The House of Lords
The Centre's Evidence to the Commission
PART : Two Houses Better Than One
There is something to be said for the relative efficiency of government that a unicameral Parliament would provide. A relatively minor objection is that the workload would be large. However, we firmly believe that the interests of the people are best served by two chambers. For the second chamber should have as a primary role the checking of any tendency by the other, or by the government that is derived from it, to abuse the power given to it by the people. To do so legitimately, we reiterate, the second chamber must also have equal democratic legitimacy. It members must, moreover, be free of the temptations of ministerial office that might make them the more amenable to the executive. It is not only the second chamber that checks the first, of course. So should the judiciary, the press and the other organs of civil society. But the second chamber should be able to do so more immediately and more certainly.
A reformed second chamber should also be able to bring a different emphasis to the legislature. Under our proposal Senators would represent their nation or region, as the Americans put it, "at large." It would be their constituency and they would be inclined to give a greater emphasis to its interests than to ideology. The weighting of seats that we propose would go some way towards ameliorating the disadvantages that size inflicts on the less populous regions.
Democratic Names for Democratic Institutions.
The name of this chamber will be of great significance. The second chamber would be as representative of the people as the first chamber.
The second chamber should no longer be called the House of Lords. The division of Parliament into "upper" and "lower" chambers and into "Commons" and "Lords" are vestiges of a pre-democratic order. The names of both chambers should no longer give currency to a view of a Britain as a nation that celebrates intense social stratification and the ossification of permanent elites.
The title of "Lord" is also a feudal vestige. It suggests an essential superiority. It calls for what one British writer has recently described quite aptly as a "verbal bow." Many Britons are affronted by the title, which they strongly believe to be contrary to the democratic spirit. The title is unfit for the honour that is associated with having been chosen by the people to be their servant. The title of such a person should derive solely from the office and express the dignity of the office. It should be understood to apply only while the legislator holds office. "Senator" is a title that meets these criteria, is familiar from usage elsewhere and is widely understood. "Senate " meets the same criteria as a name for the reformed second chamber. For convenience we use both terms throughout this evidence.
If our objections to the use of "Commons" and "Lords" are accepted the chamber now known as the House of Commons will require a new description. National Assembly and House of Representatives are worthy of consideration.