The House of Lords
The Centre's Evidence to the Commission
PART 1: To Safeguard and Advance Democracy.
Democracy is never secure, never complete, never without flaws. In Britain at present the efficacy of our democracy is often doubted. In the words of the Labour Party's "Lord" Richard: " We inherited a legacy of a loss of public confidence and trust in our system of government."
The state is widely felt to be independent of the people and not their instrument. Most pay lip service to democracy. But what is required for it to flourish and what limits it must accept are not widely understood.
Because a new government has not immediately legislated to remove an affront to one interest group or another, some will claim that "democracy has failed". And this is as likely to be used as an excuse for resorting to undemocratic methods as it is to be felt as a spur to make the democratic system work.
The right to free expression and to protest is widely understood to permit obstruction of others in their lawful pursuits if the protesters feel that their beliefs have moral heft.
It is not widely understood that democratic government does not grant the majority the right always to impose its preferences on a minority. On the other hand, many British people are content with processes that deny the majority their wishes because they belong to minorities that benefit.
The critics of our democratic system are sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Some of this lack of trust is justified. And it is certainly true that if the institutions and processes of government lack credibility, strength is given to the arguments of those who prefer to bypass them.
Improved education in democracy will help somewhat. But the best education will come from daily witnessing of good democratic practice. We therefore need institutions and processes of government that are representative of the people and that are clearly seen to be so.
The Centre for Citizenship wishes to see institutions of government that are democratically legitimate, open to all, and accountable to the electorate. We need legislators who are put into office by the people and who are accountable to them. The institutions should be ones which inspire respect and admiration, rather than awe. They should not seem as distant from the lives lived by the majority. Tradition and ceremony should not appear to have as much importance as effectiveness.
The House of Lords: Not An Abode of Democracy.
We approach the reform of the second chamber of Parliament from the above perspective. The House of Lords as it has been and as it is now is an affront to democratic practice. It is the Achilles' heel of the defenders of British democracy. When we read of a "President-for-Life" in a distant country most of us take quiet satisfaction in our democratic superiority. Yet in Britain we have still "legislators-for-life" in our Parliament. At present the majority have inherited their seats in the legislature through a quite incomprehensible survival of feudalism. And even when the hereditary peers have been disqualified, those remaining will almost all be legislators-for-life. What is worse, none of them have been elected by the people of Britain, and the people are not able to remove them from office.