April 2012 articles archive:

An elected House of Lords?

The government has unveiled their plans for a reformed second chamber through a parliamentary committee.

The government has unveiled their plans for a reformed second chamber through a parliamentary committee. The committee favours a much smaller chamber – some 450 peers as opposed to the present figure of about 800. It is important to remember that this is not an argument about the abolition of the second House but a matter of constitutional reform. As informed law students, you may find yourself defending the presence of a second chamber, namely the House of Lords, on the basis that it provides a valuable service as a check on the powers of the Executive and the House of Commons. Events around the world in recent times have, quite apart from anything else, served as a reminder that we do live in a democracy and that we should be careful about giving up any institutions which serve as a check and balance.

The problem is that the Lords is not an elected upper chamber so that, whilst we can see the sense and argue the need for a second chamber, it is more difficult to defend the unelected nature of the Lords, as it is not ultimately accountable to the electorate through regular election processes. At present the Lords participate in the legislative processes and therefore add to the public and open debate.  As the same stages which take place in the lower House, are repeated in the upper House, it is possible to argue that the legislative process benefits from further scrutiny.  There is also the question of amendments so that constructive consideration and debate of policy and law reform is still taking place. In fact the parliamentary committee themselves accept the need for a second chamber as their proposals are dealing with the detail of the reform. They speak of the need for an adequate size chamber (450 members) and thought that 300-members would be ‘too small to provide an adequate pool to fulfil the demands of a revising chamber.’

Hopefully we will hear more of the issues. There is time, as we are told that any reforms will be phased in over a period of many years up to 2025. Already there have been references to the large sums of money that such reforms will cost but what price do you put on democracy?


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