The House of Lords comes under regular scrutiny and is generally unpopular within the electorate. Their impression is that it is full of aristocrats and friends of politicians who get tax payers money to make undemocratic, bureaucratic decisions. This impression isn't technically wrong.
The Hansard Survey of 2012 discovered that on 42% of people would say they're interested in politics (a new low) and only 39% say they're ‘reasonably knowledgeable’, therefore it is fair to presume that a majority of the electorate who dislike the House of Lords know little about its functions and are against it when they hear ‘unelected’.
“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter” - Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill is correct that the public is uninformed and uneducated, often at no fault of its own. I am an advocate of more political education from an early age and more factual and less personal politics. A poor education is the enemy of democracy and the House of Lords is an important issue to comprehend.
Functions of the House of Lords
The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. It plays a vital role in making and shaping laws and checking and challenging the government; it shares this role with the House of Commons. The Lords has a reputation for thorough and detailed scrutiny. Members come from many walks of life and bring experience and knowledge from a wide range of occupations. Many members remain active in their fields and have successful careers in business, culture, science, sports, academia, health, politics and public service. They bring this wealth of knowledge and experience to their role of examining matters of public interest that affect all UK citizens – from pensions policy and TV advertising regulation to ID cards and nanotechnology.
(Taken from http://www.parliament.uk/)
What do the Electorate Want?
One YouGov poll (2015) says that 63% of the UK electorate (57,302 were polled) want an entirely or mostly elected House of Lords (HoL). Whereas only 15% want an entirely or mostly appointed. And as usual a high number (22%) didn't know. The YouGov article I got this information from is followed by 121 angry comments about the how they see the ‘abhorrent’ existence of the HoL because it is unelected. Clearly not very popular in its current form.
- No Change
- All Elected House
- All appointed House
- Partially Appointed and Elected
To find out about these alternatives the internet is full of articles on the advantages and disadvantages, I am writing to pitch to you one of my concepts and reform ideas.
Proposal - Appointment and Review
The House of Lords is an important reviewing chamber and experience, expertise and knowledge of peers is vital. Thinking about who would make a good peer my old Headmaster and politics teacher, human rights activists, charity workers, environmental experts, conservationists, scientists, university professors, economists and think tanks came to mind. We need people with vast knowledge to interpret and review our legislation. Currently, many possess this sort of knowledge, but deadwood and non-participating peers should be filtered out with more diversity.
For example, if an High Speed Rail bill is being passed, MPs may have insufficient research and lack of knowledge on the consequences and may have to follow the party view. The Lords would then examine each clause and scrutinising each line of the bill. Environmental experts and conservationists would put forwards their case and impact of HS2 on our landscape and wildlife. Scientists and think tanks could offer more efficient or appropriate options, economists would argue the benefits for the economy, etc. MPs are knowledgeable and most do a great job, but you can’t expect a perfect understanding. I also believe that an argument in the commons is less likely to affect a vote as parties and constituents control many parliamentary votes.
Ultimately, what I want to see is an efficient and analytical approach to appointment and review of peers. A transparent, QUANGO, independent from the executive and with impartiality who appointed the people with the sort of experience explained above. I would like to see the impartiality and independence of the judiciary repeated in the House of Lords.
In terms of review, I would employ ‘people analytics’ and a review of each peer annually. If they aren’t influential, participating or offering unique knowledge then their peerage isn't renewed. Life peerage, the current system, has its merits but has resulted in many Lords who hardly attend parliament who can’t be removed and some peers may only attend if their party needs their vote.
My only worry would be that true independency and neutrality is potentially unattainable and that this system could be bureaucratic and have high running costs.
Find Luke on Twitter - @SL_TeamTalk