Latest March 13th 2007

MARCH 27 2006
So, the unfinished business is to be finished. We are not off to a brilliant start as there is still discussion about whether the House of Lords should be an elected chamber, an appointed chamber, or a hybrid. Such a discussion is meaningless until we decided the meaning of the words appointment and election in this context.

There is a scale on which appointment and election are but the extremes of the same process, which is one of choice. Election by universal suffrage over the age of 18 based on the residence of the electors in geographically defined constituencies, allocated for the purpose of the contest to candidates chosen by the party organisations of the said constituencies, is near one end of this scale. Selection by a single person (e.g. the Prime Minister) from a list of his own choosing is at the other end. Between the two lie an almost infinite number of permutations most of which could be classed as both election and appointment.

Appointment by a committee of any size is a form of election by that committee. Election can be by the members of a political party in parliament or in the country. Election can be by parliamentarians of all parties in both houses. It could be by members of professions. The pool from which candidates are available is another variable.

The only way an appointment is not in any way a form of election (that is to say a choice by one or more persons of another) is if it is based on qualifications gained by examination, open to all, when the examiners are unaware of the identity of the examinees. This is not likely to find favour as a way of constituting the upper chamber.

What has to be decided therefore is what type of process of choice, by whom and from what pool of possible candidates, a reformed House of Lords is to gradually replace the current one. It has to be gradual, for it if was to be suddenly replaced on a completely different basis the result would be chaos. There will no doubt be talk about 'democratic credentials', but until we understand that these can be achieved by a variety of means for a variety of ends, nothing sensible is likely to be achieved.

Since the powers of the reformed house would also have to be redefined to satisfy the many interests concerned, we also have a classic chicken-and-egg problem. A radical solution to such problems has always been shown to be nigh impossible. Whether the process is called appointment or election will be more a question of massaging the egos of the proponents of each concept than any move towards understanding the reality.

Lord Rees-Mogg is of the opinion that any change from the present obscure system could be for the worse. He could well be right, but unless we begin by understanding and agreeing the meaning of the words to be used in this discussion he is certain to be right.

FEBRUARY 7th 2007
We are off again after a long hiatus. Our parliamentarians voted against all the different proposals put to them and also against 'no change'. Even Lewis Carroll could not have come up with anythng better.

But now Jack Straw is preparing a new formula (see BBC NEWS Below). In a strange ironic twist, the previous Liberal leader Lord Steelwho has been in favour of a fully elected chamber has now changed his mind. He told John Humphrys and Kenneth Clarke this morning that as result of experience, in spite of the fact that he had been 'guardian of the Asquith doctrine' of an elected House of Lords, he was now in favour of an appointed chamber. Kenneth Clarke was in favour of a fully elected on on the grounds that it gave it 'legitimacy'. Of course he doesn't know what he means by this except that it means they can CLAIM legitimacy while they are in situ and before they lose their seats at the nect election.

Anyone with a grain of sense knows that for the chamber to do its job well it needs to have members who are not afraid of losing their seat and are there for some time so as to learn and learn and learn the job. They should be appointed so that they can be chosen form people judge likely to be competent in the first place. They should not have the authority that enables them to overrule the House of Commons to the extent of making their own legislation. So, considering the preamble I wrote back in 2006, what needs to be considered is, of there is to be an elected proprtio of the membership, who does the electing and what are the qualifications required to stand for election.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the current Liberal leader says:

The vast majority of Lords must be elected if we are going to go some way to restoring public faith in the political system

He seems to have overlooked that if the public have lost faith in the political system it is in the elected House of Commons and in elections, not the unelected Lords, that this faith has been lost. There are times when I can only conclude that Sir Menzies Campbell is suffering from something serious.

Straw hails Lords 'opportunity'

Jack Straw favours a 50/50 split of elected and appointed peers
Straw's statement
Jack Straw has told MPs his plans are the "best opportunity" to reform the House of Lords for "many decades".

The Commons leader outlined details of a White Paper which proposes a House where some peers are elected and some still appointed, as they all are now.

The Lords could be renamed - with "the reformed chamber" an interim title.

The Conservatives said the plans would not make the Lords "more democratic", while the Lib Dems said "at least" 80% of peers should be elected.

Mr Straw said the reforms would increase the Lords' legitimacy and "strengthen democracy".

The plans, an attempt to end long-term deadlock, also propose cutting the number of peers from 746 to 540, and would see the end of hereditary peers sitting in Parliament.

'Vast range of views'

The White Paper - a document which puts government ideas to MPs for consultation before a final bill is drafted - does not propose removing Church of England bishops and archbishops from the Lords.

A 'hybrid' of elected and appointed peers
Reduce size of House from 746 to 540 members
End hereditary and life peerages over time
Elected peers to be voted in at same time as Euro elections
Maximum time in office of 15 years for elected and appointed peers
Appointees a mixture of party politicians and non-party figures
Lords may be renamed - possibly 'The Reformed Chamber'
Anglican bishops and archbishops to keep seats

Under its plans, elected peers would represent the same regional constituencies as those used in European elections, and be chosen using party lists and a form of proportional representation - "a partially open list".

