PR for the Lords

Issues I have with our current system:

The House of Lords is democratically unaccountable.

…But it’s quite useful having independent experts sitting on the crossbenches scrutinising legislation

Under the current electoral system, lots of people’s votes don’t count because they live in a safe seat or they favour a fringe party. A system of proportional representation would reflect public opinion better.

…But the British like first-past-the-post, as the AV referendum showed (though I realise that other forms of PR have not been tested).

First-past-the-post has some strengths, including a straightforward system, where every citizen has a single accountable representative in Parliament.

…But it enables the UK to be governed with the votes of just over a third of the people who turn out.

A suggestion:

The House of Lords becomes a mostly elected second chamber, under proportional representation. This could be on regional lists or a national one. A national one could help ensure adequate representation of minority groups.

Peers would be elected for 15 years with a third elected every five years (to coincide with elections to the Commons). The 20 percent or so crossbenchers stay put (potentially look at giving them fixed terms too).

Because it is elected, it should have greater clout in challenging the government. This could force the government of the day to moderate its policies to reach compromises that better reflect popular opinion. This constitutional knocking of heads together would force a change in the culture of the parties.

People could start voting the way they really want to – going for the best local option for the Commons and their favoured party for the Lords.

Issues with this model:

Lists favour party loyalists rather than independents. That said, the current House of Lords favours party loyalists too, and the proposed system would retain crossbenchers - and thus an element of independence. The Commons could become more independent due to new voting patterns.

It could hinder decisive government and breed inertia.

How would we transition to a new system?

Showing 12 reactions

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  • Tim Whitcher
    commented 2016-07-30 16:08:35 +0100
    I disagree – in fact I would go the other way entirely and make it a unelected, apolitical chamber. Before people react in horror let me explain – the HoC is largely homogenous, it draws in career politicians with degrees in PPE, politics, law and history who know the political structure of the UK inside and out. But the world we live in is far more complex that than. To guide and manage a path in it we need engineers, scientists, teachers, artists, musicians, writers, geologists and so on. If we were to create an appointed chamber with no poltical alignment with quotas of specialists, appointed for a 5 year term, as a reward for a distinguished career in their fields we would create a peer review panel of SMEs to validate legislation and act as a check on the HoC but without political ties.
  • Tim Whitcher
    tagged this with dislike 2016-07-30 16:08:34 +0100
  • Bob Crossley
    commented 2016-07-29 17:52:07 +0100
    I don’t think we should talk about reforming the Lords without first thinking about what it’s function is now and what it’s function could be in the future, and this includes the issue of how the Lords relates to the Commons. Patrick Nelson is quite right to point out that the Lords can and does act as a bulwark against an overwhelming and peremptory majority in the Commons. This does include by default a capability to defend the constitution. I would not want it to lose that capability; I would prefer that capability to be enhanced, and elections, especially by strongly proportional methods, would give the Lords the authority to use the powers they already have more freely, even if no change to the Parliament Acts was made.

    I do not have much sympathy with the idea that we need to exclude ex MPs. Many of them are good people, know a lot about the process of Parliament, and are well versed in the problems of legislation. Of course there are also some ambitious and toadying MPs who would love to get into the Lords and would do anything to take the ermine. The PMs power of patronage (that gives MPs a lift into the Lords because they were “loyal” to their PM) is the problem here. Take away that power by electing the Lords.
  • Bob Crossley
    tagged this with neutral 2016-07-29 17:52:07 +0100
  • Anne Baldwin
    commented 2016-07-29 13:04:37 +0100
    The 2015 manifesto included a commitment to replace the House of Lords with a Senate of the regions and countries, but we never talked about that. It could go some way to ensuring a balance between regions – and retaining a voice for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that can reflect their devolved status. If PR were part of this I would want to see real ‘PR’ – i.e. not just sharing proportions between political parties, but ensuring gender and age profiles are proportionally represented.
  • Patrick Nelson
    commented 2016-07-29 09:04:30 +0100
    I think that the above suggestions are generally very good, but there is a disadvantage in having a fully elected Lords in that a very different sort of people tend to seek election than tend to get appointed. There is an advantage to having a House of Lords that isn’t full of careerist politicians.

    I would also suggest that there should be a general, but not inviolable, rule that people should be over 50 to enter the House of Lords as having a more mature Lords helps to provide a different perspective from Parliament.

    “It could hinder decisive government and breed inertia.”

    People should not miss the role of the Lords as the sea anchor to the ship that is the Commons. Right through the 1980s we saw the Lord’s functioning very effectively as a hindrance to a number of the extremist policies of Margaret Thatcher. Let us not stop the Lords being a break on the rashness of the Commons and its knee-jerk tendencies.
  • Patrick Nelson
    tagged this with like 2016-07-29 09:04:29 +0100
  • Carole Flint
    commented 2016-07-29 08:47:17 +0100
    The Lords certainly needs to be reformed, because it is totally undemocratic. I do not believe that the Lords should be composed of former MPs or party grandees, though. In fact I would suggest that such people should not be automatically allowed into the Lords as some kind of reward at all. I am not sure that there needs to be a separate election to the Lords, either. My suggestion is that the Second Chamber should be comprised of people taken from party lists in proportion to the number of votes that each party receives in a general election and that, therefore, the Second Chamber would be reconstituted every five years.
  • Carole Flint
    tagged this with like 2016-07-29 08:47:16 +0100
  • Ivor Middleton
    commented 2016-07-11 18:43:56 +0100
    [Wondering how others got formatting, like paragraph returns and bold, into their posts?]

    I like the idea of reforming the Lords. I would like to see more done to make it independent of existing political parties. A house stuffed with those being “rewarded” for services rendered or for the propensity for them to say “yes” does us no good. Perhaps 2/3 should comprise a broad spectrum of skills found in society and 1/3 politicians and civil servants experienced in the machinery of government.
  • Ivor Middleton
    tagged this with neutral 2016-07-11 18:43:56 +0100
  • Dan Wilson Craw
    published this page in Join the debate 2016-06-11 21:55:28 +0100