Thursday, 5 November 2015

The House of Peers

I love the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Iolanthe in which we learn how the House of Peers does nothing in particular and does it very well.

So much of the UK constitution is anachronistic that it is always difficult to enact reform in one area without introducing anomalies somewhere else. Like a worn jumper, pulling upon just one thread can threaten to unravel the whole thing. We need only consider our haphazard devolution process which subsequently threw up the unanswerable West Lothian Question and has made internal relations within the UK very much worse.

The current concern has been aroused by the House of Lords defeating a government financial proposal.  By convention they are not allowed to do this.  I suppose it mighty have been a good idea if successive governments had thought about these conventions before appointing large numbers of party donors and superannuated political hacks to the red benches. Since they didn't, we now have yet another cry for reform.

If you want someone to fly a plane, you choose a pilot. Designing a building is best left to an architect and treating the sick needs a doctor. The same principle applies to any task that requires expertise. Government of the country however has for some reason been opened up to any megalomaniac, plutocrat or ideologue willing to put himself forward, with no qualification required.

It seems odd that we should be so exercised about achieving a well-constituted House of Lords when we make no efforts whatsoever to achieve a well-constituted Commons. Surely if the Lords is to consist of well-qualified people it must inevitably outclass the Commons?  Yet the latter will still govern because they are democratically elected (sort of).

A century ago when the long slow process of reforming The Lords began, Lloyd George described the house as “five hundred men, ordinary men chosen accidentally from among the unemployed.” It seems to me that we now have something considerably worse.

Perhaps, like juries, availability for service in the upper house should be one of the obligations of citizenship and the membership chosen randomly from the electoral roll.

Of course such a chamber might still outclass the Commons