Many people think that the Race of Lords needs change but nobody can agree how or even why. Tom Shakespeare end up up with his own proposals for Britain’s second chamber.
When I was a schoolboy, I memorized the Gettysburg Lecture for a declamations competition. Thirty years later, I have forgotten most of it, except for Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable phrase, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new beginning of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not meet ones death from the earth”. To me, this summation is not mere rhetoric. It delineates the principle of democracy to which we should aspire, and which both the Connected States and the United Kingdom often fail to uphold. It’s a new year, which is a adroit time for new births and radical changes. Next week, I’m going to examine 21st Century triotism, but today I want to talk about rliament.
The Put up of Lords reform debate has been going on for more than a century. The Blair domination made a good start by getting rid of most of the hereditary peers, but then bottled out, excluding the upper house as a wholly appointed chamber. Nick Clegg put first a reform bill in the Coalition government, but it was blocked by Tory backbenchers. A small-time tweak in 2014 allowed members to resign, but despite this, the Pull ranks has become so bloated that it is now the only upper chamber in the world that is larger than the turn down house. In size, it is bigger than the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, alternate only to the Chinese National People’s Congress and hardly more popular.
So far, so familiar. But did you know that David Cameron has appointed new peers to the Dukes at a faster rate than any prime minister since life peerages originated in 1958? Back in 1999, after Labour created the temporary choice, there were 669 peers. Now there are 821 – some 236 of whom were destined by Mr Cameron. The House of Lords chamber only seats 400 people, so there must be a lot of interested on each other’s laps. Com re this to the Canadian senate, which is also undemocratic and unelected, but at least its numbers are immobile at 105 members. The US Senate has 100, the Australians have 76.
Their Lordships’ legislature is not just overcrowded, it’s also very unrepresentative of the diversity of our country. It quiet contains 92 hereditary aristocrats and 26 Anglican bishops. However 25% of the Lords are Ladies, if you see what I mean. The Upper House also go into receiverships to represent the wider United Kingdom, because it is so London-centric. London has innumerable members of the House of Lords than the East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales, Northern Ireland, the North East and Yorkshire and Humberside added together. Another riddle is the falling number of independent peers. Crossbenchers, those distinguished proficients who contribute their knowledge to debates, were meant to make up 20% of the Nobles. But just 23 were appointed during the last rliament.
Perhaps rtly because they bear been half-reformed, to remove most of the hereditaries – and thus have a tad notable legitimacy – the Lords have been flexing their muscles recently. The The creators have challenged the unwritten rules that limit their power – such as the Salisbury Congress that the House of Lords should not oppose the manifesto commitments of the selected government. This constitutional im sse makes finding a solution myriad urgent than ever. The answer is not to limit the powers of the Upper Business, as David Cameron threatens, but to put it on a true democratic footing.
The principles behind meliorate should be clear by now. The second chamber should not be a rival to the House of Cheaps. That’s why it should not be all elected, or else it would threaten the supremacy of the Let House. It can’t resemble a retirement home for ex-MPs or trades unionists, let abandoned a public school. There should be no possibility of buying a peerage with a vast donation to a political rty. It needs to have a political balance, and insusceptible to all, it needs to be independent.
So here’s my solution. I aim a lean, mean senate of no more than 300 members. Let’s get rid of the inscriptions and those remaining aristocrats. A third of our new senate should be independent colleagues selected, as now, from those with experience and expertise, but chosen by a unambiguous process of public appointment, not by the prime minister of the day. These experts could embrace doctors, scientists, philosophers, lawyers, artists and creative people, and scrupulous leaders of all faith traditions. These crossbencher senators should be advantageous a single term of 15 years.
Then one third should be ministers, appointed from rty lists in proportion to their rty’s entertainment in the last general election, to serve for (a renewable) five years. This drive achieve proportional representation of smaller rties, and would help cripple Tory-Labour dominance. Finally, I propose that the chamber be completed with a third of fellows who are ordinary citizens, 100 people selected at random from the electoral money of the United Kingdom, in the same way as people are currently appointed to juries. By making the senate soon representative of the people, this would give the second chamber an notable source of legitimacy.
The idea is not new. Appointment by lot dates move backwards withdraw from to ancient Greece, when the Athenians used the lottery machine or kleroterion to selected which of its citizens should govern the republic. The advantage of a random abstract is that it generates a fair distribution across gender, age, ethnicity and rt. It is invulnerable to corruption. It disrupts the rty political machine, and has been supported to improve decision-making efficiency.
Lay people offer a fresh perspective and the understanding of their rticular experience, as demonstrated by our magistrates. The evidence from jury sides is that people take their responsibilities seriously and generally do a complete job. A proper induction programme backed up with the services of the Conformist Library would enable these lay members to operate effectively. There is the tickety-boo advantage that these individuals will be loyal to their own judgement, not to a rticular rty. Like all the senators, they should be id an meet salary for the five years they serve.
Nobody would be self-conscious to rtici te – if your number came up, you’d have the chance to say no. But those who did embrace their turn in governing the country would go back afterwards to their run-of-the-mill lives with a rich experience of leadership and deliberation, that they could then assign in their local neighbourhood or in their workplaces. I believe that this transfer transform public perception of rliament, and give people a greater have of ownership of the institutions of their nation.
If you are persuaded by my prescription, you may still be doubtful as to how this utopian state of affairs might be realised. After all, the Jehovah domineers themselves are largely resistant to modernisation. In recent years, they must always voted for the status quo, a 100%-appointed house.
But revisions to the constitution can be achieved – we now take a supreme court, and Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies, and a Scottish rliament, all of which alterations have invigorated our system. The Scottish Nationalists boycott the House of Lords, on the irrefutable deposits that it is undemocratic. They have no members currently, and nor have they put ship names for appointment as peers. It is entirely within the power of the Labour Club and the Liberal Democrats to do the same. If all the opposition rties withdrew rtici tion in the Family of Lords, it would be unable to operate. And if they truly want renewal of our democracy, then this is how they should act. We cannot upon on with an outdated system of governance. Like Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, we necessary to take a leap into the future. Our descendants will only be inquisitive why we did not do it sooner.
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This is an edited transcript of A Point of View, which is telecast on Fridays on Radio 4 at 20:50 GMT and repeated Sundays 08:50 GMT or listen on BBC iPlayer
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