Should the UK House of Lords be reformed?

This thread opened as a result of a hijack in this thread

The UK has two houses, the Commons and the Lords. Members of the Commons are elected for periods not to exceed 5 years, before needing re-election, usually at a general election.

The House of Lords is a non-elected body made up of heriditary peers, life peers, (some?) bishops and maybe some others. None are elected and they hold positions for life. The HoL has very limited powers, but can obstruct and engineer modifications to legislation.

There has recently been a move to reform the HoL and introduce some element of election versus appointment. All the proposals were defeated by votes in the Commons.

Do you think the HoL should be abolished, or reformed? If reformed, what would you prefer?

amarone, see the update to the other thread. The hereditary peers are already on borrowed time (slated to be removed once reforms are complete) yet, at the same time, reforms have stalled. So there’s more legislative momentum than I, at any rate, had realized when we ended up in that hijack. (Still my opinion is, as is stated in the other thread, that the current reforms are incoherent given the institutional history involved and that the reform therefore seems if not quite doomed then vexed in the extreme.)

Many of the hereditary peers were removed, and the remainder have lost their hereditary status - their offspring will not now become peers.

Many of the Labour party want the House of Lords to be entirely elected. Tony Blair, however, likes things as they are, but has allowed a free vote on the issue.

I personally think an elected House of Lords is the worst possible outcome. If there are elections, they will be won by politicians. Each house would have the various parties in similar proportions, so the Lords would almost certainly agree with the Commons in everything, making the Lords redundant.

I accept that the Lords being made up of ex-politicians and cronies may not be much better than politicians themselves, but I think that it at least provides a moderating influence without which it would be all too easy for any party with a sizeable majority to behave like a dictatorship.

I think I would like to see the Lords selected not by the government, but on merit - intelligence, expertise, experience. I’m not sure how this would work, perhaps there could be exams to identify the best candidates?

I think a meritocracy such as you propose, cart, would be worse than the “divine right” to be there in the first place. If I were permitted to vote on the issue, my vote would be to abolish it. Of course, I would also vote to abolish the monarchy; however, that’s another issue.

Personally, I like the approach the Ireland Senate uses, where members are appointed by boards connected to various groups in Ireland.

I am curious cart, if you don’t mind filling me in (as I hadn’t realized the extent of the 1999 reform movement and mistakenly thought of it as an abortive effort) on what grounds of some of the peers removed and others ratained?

As an American, I find the whole idea behind the House of Lords repellent. I know U.S. politicians use money and family connections to get elected, but to have it be so blatant–“I deserve to run the government b/c my great-great-etc.-granddad was buddies with Henry VIII”–rubs me the wrong way.

For many centuries it served a fine purpose. It was the lords of the land that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. This past century, it has acted as a revising house, catching stuff that the Commons misses.

One of the big benefits - and drawbacks - of the Lords as is is that they don’t have to worry about re-election. They can follow their principles and to blazes with the Prime Minister.

Not mistakenly, there was a certain amount of compromise involved, but many hereditary peers were removed. The Lords themselves voted on which peers could stay.

Peers vote for 75 hereditaries

Here’s an article on the recent attempt at reform, at which all options from 100% elected to 100% appointed members were voted down.

Lords live to fight another day

I see what you’re saying, but it’s not a question of “deserving”, it’s about trying to work out the best system for running the country. And remember that the House of Lords does not make policy, its only power is to block or modify actions of the House of Commons.

I think “divine right” applies to kings rather than lords, but you may be right. What is so bad about a meritocracy? Essentially, what we have at the moment is a flawed meritocracy in which the selection criteria are the current government’s opinions.

I’m not keen on abolishing the Lords, I agree with qts in that they can be an important check against unprincipled career politicians.

cart, thanks very much for that. I’d like to get back to you on the idea about meritocracy but I can’t just at present. In the meantime, some of where I’m coming from is already evident in the thread linked to OP.

I’m fully aware that the expression divine right is normally applied to monarchs–that’s why I put it in quotes. The obvious meaning is that the people there got there by being born into the position, presumably because the divinity involved graced them with such a privileged birth.

A meritocracy is, IMHO, a very bad thing. One would end up with the mericrats elevating themselves because “they know best.” Representative democracy is workable because, well, because it represents the people who put the representatives in power.

The system of regular elections is, again IMHO, the best check on unprincipled career politicians.

The simplest way of bringing fuller democracy to the UK would be to have Parliament voted in according to proportional representation, and the House of Lords as individuals who stand for election to represent geographical areas (similar to the role of MP).

Totally surprised that Lord Jenkin’s report never seriously considered such a possibility as workable in the UK.

I strongly suspect, knowing the late Lord Jenkins’s political views, that he himself believed PR was workable. I don’t think the others on the panel (mainly Tory and Labour ex-politicians, of course) felt the same way.

Heck, Labour thought PR was very workable, until the 1997 election. Suddenly, though, with a sizeable majority in their lap, Blair and his associates realized they didn’t need it, and, indeed, that PR would be damaging to their big majority. I don’t think there’s a cat’s chance in hell, to put it bluntly, of PR ever being used in domestic elections until by some chance there’s a coalition government.

As for the House of Lords, don’t reform it, just dump it. It’s long served its purpose; now either get rid of it or replace it with something else.

The Jenkins report suggested 20% PR. Apparently, they feared the delays that the formation of coalition governments inevitably experience. Plus there was concern about the possibility of a hung parliament.

They wouldn’t be able to do this unless the elected MPs voted to let them.

It doesn’t seem to be working like that. People vote for their favourite political party - the individual is a secondary consideration. The candidates that parties put forward tend to be those that always follow the party line - not to do so invites deselection by the party next time round. So the House of Commons fills up with MPs who do not consider the issues they vote on, but simply cast their vote according to the leader’s preference.

The recent voting on Lords reform was a “free vote”, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

PR is entirely workable and is a much fairer system. Blair promised a referendum on the issue, but went back on his word. But no party in power is likely to change the system that put them there.

I think it is serving an important purpose still, if not the same one for which it was established.