Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another brief comment about the House of Lords

Readers of this blog will know, firstly that I work for various peers in the House of Lords and, secondly, that I do not think the progressive undermining of that institution's position and activity by various governments is in this country's interest.

It always astonishes me that people who ought to know better call for a fully elected Upper House, arguing that somehow, miraculously, that will solve all our problems, make governance more democratic and improve the work of the House of Lords (or Senators as they would be called).

The most obvious response to that is a question about the elected House of Commons. Is it really more democratic, transparent, efficient than the House of Lords? It is elected but, strangely enough, it appears not to know what its constitutional role is. Why would a fully elected House of Lords be any different?

Then there is a question of the peers' independence, particularly those on the Cross-Benches, something that seems not to be well known to the vociferous critics. This morning I attended the Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Lord Monson, where one of the eulogies was spoken by Lord Montgomery, who told us with great delight about Ivan Monson's continuing battle as a Cross-Bench peer, often though not always supported by others, for the various causes, all to do with individual freedom, throughout his stay there.

In a fully elected House of Lords there will be no Cross-Benches, no independent peers, no independent thinking, voting or behaviour at all. There will be no detailed analysis of legislation (done without any salary being received, something else that will change) as all peers will behave just as MPs and the more political members of the Upper House do now: they will obey the Whips and the Leaders.

What matters is the role of an institution and the activity of its members, not the shibboleth of whether they are elected or not. Obviously, the main House has to be elected if we want to preserve any illusion of political accountability. But the necessity for two elected Houses, especially if other reforms do not follow, remains unproven, except for those who think political life has to be controlled by the main parties and their organizations.


  1. The house of Lords does need reforming, back to what it was before Bliar buggered it up.

    I commented once to a left wing friend that when Wilson tried to overwhelm the house with new labour peers they all moved smartly right. He disagreed saying that, relieved of the need for party support they could ignore the whip, listen to the arguments, think about things and what might be best and then vote for their conclusion. He was probably right. Certainly the old Lords kept the government, of whatever flavour, in check.

  2. "The house of Lords does need reforming, back to what it was before Bliar buggered it up"

    Yes, a counter-reformation would be a splendid exercise.

  3. Well, don't look to this government for that.