House of Lords Reform

The government's announcement of a proposed 'Appointments Commission' is a disappointing response to the debate on reform of the House of Lords. Lacking in imagination, the proposal hardly lives up to the manifesto commitment to create a 'more democratic' second chamber, although it could of course be argued that anything other than the present system would be more democratic. An appointments Commission will, as we have seen, merely choose people like themselves.

This may seem strange coming from someone who is opposed to a directly elected House, but there is more to our democracy than MPs and councillors. There are lots of statutory, voluntary and professional bodies that, daily, play an important, indeed vital, role in our democratic society and it is largely from these organisations that I see a second chamber drawing its members. Examples of such organisations would be the TUC, CBI, BMA, religious organisations, education, etc..

A directly elected second chamber would have the same legitimacy as the House of Commons. Indeed, if it were to be elected by PR there are those who would argue it would have greater legitimacy. This would lead to Parliamentary and legislative grid-lock. Because it is directly elected by the people, the House of Commons is, and must remain the primary democratic chamber from which our government is drawn and which has the prime duty of approving legislation and acting as a check on the executive.

The second chamber should be a deliberative, revising, advisory chamber and as such needs to comprise of members qualified to carry out those tasks. Elections cannot guarantee that outcome. There are often debates about the make-up of the Commons, too many lawyers, not enough engineers etc. Certainly, not enough women and representatives of minority groups.

I believe that a 'more democratic' second chamber could be created by widening the responsibility for appointing its members to include bodies such as I have referred to above. Devolved assemblies could also send representatives - not from their own number but people they believe could represent their region/nation. I would also include political parties and leave room for some representatives to be appointed by the Prime Minister.

Conditions of appointment (some bodies may wish to hold elections of course) should include gender and ethnic balance and should be on a regional basis, thus creating a second chamber that would not only be more democratic and representative than the government's proposal is likely to produce, but would comprise of men and women who were accountable to their organisations and have the experience and expertise to carry out that advisory, revisory and deliberative role.

See also PMQ on 29 Oct 2003

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Promoted by Ken Childs on behalf of David Clelland, both of 19 Ravensworth Road, Dunston, Gateshead. NE11 9AB