The question of the House of Lords has raised its head in the British Parliament again. The latest suggestion is that it should be half elected and half appointed – hang on a minute, didn’t I hear that argument a while ago, and a while before that, and a while before that?
The problem we face with revising the upper chamber is simple. For centuries it had undertaken a vital function – to allow, into the legislature, a higher think tank, undeterred by party politics and fear of the vote.
Yes, many of the hereditary peers were a joke, but many were not. Further, the introduction of life peers meant that a wealth of experience and wisdom entered the chamber from politics, law, the military, industry and the trade unions.
In the final analysis, the House of Lords could not decide law for Britain. It could delay legislation - demand revision – but at the end of the day, it was simply a safeguard against over-zealous MPs. It was privileged, yes, but it worked.
The first law of commonsense is that if something works, don’t fix it. But with the arrival of New Labour, nothing worked unless it satisfied two major criteria. First of all, was it new, and second, did guarantee absolute authority in their hands?
The House of Lords satisfied neither of these criteria, so it had to go. But the problem of trying to remove something comes when you try to find something else to replace it with. Hence, we hear the arguments again and again and again. And nothing seems to ever get done.
Well, I have a suggestion of my own. If the House of Lords is meant to be a break on over-zealous MPs the answer is staring us in the face – and an answer that is, at the same time, quite cheap.
Elections in Britain tend to be simple things. In most constituencies, the candidate returned to Parliament is more likely to be Labour or Conservative, with the poor little Liberal Democrat trailing in second place. They get the votes, but never seem to grasp power.
I suggest we give them a chance. I suggest that, in each constituency, the candidate who came second is returned to help form a new House of Lords – or at least, an upper chamber.
The result of this is that the Upper House would be primarily Liberal Democrat, and with a hand, at last, on power, they’d no longer suck up to either of the other parties, and they just might become good legislators.
Of course, I would also suggest retaining the Lords Spiritual to remind them there might be a higher authority, and the Law Lords to curtail their habits. But if we decide the Upper House should still be there to curtail the party in power, I cannot think of a better solution.
Do you think Labour or the Tories will buy it?
© Anthony North, Feb 2007