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The Lords' Experiment

Any talk of the House of Lords ought to start with a brief discussion on democracy. A lot of people argue that the House of Lords, the upper legislative house, must be elected. I take the view that there are two types of people who are of this opinion; stupid people, and that rare minority who really understand the arguments for and against. Maybe i can slightly increase that minority by letting you know my opinions, and then will put my theroy to the test by doing a little experiment.

Who be this? Elizabeth the Second,
by the Grace of God,
of the United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland
and of Her other Realms
and Territories
Head of the Commonwealth,
Defender of the Faith
(and breathe...)
Democracy is essential for a civilised nation, but it has its weaknesses. My argument is that the House of Lords must remain unelected in order to continue to compliment the House of Commons. 

Lets first look at pre 1999 House of Lords weaknesses. Prior to the House of Lords Act 1999 the Lords was made up of a majority of hereditary Peers. These were people who became a Peer by virtue of their family. This was a poor arrangement, because there was no control over the quality of peers in the house, they had no basis other than their family to sit there, and their uselessness could continue indefinitely through their family. Basically, they weren't appointed in a fair manner, and they had no real obligations to the country. The 1999 Act expelled all of these 'Pint of Ale Please' Peers, except for 92.

The Lords is now made up of Life Peers; appointed by the Queen for the whole of their life. Their peerage cannot be passed down through their family. Archbishops and Bishops; 26 of them. May sound a bit of a State v Religion issue here but I actually think their membership of the Lords gives a definite moral and spiritual element to decisions. Although i am not religious, i think this is a positive thing. Lastly, the remaining hereditary peers...for simplicity, i am not going to talk about them any more.

So the overall Lords make up now is (rounded up);

Conservative 28%
Labour 31%
LibDem 12%
Cross Bench Independant 23%
Bishops 3% 
Other 4%

Lord Mandelson - Labour appointed
Why am i in favour of an unelected house? The House of Commons is made up of some excellent elected MP's. However, its a popularity contest. Thats great but it means that skill, ability and experience can be overlooked. It's a side effect of democracy, and the Lords offers a balance to this weakness. By appointing Life Peers, we can retain and add skills. Sadly, by having so many political appointments, we retain some of the poorer peers where we could probably do with losing them. I am not in favor of this type of politically appointed Peer. I am hugely in favor of the Cross Bench, or independent, Peer.

The Cross Bench Peer is the future of the Lords. A Cross Bench Peer is a politically independent Life Peer, and is appointed by an independent commission  on the basis of
  • Achievement demonstrating a range of experience, skills and competencies; 
  • Ability to make an effective and significant contribution to the work of the House of Lords, not only in their areas of particular interest and special expertise, but the wide range of other issues coming before the House;
  • Willing to commit the time necessary to make an effective contribution
  • With some understanding of the constitutional framework 
  • Who are able to demonstrate outstanding personal qualities, in particular, integrity and independence;
  • With a strong and personal commitment to the principles and highest standards of public life;
  • Who are and intend to remain independent of any political party
  • Who are resident in the UK for tax purposes and accept the requirement to remain so.

The House of Lords Appointments Commission has only appointed 23% of the Lords, yet it's the most transparent, independent and forward thinking method of filling the house with individuals who will positively contribute to the Nation.

The Main Chamber of the House of Lords
as seen from the Strangers Gallery
The Lords should not be filled up with political appointees. It should be filled with experts, specialists, industry leaders and academics. It should be a non political balance to the Commons, weeding out practical problems, errors, bias and confusion from their unique position as independent experts. 

So my future House of Lords would continue to have Bishops, albeit in a reduced role, but all other members would be appointed by a significantly beefed up House of Lords Appointments Commission. The Commission would ensure that they are appointing a good cross section of the UK, including communities and industry. 

If we wanted to make this happen, what would we need to do? Of course the legislation would need to be changed. The appointments commission would need an increased budget. The Prime Minister must lose his ability to recommend peers to the Queen, and that ability would pass to the chair of the appointments commission. Then we need to wait as the politically appointed life peers die off, and they can then be replaced by the independent peers appointed from the commission. We could get the House of Lords cleared of the politicians in 60 years. It may sound like a long time, but in terms of Lords Reform, this is a very short time indeed!

The average age of a member of the Lords used to be published here. Some time in the last year this has vanished, and has been replaced by many 'first female' statistics. According to this article the average age of a peer is 65.  You don't get to be an industry leader, expert or respected specialist at a young age, so this average age reflects the seriousness and respect that the legislative process should be afforded. But we have young MP's, so i don't see why we can't have young Peers. The current youngest Peer is Conservative appointed Baroness Berridge age i don't think that the Lords is currently age representative.

We currently have a politically biased, non-age or culturally representative upper house. This needs to be addressed by the appointments commission now...they are the only ones who can fix this.

Lastly. I am not all talk and no action. I feel strongly about this, so will be putting myself through the appointments process for the House of Lords. 

This is risky business. I don't want to be laughed out of the office, so i have had to decide if i satisfy the above criteria enough to be taken even remotely seriously. Having put a lot of planning and research into it, i have decided that i am going to go forward with the process. The big question is why i want to do this. I have strong opinions on Lords Reform, but this isn't enough of a reason. I am young, and can offer a different perspective, but this isn't enough of a reason either. I am strongly independent, but this isn't good enough either. I want to do this because i know someone like me is desperately needed.

Lets be realistic though. As much as i want to do this, its unlikely i am going to achieve the ultimate goal of being appointed. So what do i hope to achieve from doing the process, and from blogging about it?

By doing this post i hope to draw attention to one of the alternative views on Lords Reform. I want to open up the application process to public scrutiny, and maybe get an idea of exactly what the commission is looking for in appointed peers. I will be blogging about each part of the process, so watch this space.

Next Step...The Application