A third of seats would be elected every five years, which means members being elected for 15-year terms.

The system would eventually mean the end of "life" peerages, with a third of appointees being replaced every five years and all serving a single term of 15 years.

No peers - elected or appointed - would be able to serve more than 15 years.

While there appears to be backing among MPs for an elected element in the Lords, there is no agreement on what proportion.

Tony Blair, when asked at prime minister's questions why he did not still support a 100% appointed Lords, said he had "always expressed concern about a hybrid House", but said he was willing to back proposals based on seeking a "consensus".

The vast majority of Lords must be elected if we are going to go some way to restoring public faith in the political system
Sir Menzies Campbell
Liberal Democrat leader

All parties are giving MPs a free vote on the issue.

At the moment all peers are appointed, apart from the 92 hereditary peers who survived the first phase of Lords reform during Tony Blair's first term in office.

A previous attempt to bring in elected members failed in 2003.

Mr Straw said he hoped to avoid a similar "train wreck" this time.

He said the "status quo is no longer an option", adding: "Deadlock this time round would be easy to achieve. The prize of progress means moving forward gradually and by consensus."

'Range of views'

MPs will be given seven options for reform: all elected; 80% elected and 20% appointed; 60% elected and 40% appointed; half and half; 40% elected and 60% appointed; 20% elected and 80% appointed; or all appointed.

In a controversial move, instead of going through the division lobbies, MPs will indicate their preferences in order on a ballot paper.

The least popular option will be knocked out and its second preferences redistributed until one option achieves a majority.

I think each party should have an even split of seats in the Lords - to stop one party having a majority
Aiden Codd, UK

Mr Straw said he personally preferred 50% of peers being elected, 30% being appointed from part political choices and 20% from among non-party candidates.

Shadow Commons leader Theresa May said Mr Straw's proposals gave the government "more control of patronage".

She added: "With 30% of peers appointed by the parties, and 50% elected via lists controlled by the parties, these reforms will not lead to a more democratic and independent House of Lords."

But Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: "In a modern democracy in the 21st Century, both Houses of Parliament must have elected people."

He said "at least 80%" of peers should be elected.

Lord Strathclyde, leader of the Tories in the Lords, warned: "This is a proud House. It doesn't deserve and will not brook another botched attempt at reform.

"The White Paper ideas are still not fully thought through and are unacceptable."

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said Mr Straw's "hybrid House" plan was a "concoction of nonsense".

Research by the Hansard Society think-tank suggests only 6% of the public want a fully appointed House of Lords, with 82% preferring at least some elected members. It surveyed 1,980 adults.

The White Paper suggests the House of Lords might be renamed after it is reformed - what do you think it should be called? Add your suggestion using the form below.

It will probably always be known as the Upper House, but it should officially be called the Senate (populated by Senators). This name comes with a tradition reaching back 2000 years, and serves very well for the citizens of the USA and Canada, as well as for the citizens of many of our European partners (France, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Italy), and in nearly fifty countries around the world.
DM, Paris, Paris

Keep it the "House of Lords". This is a traditional name and we are loosing enough of our British identity without loosing something else. I say elect 50% and have the rst appointed but all should be classed as "lords" for the period they sit
Andew W, Falkirk, Scotland

The House of Lords! Why the need to rename (or change...)
Nick Delfas, london

House of Straw?
W George Preston, United Kingdom

Name should remain, Members should be 80% elected and all members should become Life Peers, even though only elected or appointed for 15 years. Hereditary Peers should be able to elect a small proportion from existing Hereditary Peers this would maintain continuity with our past history.
Alan Rumble, Balmaclellan, Scotland

Straw's Folly
Tony Mayer, Swindon

obviously - the House of Straw
Clive S, Crowborough

The Senate. And with the same number of senators as the US or Canadian Senates.
Andrew Dundas,

The House of Reform
Tom C, Oxford

FEBRUARY 8th 2007
Gordon Brown says he is in favour of a 100% elected reformed upper chamber. It all depends, as I have said, on who qualifies for election and how the electorate is established, Until this is agreed, the difference between election and appointment is unclear.

MARCH 4th 2007
How refreshing. On World at One today (BBC Radio 4) we were allowed to have two competent people explain that the legitimacy of a position in the legislature in a democratic process is not always dependent on election and, in particular,  that there is absolutely no case whatsoever for an elected House of Lords any more than there was for electing other collections of appropriately quaified persons (we don't elect airline pilots).  They also explained that accountability, the one vital quid-pro-quo of electorally established parliamentary legitimacy, would be eliminated at a stroke by establishing an elected House of Lords.

Refreshing but also depressing. The argument was introduced by the programme's presenter as if these ideas, rather than being obvious and irrefutable logc, were innovative and revolutionary. They are old as the hills. The truth is that all we have to do is replace the hereditary right to sit, debate and vote in the upper chamber with another selection process. Appropriate in its day, hereditary selection is no longer appropriate or needed now.  But Mr Brown will have to clarify his position as the decision moment now nears. Unless he is going to define the word 'elected' as 'selected' in this context (which it can be), his call for a 100% elected chamber is nonsense and would destroy both the democratic accountability of parliament as a whole and the quality of the work done by the upper chamber in its own right. In other words, his preferred policy a disaster. Given the length of time Gordon Brown has had to consider these matters, his judgment must once again be called seriously into question.

