There is searing stuff (below) from Meg Russell, Professor of British and Comparative Politics at University College London, and previously on the House of Lords standards committee:
I couldn’t agree more:
Indeed, even Murdoch’s Times is pretty sniffy (click to enlarge):
With Keir Starmer recently speaking about plans for a convention on constitutional change I think it is indicative to consider also what this Mile End Institute discussion considers of consequence for the House of Lords.
One of the three participants was indeed Professor Meg Russell, aided and abetted by Baroness Grey-Thompson (Tanni Grey-Thompson) – Paralympian, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords and Lord (sic) Norton of Louth, a professor of Politics at Hull University.
Prof Norton suggested that the Lords’ role is actually not to determine its role within the legislative system (quite), but to major on ‘input legitimacy’ – not ‘output legitimacy’, which I thought a very good point.
So the Lords is a reflective chamber. a chamber of legislative scrutiny which remarkably to me, issues between 700 and 7000 amendments to government bills every year ..
They also scrutinise secondary legislation such as orders in council, whereas the Commons of course, pretty much never does.
Additionally it ‘adds value’ (although it has to be said because there is no Proportional Representation System in the UK – unlike every European country with the sole exception of the obviously democratic Belarus!) as more than a quarter of its members are cross-benchers, no government can as it were, take it for granted.
He suggests that the House of Lords is primarily one of experience and expertise, which Ministers need to take seriously, and that the Lords also thus operate via justification and not assertion.
The Lords, he surmises, add value through it’s composition of people with expertise. (Clearly so – just so long as they are not Tory donors).
He suggests too, that their numbers should be reduced by removing peers who don’t contribute – or even attend – and that peers should be scrutinised for both suitability and propriety – and not on a party basis.
Even today there are two routes to nomination – either by a political party, or by anyone else – where nominations are in turn scrutinised for propriety and suitability. You can even self-nominate!
Of course now, Johnson, in his typically corrupt way, has driven a coach and horses through such scrutiny – supporters, appointed on any basis at all seem to be fine. Clearly Bullingdon rules apply.
Meg Russell pointed out that the Lords had been reformed only in very small steps. Larger scale was too controversial. Indeed the near complete removal of the hereditary lords gave the Lords more confidence, which made the government wary…
I was interested when she pointed out that almost all second chambers were controversial, but most still felt a second chamber was important in order to allow more measured decisions and an opportunity for second thoughts. I certainly agree…
Second chambers fell into three broad categories – a different voting system such as Australia, a geographical/territorial composition such as Germany, where it supports the federal structure, or France where the senate is elected by local councillors, or expertise (at least in theory!) such as Canada where appointees have no political allegiance.
The House of Lords is of course and by contrast, a pre-domocratic institution and famously, probably the second largest parliamentary institution in the world!
There was certainly general agreement that the Lords was too big and that peerages should be separate from membership of the second chamber (this to me is absolutely spot on – when you get, say, the légion d’honneur that’s what you get – nothing more. The mode of address in the House of Lords is just out of date – as is certainly any similar or related title for spouses).
There was talk of fixed term Lords – say 10 years, which seems to me eminently sensible, and if these Lords felt inclined to continue maybe they should perhaps, have to be elected after that. If they’d properly made their mark I think they could and should be added on to local election leaflet distribution and dates.
Everyone of the speakers agreed that as a ‘Senate’ (effectively what the Lords now is, at least by comparison with any other ‘democracy’) meant ‘Senior’, it meant also that experience should be taken into account.
Whereas Johnson has only his own best interests at heart – as we know.
And even his Conservative allies think he has gone too far.
As the Times says, Johnson may yet come to regret his cavalier disregard for conventions.
I think that’s both input legitimacy and output legitimacy….
But I doubt Johnson is aware of either.