The House of Lords
The Centre's Evidence to the Commission
PART 5: Terms of Office.
Legislators-for-life have no place in democratic government. In a democracy the people must be able to remove their legislators from office as well as put them in there. Lack of accountability is an overriding objection to the continuation of the practice of appointing legislators-for-life.
Moreover, the difficulties in the way of adjusting the composition of a chamber composed in full or in part of legislators-for-life, as our nation changes seem insuperable.
If a Senate of legislators-for-life were to have any pretence of reflecting the people there would need to be a continual increase in the number of members as the balance was regularly adjusted in order to prevent a long-term bias prevailing. Work by the Constitution Unit has demonstrated the unwieldliness that such increases would bring. (Constitution Unit, Rebalancing the Lords: the numbers, Jan 1998)
We recommend election for six years as a good balance between democratic accountability and stability. It is not so long as to make Senators heedless of the will of their electors. But it is long enough to provide stability and a greater degree of independence from party machines.
Longer terms might deter some candidates. They would certainly contribute to frustration with the democratic process insofar as the electorate would feel that its power to remove unsatisfactory representatives would be diminished.
Biennial elections for one-third of the seats would ensure that the membership changed as public feelings changed, thereby reducing the justice of the charge sometimes made that we have an elective dictatorship. This would also act as a reminder to the members of the other chamber to pay heed to public opinion. Moreover, such an election schedule would prevent dramatic changes of membership and thereby bring more continuity to the work of the Senate than would be the case if all seats were subject to election in one year.
Senators should be eligible for re-election. The issue of an age limit, which the institution of legislators-for-life gives rise to, should not be an issue. Whether a candidate is unfit through age or any other factor should be a matter for the electors to decide. In any case, the varying ways in which ageing is manifest in each individual would make any age limit unfair to some. Capacity, not age, is the only consideration.
The government of Britain is a task of high seriousness. Only full-time, salaried legislators, provided with adequate facilities and staff, can bring to this responsibility the devotion that is required. If Senators are not salaried we can expect that membership of the this chamber will weighted more than might otherwise be the case towards those who are economically privileged or retired from other employment.
Full advantage should be taken of information technology in order that Senators are able to be as well informed and effective as may be and to reduce administrative costs. Democratic accountability requires that the most advanced means of publishing its business should be used. A record of proceedings should be posted on the Internet. Proceedings should be broadcast.