As an opponent of an elected upper house it is often difficult to defend the Lords’ unelected nature when Prime Ministers make feckless appointments.
The Lords after all has its entire democratic legitimacy based on its members being experts in their fields as if they are simply parliamentary friends what right do they have to legislate? The reality is for an unelected upper house to continue to exist it must be reformed to serve the purpose it claims to. This can be started through three key reforms: abolition of hereditary peers, independent appointments and a reduction of members.
So long as a single Lord sits in the House due to hereditary claims the legitimacy of British democracy is challenged. When we first changed the make-up of the house there were fair claims to keep them, after all we needed members who understood protocol to help with the transition. Now however the appointed members can fulfil this role and while hereditary peers may provide an interesting perspective they possess no legitimacy. By abolishing the remaining hereditary peers and moving to a wholly elected house we will make a significant step towards creating a chamber of expertise and solving a major critique of the body.
Having removed those who are in the house due to hereditary claims we must now move on to ensuring new members are experts in their field and appointed solely by merit. So long as the appointment process remains with the Prime Minister this is impossible. The temptation and benefits of abusing the system to repay financial, personal and political allies will always lead to frivolous appointments that make a mockery of the system. Instead a wholly independent body must be created that makes appointments based on a clearly outlined set of criteria. The appointments will be transparent and after thorough vetting to ensure those in our chamber are the best and brightest of the nation. This will ensure legislation passed by our parliament will be done to the highest standard ensuring good governance based on reason and logic instead of blind ideological devotion.
The final reform that we must do to improve the legitimacy and effectiveness is the house is the removal of excess members. The House of Lords is the second largest parliamentary chamber in the world being beaten only by China. At its current rate it is however the fastest growing and without reforms it could soon surpass the National People’s Congress. While one could argue that more experts are better we already have many people who are in the Lords for services to reigning PM’s and simply due to certain positions in the civil service. Both of these groups can be removed unless they meet the independent bodies’ criteria but we may still need additional grooming. The quantity of Lords has reached a point where it hinders efficiency with speeches being shortened due to the number of people who wish to speak this harms the quality of debate and scrutiny the lords can perform. In addition not all the Lords can fit into the chamber meaning those that arrive first are given priority over those who are most relevant. By reducing the maximum number of members we can ensure the chamber works at maximum efficiency with only the best and brightest being given a place.
Overall the House of Lords is a fantastic institution that represents the reflective and informed politics that Britain represents. While other nations may chose additional representatives we seek to have further scrutiny from those whom are most informed on the topic. To continue this we must reform the system however or else risk losing it to cries for greater democratisation that could paralyse our political system.
George Appleyard is an Intern at the Bow Group