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February 08, 2007


Igor Belanov

I'm surprised you're hesitating on this question. A Second Chamber composed of appointed 'experts' would be about the most 'managerialist' political institution imaginable.

Dave Petterson

Two things about removing experts.

1) Some won't approach the experts and the ones that do will still vote the way they think. No different from the Commons.

2) They will all be concerned about being reelected, same as the commons, and will therefore only vote in a way that won't impact their reelection chances.

We have had a system working for hundreds of years. OK, not perfect but what is? Instead of tinkering we always have to demolish and replace with something that is a theory and untried just to fit in a short term political agenda.

Marcin Tustin

I've considered the issue of House of Lords reform before, with similar questions in mind: http://murthercity.blogspot.com/2005/12/constitutional-reform-interlude.html

Briefly, I proposed that we have a layer of appointment to choose the great and the good, and then selection from party lists, with selection from the list on a compensatory basis so that total parliamentary representation is proportional to ballots cast in the general election.

This avoids those who would stand needing to engage with the hustings.


I propose a lottery for seats in the Lords, based on the electoral register, followed by a really gruelling training course set by scholars, the commons, the lords and the judiciary. The top 50% scoring get in and displace the lowest 50% scoring currently in the lords.

(If you want to get smart people in)


Is there some reason why we're all pretending that elected second chambers are a brand new wild and speculative experiment that nobody knows what they will look like?

(btw, the whole benefit of democracy is that it keeps out people like Lord Winston IMO. The man who thinks today that being Lady Di's ob/gyn makes him an expert on the evolution of mankind will think tomorrow that he is an expert on all sorts of things).


So, if markets channel vices into public good (quite a sweeping statement) why not arrange a market to serve the function of the second chamber?

It's worth noting that the value of the House of Lords over the last 30 years or so can be reduced to 3 or 4 points for consideration.

1) Some of the members had (Law Lords, ex-pols) or developed (committed members who didn't just sleep) a great eye for the technical pitfalls of legislation. One of the failures of just about every democratic system is that as money influence grows, lobbyists have ever more ability to write legislation with "convenient" loopholes.

Also the quality of legislation from a lot of think-tanks and lobbyists is just shoddy and you get impractical laws out of it.

2) They were a bastion of holding up prejudice, particularly against gays. (Good or Bad? We report, you decide.)

3) They occasionally (very occasionally) had fits of conscience which meant they tried (not often successfully) to restrain the madness of a PM with a huge majority. (Poll tax, some other incidents.)

That's about it. Frankly, despite the presence of Winston and Greenfield, the body as a whole is largely just as ignorant of the confluence of science, technology and society as the Commons is. Frankly, I think people aren't treating the "expert" argument with the scepticism they have for other "experts."

Worse, there's little evidence of these "mature, sophisticated debates" impacting policy.

(If there's anything more, people should post it.)

We should note further that for the vast majority of recent history, party patronage has remained quite strong in the Lords, despite Martine Martin's romantic notions.

If you believe in democracy (I'm not saying I do) it might not be beyond the wit of man to devise an election process that is vulnerable to different pressures than the Commons (PR as a stupid example) and thus provides an extra democratic check/balance.)

Thus, I think we can see that Matt C should do some more work on his objection. Also, the general state of affairs in the US is often "gridlock" and "vetoes" between different branches of the process. Not to mention that the PR elections of many places give rise to similar negotiations in coalition building. There's a romantic myth about UK democracy that it "gets things done." Surely by now we've seen that even huge majorities don't automatically get much done?

None of this is to say I'm right, but there are more questions to answer here than the links seem to address.


"arrange a market to serve the function of the second chamber?"

I thought there was...if you want a seat you just pay for it in the form of a party donation or loan.

Ian Deans

Might I suggest the reason why British democracy has proven itself to be so resilient and stable is because it merges together the three different kinds of government? The ancient Greeks posited that governments move from democracy to monarchy to aristocracy (the Kyklos, or cycle) - and British democracy combines all three elements. If you remove the aristocratic element from the equation, then you may be putting at risk the stability of the whole. And for what?


