Home / Dave Brockington / Lords Reform

Lords Reform

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In my department I am something of an all-rounder: a lot of what I teach is outside my official areas of expertise, at times chilling out in the Oort cloud of my expertise.  Political institutions is in a close orbit, thankfully.  Pedagogically, I attempt to engage my students to think critically (don’t we all?) regarding a balance between democratic theory and empirical example.  The House of Lords (and the United States Senate) serve as useful foils to explore this tension.

Over at Britain Votes, an ex-student of mine, Chris Terry, offers a splendid examination of the current proposals by the Government regarding democratic reform of the House of Lords.  I don’t have too much to add to what Terry has offered beyond a few comments.

Largely powerless, the value that the Lords add to the democratic process in the UK is, as Terry offers, a house of “experts”.  With 80% of the new Lords to be directly elected, it is difficult to imagine how that expertise can be sustained.  A solution, which would likewise be in the interests of both Labour and the Tories, is to abandon the proposed STV electoral system in favor of a closed list PR; this would allow the parties to choose whom to place in the Lords, thus allowing a continuation of the expert convention.

Second, the new Lords will be term-limited to single 15 year terms.  The proposed eligibility for candidacy for the Lords includes a rule stipulating one can not run for the Lords until five years have passed since their last service as an MP, nor can a term-limited Lord stand for Parliament until five years have passed.  While this is likely to serve as a disincentive for the career-minded politician, I’m not sure how the proposed waiting period for eligibility works to further either the goal of an independent institution or attracting a “different sort” of politician.

Finally, the retention of 12 Lords Spiritual (Church of England Bishops) is questionable (down from the current 36).  While not a particularly religious country (if the Rapture had or does indeed occur, sudden depopulation wouldn’t be Britain’s biggest problem) retaining members of the upper management of one faith is inconsistent with a reform claiming to democratize the institution.

Ultimately, I agree with Terry: while this is a limited step, nothing in this country changes but through methodical incrementalism.  Of course, if the Lords is subjected to democratic reform, I’d have to re-write a couple of lectures; perhaps that’s the source of my criticism.

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