Opinion: Could there still be a bright future for Lords reform?

Unless we are admitting defeat or  consider the electorate agog with admiration of the status-quo, we perhaps need to look beyond  the seemingly  compelling case for democratic legitimacy and begin developing some more imaginative ideas about what a reformed second chamber  might do  differently and explore its potential for transforming  politics.

Limiting the level of ambition for our shiny new democratic institution to the pursuit of the same old objectives of itself does not seem like a great leap forward.

It also leaves us vulnerable to the tactics adopted by the Conservatives and their press allies, who assiduously sought to cultivate public apathy, dismissing change as creating no significant benefit to weigh against real costs and perceived risks.

Likewise, though the fear of legislative gridlock clearly needed to be addressed and, indeed there is room for streamlining the revisionary function of the Lords,  admitting that a reformed second chamber needs its wings clipped from birth is not the ideal starting point for developing a convincing argument as to its value to society.

So is there an important, distinctive, and significant new remit that a reformed House of Lords could adopt? Could it find a structure that would complement and enhance its current revisionary role without eroding or conflicting with that of the Commons?

My premise is that the Commons’ planning horizon, inevitably limited by the date of the next election, militates against effective longer term strategic planning.  Developing this longer term perspective within a reformed Lords, and cultivating the distinctive competence needed to support it, could contribute to visionary thinking in all parties. The model for Lords Reform we have proposed is well suited to this purpose.

Many changes enacted by any government continue to impact on society for years, sometimes decades, after the democratic mandate of that government has expired. The second opinions emanating from a future-focused second chamber could usefully highlight the longer term potential consequences of measures placed before it.

The challenges we face in the 21st century such as environment, reversing economic decline, technological change, demography, peace, health and quality of life can never be adequately addressed within the life of one Parliament and we lack the continuity needed to tackle them effectively.

A set of all-party Future-watch strategy groups within the second chamber could seek greater consensus as to our destination even if ideological sat-navs recommend different routes. Is it feasible that such a process might help future governments spend more time moving forward and less time going back to undo what the last lot did?

The adversarial nature of the Commons is suited to attempting  to hold  the executive to account, to debating policy and scrutinising legislation, but totally counterproductive where there is substantial common ground  around which a consensus could be built. I’m thinking of issues like  care for the elderly and of course Lords reform itself.  Maybe when we need consensus we need a new Other Place to look to.

Finally, casting a jaundiced eye across the Atlantic is “Senate” really such a great brand name? Why not just indulge the British love of tradition and let elected members have ermine and titles?

* Andrew Haldane is a former councillor and parliamentary candidate and current Chair of the Macclesfield local party and Vice Chair (Policy) of the NW Regional Party. In his earlier career, he worked in Marketing as a practitioner and later as an academic with an interest in Consumer Behavior applied to the shaping of Attitudes and Belief.

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6 Comments

  • One of the problems with HoL reform is that, in contrast to the HoC, the current HoL has performed rather well in recent years.
    HoL has been our last defence against the excesses of the HoC, defending the rights and freedoms of the people of Britain while the HoC has been waging illegal wars, taking away civil liberties, destroying the UK economy, stealing from the public purse and sucking-up to medial moguls.
    It ain’t perfect, or even democratic, but I know which House is doing the better job for people of Britain.
    Please return to HoL reform AFTER you have shown competance in Govt – you know, the job you’re supplosed to be doing. Ta.

  • I have a stock response to this: democracy conducted via FPTP elections means the choice for constitutional reform is a process of elimination.

    It is never a dead duck until it’s cooking in the oven, it’s only ever a duck which hasn’t been lined up properly.

    Introducing elections to the House of Lords as it is currently constituted in relation to the House of Commons is a damaging waste of time. Its role must change when the basis for its legitimacy changes, so, until we debate what impact any change of relationship will have on Parliament as a whole, any and all proposals for reform will and should hit a brick wall.

  • Hi Jedi,
    Tebbitt can do analysis, but he can’t do conclusions. He should’ve kept out of politics from the start.

    The House of Lords is an anachronism, partly because it is filled with anachronisms like Lord Tebbitt who live in denial that their personal clock is almost ticked out. The HoL needs to be reformed, there is a huge majority in favour of reforming it, and it will get reformed when agreement can be reached on how to do it.

    Tweaking the bi-cameral system flies in the face of reality because the consequence of devolution is that we already live in a multi-cameral system. Reforming the historic second chamber is simply the next step on the road of devolution.

  • grief… I agree with Orangepan again. Lords reform is the next step, and must come before twiddling with the boundaries, votes at 16 and other reforms, a) so that there is a carrot to get Tories on side b) to get Labour on side, as they both want other reforms and whilst they might mouth the words LR in manifestos they really don’t want to jeopardise their retirement home .
    The one thing that really does need to be put into our reform programme must be the adversarial Commons. The bickering and fighting that the public sees does no good whatever to the repute of parliamentarians, especially as it is that division which the media focus upon. . and it takes longer to get decisions made(and they complain about the planning process!). We believe in concensus politics, a pluralist approach, so we really shoud be pushing forwards the reform of the commons.
    Adversarial debate comes from public school debating societies, which is all very well as a process if you are a training ground for lawyers, but real democracy is the village elders meeting under the chestnut tree on the village square, where any resident can come and say their piece. The further from the former and nearer to the latter that we can get has to be the direction for reform of our governance.

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