LibLink: Paul Tyler and Andrew Adonis: Reform the House of Lords now and it can survive

Over on the Guardian’s Comment is free, Paul Tyler and Andrew Adonis say that the second chamber is costly and unrepresentative, and that only radical change will head off the abolitionists:

Whatever opponents say, the status quo is not a realistic option. When the majority of hereditary peers were excluded in 1999, Lords’ membership fell to 666. By the last election, it had risen to 706 and today it is 786. If those on leave of absence resumed their seats, the figure would rise to 807.

Since the pace of party political patronage outstrips that of the grim reaper, an increase in the number of peers to well over 1,000 is inevitable. Each new prime minister seeks to balance up the number of loyal supporters. Blair created 162 Labour peers, while David Cameron has already appointed 47 Conservatives. At each occasion, the prime minister feels obliged to appoint peers from other parties, so Blair appointed 62 Conservatives and Cameron has elevated 39 Labour supporters.

The coalition agreement promised new appointments to reflect the last general election result. Yet to do this, the prime minister would have to appoint enough peers to raise the number to near 1,100, all without appointing a single additional Labour member. If he did so, there would be justified anguish that he was “stuffing” the place with loyal followers.

In international terms, this is all absurd. Britain is one of only three countries with a second chamber larger than the first (the others are Kazakhstan and Burkina Faso). Yet just as parliament has voted to reduce the size of the Commons from 650 to 600, the Lords swells.

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  • toryboysnevergrowup 23rd Apr '12 - 11:04pm

    I’m sorry but if we want a democratically accountable House of Lords I dont think 15 year terms passes any reasonable test of democratic accountability, I also see no clear definition of what the role of the House of Lords is meant to be and what it isn’t in the proposals which makes it damn nigh impossible to form a view as what its composition should be and how its members should be elected. The proposals also neglect the basis politics of the situation that what is proposed hasn’t got a cat in hells chance of being implemented – all of which means that Clegg will be further diverted from whatr should be his role of acting as an effective balance to clueless posh lads, which may of course be the intention.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 23rd Apr '12 - 11:08pm

    A far better approach would be the Constitutional Convention approach that was adopted prior to Scottish Develoution – that allowed a workable and deatiled model to be developed for the Scottish Parliament and Devolution outside Parliament (after previous attempts to do so within Parliament had failed – please note) which was then put to the Electorate by progressive parties.

  • Toby MacDonnell 24th Apr '12 - 1:18am

    Stephen, the exclusiveness of the club does not designate the importance of the position: the scale of the task is the only measure of import.

    Tory, the objective is not democratic accountability but democratic consent. There are very few ways to qualify people for the job: inheritance (irrational), random assignment (leads to a lot of underqualified people), appointment (the status-quo, leads to cronyism), and election, which is the least evil. Proportional influence on the legislative system is a reward for operating within the pre-existing constitutional parametres, so we are less inclinded to a state of natural anarchy. The election is the nation’s consent to be governed, and the fifteen year term is to insulate the Lords from the popularism which rules the Commons.

    As for Clegg’s role as balancing the “posh boys”, I find that a very bleak view of being a liberal: liberalism means “to not be a Tory”? Never: everyone has the capacity for liberty and joy in liberty: therefore we have common ground with the whole of humanity, not just the people of our political stripe. Our priority ought to be to enhance the capacity for liberty across the whole world, and if Tory policies can achieve that then Tory policies will be enacted. If a Tory policy is counter to our liberty, then perhaps it is conducive to our freedom from scourges like terror or economic catastrophe: but if we are there only to express our difference from the Tories, and not to work within our shared taste for liberty (a cause all should enjoy), then we are not really in government at all, and none of our work will be for any kind of good. Obstruction and difference for the sake of difference, or motivated by fear, is conducive only to a government of vice and indecision.

    Clegg must achieve what he has set out to do, and that is to govern with the common interests of the nation at large insofar as it is possible to achieve a concensus, for without consent and cooperation our government will be given over to petty tribalism and tit-for-tat agression: the same old politics of which we are all tired.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Apr '12 - 9:50am


    Clegg will be further diverted from whatr should be his role of acting as an effective balance to clueless posh lads.

    Er, on the grounds it takes one to know one?

  • toryboysnevergrowup 24th Apr '12 - 10:24am

    @Toby McDonnel
    “the objective is not democratic accountability but democratic consent.” I would argue that consent to be democratic it has to be capable of being withdrawn at reasonable intervals – given that we have in effect gone from 4 year to 5 year terms for the House of Commons I’m afraid I find it too difficult to get enthusiastic about reducing the term for the House of Lords from death/in perpetuity to 15 years (blame it on my Chartist ancestors and there only unfulfilled demand for annual parliaments if you wish), especially that it is bound to end in failure given the current balance of political forces. The probable reality is that this will be another Clegg vanity project that will put back democratic reform for a numbe of years just like the referendum on the Commons voting system.

    As you might gather I never had high expectations for Clegg’s ability to advance liberalism – but even I am downgrading those expectations – just wait to see the fudge and mudge that he will support when it comes to the surveillance proposals. If you really want to build consensus for democratic reform might I suggest that the Constitutional Convenetion model used in Scotland has a rather better chance of success than the current approach.

  • Nigel Quinton 24th Apr '12 - 12:10pm

    I agree with toryboysnevergrowup, we should push for a constitutional convention, I thought that was also what we said in our manifesto, although on checking I see that this was only in relation to bringing in a written constitution. Maybe it was in a policy paper…

    The case for changing our system of government is overwhelming to those of us who take an interest, but totally underwhelming to the majority of the population. By trying to do it in pieces, ie PR, Lords, boundaries, we have only succeeded in making it even more difficult to achieve a consensus, especially now that PR has been lost for a decade or two.

  • “If you really want to build consensus for democratic reform might I suggest that the Constitutional Convenetion model used in Scotland has a rather better chance of success than the current approach.”

    It is also an approach consistent with the LibDem Constitution, unlike Nick Clegg’s just “get on with” Lord reform…

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