This week, LVI Politics students have been discussing the role of the House of Lords in Parliament. They were set a task to imagine that they had just won a 1997 style Blair majority and their first task was to make a decision on what to do with the House of Lords. Here are some of their proposals:
The main role of the House of Lords is to scrutinise the government and make sure what they are doing isn’t going to have disastrous effects on society. However if the House of Lords becomes elected or even further removed I will seriously have to question my UK citizenship. This is because the House will not truly and deeply scrutinise the proposed laws by the government as they will just vote with their party to ensure the bill gets passed and the removal of the Lords altogether will take away this scrutiny and will allow governments with strong majority to pass laws as and when they please. This will lead to a confused society with a strong lack of trust in their government which cannot progress. So yes, If you want a backward society where the government can act how they please and not be challenged by a power that can actually stop them, then vote for the House of Lords to be elected or removed. But do not come running back to me when you’re complaining about the mess the country is in due to its removal and abuse of your rights. I’ll be relaxing on a beach knowing what went wrong with this country. So don’t be a silly and keep yourself protected by allowing the Lords to remain as it is.
Firstly, I believe that in the house of lords it should be completely full of people who are appointed as I think that people who have gained their position through the accident of birth should not be entitled to many key decisions on the law of this country even know they may no key experience or set of skills that could benefit the process and to think that there are 92 hereditary peers out of the 800 peers of the house of lords is ludicrous as that is more than 10% of the peer and that is enough to sway any decision. This is extremely undemocratic with only the UK and Canada of the western industrial nations having a second unelected and appointed chamber. As Well as being undemocratic it is also unrepresentative as they are only 207 female peers compared to the 51% of the general election.
I genuinely don’t think we should scrap it. The whole concept of the House of Lords is that members are there to display expert advice, which they use to amend or block laws, based on prior experience. Their job is also to challenge the government and to hold them accountable through proper scrutiny of laws suggested. If the Lords didn’t exist, many potential laws could go through that could have more negative (rather than positive) influences on the country as a result of a majority commons decision. If one thinks about it in depth, the majority of people in the Lords have been specifically elected by the Queen through suggestion by senior figures such as MPs or they have been appointed by ‘The House of Lords Appointment Committee’, therefore there must be a genuine reason for them to have a title that brings such power.
I believe that in order to modernise the traditional House of Lords, it is extremely important that the remaining 92 hereditary peers are removed. These peers are not appointed due to their expertise, but the act of birth. This is extremely old-fashioned and archaic, as society nowadays has developed and isn’t based on family wealth and land owned. However, this aspect of the lords favours this privilege that certain people have been born into and this is the reason the lords is seen as undemocratic and unfair. Therefore, by removing these peers this element could be changed as it would create a House of Lords that is better respected by the majority of the public. Thus there will be no need for further change of the chamber to an elected house, as this could potentially resolve the problems. The majority of peers subsequently be life peers, which are appointed on the basis of merit and not through birth, removing a large amount of opposition to the lords. This would enable the lords to still be highly effective at providing their scrutiny function to a good extent.
A key reform I would make to the House of Lords would be to remove the Bishops , even though they don’t usually contribute that much to scrutiny. I believe their seats could be given to other, more suitable, politicians, especially considering the Eurostat’s Eurobarometer survey in December 2018 found that 53.6% of UK’s population is Christian, while 6.2% belong to other religions and 40.2% are non-religious (30.3% Agnostics, 9.9% Atheists).Bishops only represent around half to the country and they tend not to give important insight on most issues. Other religions are therefore drastically underrepresented. Appointed peers should be the only politicians in the House of Lords , as they have usually been appointed for their skills , which is essential as their main role is scrutinising and amending government.
One problem with the House of Lords is that there still are hereditary peers, peers who have inherited their job through their parents. This is an old fashioned and undemocratic way of giving peerage. The other way you can gain peerage is though life appointment which again means they aren’t elected in. However often skilled individuals are appointed that are necessary for the Lords when scrutinising bills properly. Only the UK and Canada have an unelected second chamber out of western industrial nations. To reform the House of Lords I would completely eradicate hereditary peers.
The fact that it is an unelected chamber makes it seem to be undemocratic, however if I could change the House of Lords, i would not change it into an elected second chamber. This is because this could lead to their being an elective dictatorship whereby one party could have control of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Because of this, the majority party could pass through any laws they wanted and the government would not be scrutinised as this new House of Lords would not carry out its job properly but instead always vote in line with the party and would never change any laws proposed by the government.
However there are still 92 hereditary peers in the House of Lords today and if I had my way, I would abolish all the hereditary peers. Another reason why I would take this action is because the hereditary peers might not actually know much about politics and the consequences that certain bills will have on society and also will look at everything through their own eyes, and how they as an individual benefit instead of how the country as a whole will benefit.
This is a political debate that shows no signs of being resolved any time soon. It certainly is not a major part of the upcoming election campaign, with only one party putting Lords Reform at the heart of their manifesto in a post Brexit world. And who might that be I hear you ask? Not Boris, not Jeremy, certainly not Jo, not Nicola either. The one person who wants an end to the power of archaic and undemocratic institution…..Nigel of course. Well you can’t say that he is anything other than consistent!