts, sciences, business, trade unions, sport and other areas of social life. the parties could have membership of these bodies but not control them. These bodies would then put forward nominations for people from each of these areas of social concern. Perhaps more than one nomination, which could then be subject to wider vote.
An approach of this kind would go a long way to ensuring that the House of Lords not only had legitimacy and expertise but also avoided that politicking which is , rightly, the business of the House of Commons.

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