So the problem is that the sort of people that will stand for election to a second chamber will be second-rate party hacks and time-servers, whereas the sort of people that are appointed by the political parties to the House of Lords are retired party hacks and time-servers, plus a smattering of B-list celebrities and donors.

You would, it seems, like to have a second chamber that is full of smart people with good judgement, but don't know how to get one.

If that is your goal, then a political election is obviously a non-starter, as you'll select the usual suspects who like campaigning. Political apointments are also out, or you'll get a bunch of Tony's cronies.

You are left with three choices - either random selection, appointment by an impartial individual or committee, or nomination by professional bodies etc.

The first method avoids selecting political hacks, but probably only by selecting people who prefer to watch Trisha in their pants. This doesn't get you where you want to be.

The third method might seem to offer a little more hope, until you realise that the people that end up running professional bodies are the hacks who are good at politicking rather than the smart people with good judgement.

That leaves the third way - some apolitical person or persons should pick a group of smart people with good judgement. But where would we find such an apolitical person? We could always try the Queen...


I like the last option the best. Let's sort out the constitution and kill several birds with one stone: ditch the Queen, put the West Lothian question to bed, weaken the executive and install some heavy duty protection of our personal freedoms. And can we have cake too?


Come on, let's get concrete here. Is anyone going to actually stick up their hand and say that the average quality of the House of Lords is better than the US Senate? Because that's the claim we're making here, unless we're just doing blackboard economics.


Is, or could be? The US Senate is largely filled with tiresome windbags of little discernable merit. Rather like out own House of Lords, really.


I have long maintained that the best argument for continuing with the UK monarchy is the US presidency. Thank you dsquared for pointing out that a strong argument for the current House of Lords is the US Senate.

Christopher G D Tipper

I would like to make a vigorous case for a smaller and fully-elected upper chamber, along the lines of 87 Members currently returned to the European Parliament. Not only are appointed members the very thing that New Labour railed against in the past, but with an appointed system the door is left open to much political horse-trading and diminution of public-respect for the House of Lords as a consequence of partial appointment by a committee.

I also believe that significantly reducing the size of the Lords, to a size roughly commensurate with the United States’ Senate, will help to raise the individual profile of the Lords themselves. Debate will proceed on much more expansive terms than the Commons, greater depth of focus will be brought to bear on issues raised by impending legislation, and name-recognition in the public eye will raise the standards expected by voters for candidates to the upper Chamber. Public esteem for the institution will, in my opinion, be maintained. At present the standing of members of the upper chamber derives from the historic role performed by many who owe their position to distinguished public service. There is no guarantee that public respect will be preserved in a purely elected chamber of over 670 Lords, the current membership. Indeed, it is likely that the Lords’ authority will be debased by the inexorable logic of electoral politics and that the House will cease to represent the enlightened public interest safe-guarded at present. This concern does seem to be generally realised, but it also seems to me that a drastic reduction in office-holders would have a more salutary effect than the proposals mooted at present to appoint a proportion of members.

As to the means of election, it is also widely feared that the Lords will be elected from the same constituencies as current MPs, and so will represent identical interests. The independence of the Upper House will have been undermined, and no legislative benefit will accrue. I would humbly suggest that the constituencies be made up of a number of regions, representing geographic units rather than electoral units, with four members from each region, perhaps split according to proportion of population within the region. This would certainly provide a different electoral arithmetic from the Commons, and would maintain some of the desirability of geographic representation. Party lists of apparatchiks would not be a prospect under such a regime. I also believe that it would be constitutionally beneficial to reverse the Metropolitan bias of the House of Commons. I believe it would be worth considering longer terms of office for elected peers, though a suggestion for fifteen-year cycles seems somewhat authoritarian to my way of thinking. I would be much happier to see somewhere along the lines of a statutory period in the region of seven years.

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