The House of Lords
The Centre's Evidence to the Commission
PART 2: Principles for Reform
The principles which have guided our evidence are that the reformed second chamber should be
1. Completely legitimate as a democratic institution, with the authority that flows from that.
2.Clearly seen to meet the highest democratic standards and thus inspire admiration at home and internationally, rather than scorn.
3. Vital and capable of making a strong contribution to the government Britain.
4. Able to effectively check executive power.
5. Inclusive and reflective of a socially and regionally diverse nation.
6. Able to reflect the emerging devolution of power to the regions while holding those regions together in one nation.
7. Elected in a way that allows for a different perspective to that of the other chamber.
We welcome the vote of the "lower" chamber to end the legislative rights of Peers. This is a reform that is long overdue. It will remove a shameful blot from our democracy.
However, if the wishes of the government, as outlined in the White Paper, are met the reformed chamber will still lack democratic legitimacy. This submission will make with special force the case for a chamber with full democratic legitimacy.
We ask the commission to recognise that attitudes have changed during the last few months. The Government put its proposals forward with some caution. The removal of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords was bound to be seen by many as a most radical step. To calm the fears of those who saw the matter that way the Government was keen to stress that it did not wish to take its changes too far and that it wished to preserve much that was to be found in the "upper" chamber. However, when it became clear that the first reform was inevitable the basis of the debate changed and the more thorough-going proposals came in part from those who had opposed reform. For they saw that if the "upper" chamber was to be a democratic institution, the more democratic it was the better it would be. And that is right. The emphasis should no longer be on preserving what may be preserved of an ancient institution in order to make change palatable. Change now being inevitable, it should be change that will make that institution best serve our democracy.
The Government is right to see a dilemma, however. It recognises the need for greater democratic legitimacy for the second chamber. Yet it wishes to resist the claim to greater power that such legitimacy will bring, and the restraint that it will impose on the executive. The White Paper suggests that it is willing to compromise that legitimacy in order to limit the effectiveness of the second chamber. We ask the commission to resist that.
The commission stresses in its consultation paper that it seeks a reform that is conducive to a stable overall constitutional settlement and that is should complement the other chamber. That seems to us to be the right approach. We therefore ask the commission to recognise the ending of the privilege of hereditary succession to legislative office as a turning point in the gradual transfer of power from elites to the people. An enduring reform will be one that recognises this. A reformed chamber that embodies a new permanent elite, privilege for individuals or for groups, or that lacks accountability or that cannot be controlled, will sooner or later require a new commission and new reforms.
Summary of Recommendations.
We ask the commission to recommend a Senate composed of 100 legislators elected from the nations and regions by proportional representation for terms of 6 years. Each region or nation should have one seat by right. The remainder of the seats would be allocated in proportion to population. One-third of the seats would be subject to election every two years. Senators would not be eligible to hold office as ministers of state. The Senate would have power to initiate legislation, to revise or reject bills, to scrutinise and to advise and consent on principal public appointments.