Thursday, 20 March 2008

Their Lordships' House

According to the Financial Times it looks as if cross-party agreement on the replacement of the House of Lords by an all (or predominantly) elected chamber is near. There would be 400 elected 'senators', who would be 'phased in' as life peers left, although exactly how that would be done is not specified. Those with a party affiliation could stand for election. Presumably the remaining hereditaries would go first.

It is not clear what would happen to the Lords Spiritual, the 28 Church of England divines who sit the Lords, although many people would regard them as an anachronism in a multi-faith society. There is also an outstanding issue about whether 20 per cent of the upper chamber should continue to be appointed.

I discussed this particular issue with a senior MP and his view was that such seats should be reserved for people who could not participate in partisan politics during their careers, e.g., judges, civil servants, members of the military.

One might add that there are a lot of people who are turned off by the point scoring of partisan politics, but have nevertheless been able to make a contribution as cross-benchers in the Lords. For those of us who are interested in policy rather than politics discussions in the Lords are often more enlightening. This is particularly true of their committee reports. Let's hope that the new chamber does not simply become a pale partisan shadow of the Commons.

One crucial question is the system of election. There will be 80 or so constituencies based on counties and cities. Use of the party list system as in European Parliament elections would make it an entirely party centred system. STV would give voters more scope to vote for individuals without a party affiliation if they wished.

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