MARCH 07 2007
The Commons have just voted for a 100% elected House of Lords. Very clever. Many of those who are against this have tactically voted for the most impossible and useless option, knowing that it can never succeed unless the definition of 'election' in this context is very carefully chosen. This way at least gets the debate over and done with for the moment and some faces are saved. Those in favour of abolishing the upper house altogether were amongst those voting for 100% election, as well as those against further reform. Gordon Brown's real opinion is unknown, though he voted for 80% elected. 

My view? What is required is a house of informed and qualified people of wide experience to do the work of examining and revising if appropriate the legislation drafted and voted by the House of Commons. What matters therefore is the range and levels of qualifications that are chosen as required by candidates for election.  It can be very transparent. Then the method of election has to be settled....

MARCH 09 2007
In a discussion on BBC Radio 4 Joan Ruddock proposed (as a logical statement) that those making the laws must be elected by those to whom the laws apply.  This seems to me to be self-evidently flawed logic if applied this particular argument. The House of Lords does not make the law, it is there to examine and advise on laws made by the House of Commons and propose modifications if required, which the Commons then approve or not as the case may be. Qualified people who are suitable for this job are unlikely event to want to stand for election, as that would require them to publish a personal or party manfesto. That would completely destroy their ability and qualifications for the job they are required to do, as they would be pre-judging the issues they are to examine pragmatically and without prejudice.

MARCH 09 2007
Today the Lords expressed their own opinion and most of them made sense. They quite rightly want an all appointed or an all elected. However, I am not going to repeat the obvious points to be made as I have covered them already.

Peers hostile to elected chamber
Peers have lined up to attack plans for a fully elected House of Lords as a marathon two-day debate continues.

The Archbishop of York, the Most Rev John Sentamu, said elected peers would be less independent and a hybrid, half-elected house might not work.

His views were echoed on all sides, with only a handful of peers backing the fully elected chamber demanded by MPs in a vote last week.

Peers are expected to reject the MPs' proposals when they vote on Wednesday.

That would trigger a fresh debate about the composition of the Upper House, as Commons leader Jack Straw battles to reach a compromise with the widest possible backing.

We have no reason to fear that if we are removed, the world would come to an end
Lord Desai

Much is likely to depend on what Gordon Brown, who is expected to take over as prime minister later this year, wants to put in Labour's next manifesto.

Mr Brown supported an 80% elected and 20% appointed upper house in last week's Commons vote but the majority of MPs backed a wholly elected second chamber.

There have been suggestions their ranks were swollen by opponents of reforms who wanted to scupper the plans by ensuring an option unacceptable to either the government or peers was chosen.


The Archbishop of York was among those peers to question whether the suggested changes would lead to a better House.

"Despite the apparent fairness of an elected House, seemingly in the interests of democracy, it may ultimately fail this nation in its desire to value freedom."

The archbishop is among 28 senior members of the Church of England sitting on the cross benches and who would no longer be included in a fully elected house.

A 'hybrid' of elected and appointed peers
Reduce size of House from 746 to 540 members
End hereditary and life peerages over time
Elected peers to be voted in at same time as Euro elections
Maximum time in office of 15 years for elected and appointed peers
Appointees a mixture of party politicians and non-party figures
Lords may be renamed - possibly 'The Reformed Chamber'
Anglican bishops and archbishops to keep seats

Labour's Baroness Symons said she would vote for a 100% appointed Lords, as an elected House would threaten the primacy of the Commons.

She said it would be "misleading to give the electorate the right to vote, without the right of the elected to deliver on that vote".

"So I shall vote against all the options on hybridity. Hybridity is not a connection to democracy, it's a connection to constitutional uncertainty and electoral unfairness."

Labour's Lord Desai, who supports a fully elected House, described the MPs vote as "revolutionary".

"If we have an all-elected House it will be a new constitutional arrangement.

"All the conventions we have fashioned will have to be carefully examined and we may have to face up to a written constitution. "We have no reason to fear that if we are removed, the world would come to an end. Perhaps there are other people who could be as good. Let's give the reforms a chance."

Conservative elected hereditary peer, Lord Trefgarne, said he is not opposed to reform but only when it is presented in a more considered manner by the government.

'Momentous change'

Speaking of the White Paper on Lords reform, he said: "Nothing is said about the role of the new chamber, or its powers, the place of the bishops, and many other important matters.

"There should be no more piecemeal reform until the government is ready with thought-through plans, agreed by the Commons and on a cross-party basis, for this momentous change."

Hereditary peer and Liberal Democrat the Earl of Glasgow said: "As a hereditary peer, I have already been abolished once and I don't particularly want to be abolished again. Not quite yet anyway. It really is very unsettling."

He argued for the House not to be turned into a chamber of "professional politicians" but to continue to have "wise men and women and experts and representatives of minority interests".

His preference was for an appointed House - "with perhaps 20% elected, if that would make us feel better".