Beyond Political Favours: Building a Credible House of Lords

Why the current system for the UK's government doesn't work and a possible solution
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Created by Alex Kyriacou

Published on Aug 1, 2023
westminster palace

For an avid subscriber to British politics, it is no foreign notion that the current system of our upper house does not work. Not for our legislators, our people, or our democracy. The idea that Britain, this great bastion of democracy, boasts a wholly unelected chamber as the scrutineers of the elected legislators is an insult to democracy. Although is an elected upper chamber the way forward? 

Those who support the current system maintain the defence that the House of Lords has limited powers in terms of blocking legislation. By moving to an elected system of Lords, our way of governance is susceptible to the US-style gridlock between the two chambers. This gridlock was exemplified by the 2013 gun-control debate in the aftermath of Sandyhook which came to an ideological impasse between the Democrat Senate and Republican House of Representatives. Two chambers, both elected, with equal accountability to the electorate hold equal power in blocking legislation. 

What if there was a different way of governance? The existing system appoints Lords based on various factors like seniority in the Church of England, position within the Commons, birthright, or political favouritism. What quality does a Bishop have that qualifies them to scrutinise the Commons? 

The House of Lords may not be the cause of the growing disillusionment in the United Kingdom, but it certainly perpetuates it. The House of Lords should be a chamber of experts. A chamber that constantly adapts and rotates. A chamber that meets the need of the moment rather than a chamber filled to the brim with life peers. 

This House of Experts would not be filled with appointed Lords from Downing Street, but rather with appointees from an independent body that receives recommendations on key issues from the Government or Parliament. These key issues would then inform the appointments to the Lords, with each Lord serving in the chamber whilst that issue remains prevalent. This independent body would be appointed and scrutinised by a cross-party committee, ensuring a diversity of views manifest within the appointed experts so as to avoid major bias within the Lords. 

There will always be a need for experts in certain areas like defence, education, health etc. which already largely exist in the Chamber. But why can we not have a chamber of solely experts? In the height of Brexit, there should have been Lords appointed who were experts on trade, the economy, on negotiations. The War in Ukraine would trigger the need for Russia-Ukraine experts in the Chamber in this system, as would the matter of Scottish independence be met with experts on constitutional reform. 

The crucial part of this new system would be the impermanence of the majority of the Lords. Bar the constant issues already mentioned, every Lord would serve until their issue is deemed no longer needed. This would put an end to the current practice of countless members of the Lords who seemingly serve little purpose to the taxpayer’s burden. 

Our political system has to change. Whilst it is not true to call it broken, it does not work for the people. Fewer and fewer people are showing up to the ballot box each election. Is it such an awful idea to think that Labour ought to dare to change this disillusionment? There is much work to do from the bottom up, but perhaps this time change ought to come from the top down. Reforming the Lords may just re-energise our politics. Reform may just create a new era of trust in politics. 


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