Should the House of Lords be abolished?
Our commentators give their opinions on some of the most important debates in politics. Look out for our Twitter poll, where you can answer this month's question.
If and when an MP fails to represent the electorate, we can get rid of them at the next election if we should so wish. If a peer does this, we have no choice but to stand idly by, and have our taxation pay for their upkeep. This is at the core of why the House of Lords needs to go. It is an archaic institution, and has been recognised as such for quite some time. In March 1649, right at the start of Britain's (unfortunately brief) experiment in republicanism, the House of Lords was abolished. It was reinstated in 1660 for the purpose of assisting the man who would be crowned King Charles II. This cemented it as a symbol of elitist power, and has remained so ever since.
The House of Lords suits our political leaders very well indeed, allowing them to quite literally put friends in high places. Such a process makes a mockery of our electoral system, which we ironically call representative. We, the electorate, are reduced to only semi-participants in the democratic process, given just enough power so as we don't complain too loudly.
When the House of Lords was abolished, it was branded 'useless and dangerous to the people of England'. Over 350 years later, not much has changed.
The status of the House of Lords has been sparingly called into question by successive governments since 1832. The most notable attempt at reform was made by the first Blair government, acting on its manifesto pledge to end the ‘right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords,’ when they passed the House of Lords Act 1999 and removed all but 92 hereditary peers. The promised ‘second stage’ of this reform was never achieved.
A more ambitious attempt was started by the coalition government in 2012, as a concession to the Lib Dems, however they soon lost interest as well.
Since 1999 there has been no thoroughly thought out, or dedicated plan to reforming the House of Lords and the issue has largely been a talking point for figures who wish to appear reform-minded, but aren’t brave enough to advocate for proportional representation.
The coalition’s bill recognised the positive role that an ‘efficient and effective’ second chamber can play in this democracy, yet the Lords has been rather effective as it is. While the Commons has seemed like a mere echo chamber of the government in recent years, it is the Lords which has picked up the slack: most recently upholding the principle of parliamentary sovereignty by refusing to back the government’s Article 50 bill.
There are valid arguments to reform, rather than abolish, the House of Lords, however when they are made they are rarely followed through.
A symbol of filthy bureaucracy that is completely abhorrent and incomprehensible in today’s society or testament to the history of British democracy, the House of Lords has divided opinions for many years.
Whatever you think of the House of Lords, though, you have to recognise that it has a crucial part to play in the law-making business of Britain.
The 1999 House of Lords Act intended to remove most of the hereditary peers, also known as those who are only in there because of their rich and powerful ancestors who probably opened their wallets at the right time. Unfortunately, there are still ninety-two of them remaining.
While it is currently completely filled with those who do not represent this country, if reformed the Lords could be something great. Abolishing it would give governments too much power and we would most certainly run the risk of an oppressive government.
What the House of Lords needs is an independent committee to select worthy nominees based on experience, passion and their ability to do the work required.
Real reform could deliver real results. Don’t abolish the future, abolish the present holding us back.
No political institution is quite like the ‘Lords’; aside from the ermine, it is one of the largest second chambers and one of two that allocates seats hereditarily. The Lords needs reforming: parties have ‘stuffed’ it with lackeys to ease their proposed bills. That said, many peers are doctors, religious leaders, businessmen, ex-civil servants and lawyers, representing the combined expertise and professionalism from all facets of British life. If the Lords were to be abolished what would it be replaced with? An elected ‘Senate’ or nothing at all? Either would bring about the same result.
Complete abolition would allow the government to legislate unopposed. Bills, concerning the NHS or business, could be rushed through parliament with little consultation or direct involvement from those with the relevant.
A Senate would make a poor substitution: it would be incredibly politicised, ‘Senators’ would have to run for election and owe their seats to voters and by proxy, the party funding and electioneering machine, rather than to ability or merit. Political participation in council, European or police commissioner elections are embarrassingly low, meaning fringe parties often have a higher proportion of the vote. Who is to say Senate elections would be any different?
We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath-water, the Lords needs reforming but abolition would eradicate the professionalism of the second chamber. Democratisation is not political acumen, ipso facto.
The Lords needs reform like Gotham needs Batman. Its archaic nature puts it out of public favour, and has meant it is consistently ripe for being used as a political football.
The House of Peers most recently put itself in danger of abolition by senior Conservatives (remember, that party which represents the interests of the elite and the aristocracy, very well represented in the Lords) by threatening to derail May’s hard Brexit. Ninety-two hereditary peers are allowed to sit in the House of Lords. Ninety-two people who have been born into aristocratic families are allowed seats in our Houses of Parliament because they were born. That is ridiculous in a modern democracy. We should have a proportionally representative list system, and staggered elections to ensure a continuation of talent and work-streams.
Even with my reservations, the House of Lords is ultimately a useful institution to have as a revising chamber, and as an important part of the system of balancing and checking power, particularly in the current state of affairs. With the Commons increasingly inhabited by politicians pushing daft policies like Brexit, a return to grammar schools and an authoritarian surveillance state, there needs to be a body which holds ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ politicians to account on a more granular level than once every five-year general elections are able to.