Deidre Brock MP

Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith

Best reform of House of Lords? Scrap it

There have been many debates on the House of Lords over many years. Indeed, some would say that many Scots have been arguing over its very existence since at least 1707. We should recall, too, that England has been far less timid about this in the past. Under Cromwell, the English House of Lords was abolished by an Act of Parliament that stated:

"The Commons of England assembled in Parliament, finding by too long experience that the House of Lords is useless and dangerous to the people of England".

I rather admire the boldness of that statement. I join in that sentiment and call for its abolition. I call for it to be scrapped.

Many consider it to be nothing more than a retirement home for decaying politicians and people with nothing better to do than take a handout from the public purse.

Some say it is a knacker's yard for knackered politicians who refuse to accept that their time has passed.

As an Australian, I have a special dislike for the idea that unelected people have a major role in governing a country. I am clearly far too young to remember Gough Whitlam's Government, but his dismissal by an unelected Governor-General still haunts the politics of that nation.

With the help of the Library and the blog of the London School of Economics, I discovered a few things. There appear to be only two Parliaments in recognised democracies that have a Chamber of wholly unelected Members appointed for life: this one and Canada's, though thankfully the one in Canada is soon to be reformed.

Even Zimbabwe's Senate is elected, and even Bahrain's National Assembly has a four-year term instead of lifelong sinecure. It is time to modernise properly and, if abolition is not on the cards, to introduce much greater term limits and elections.

The report seems to see some difficulty in cutting the numbers quickly, but I have a few suggestions. Why do bishops sit in the legislature? We should remove them and the remaining hereditaries; if they think they have something to contribute, they can always stand for election. Then we could institute one of the report's recommendations, but in a far more direct form—get rid of everyone who has served more than 15 years. That would extract a couple of hundred Members.

If we got rid of former MPs, we would be down to about 350. If we removed people who had served in other Parliaments or on councils, lobbyists and those rewarded for internal party work, we would be down to about 250. We could cut the ones who have not turned up or not spoken in the past three years and the number would be down further. It is easy to cut the number if people are interested in a functioning parliamentary chamber. There is great concern about the criteria used to decide who is eligible for such appointments. Many argue that the second Chamber is riddled with people rewarded for blind loyalty, people who are there doing party work rather than parliamentary work, and people ennobled so that they could become Ministers because the party of government got incompetents elected instead of people who could do the job.

It is considered by many to be a rotten borough and a cesspit of self-interest and entitlement. Any Government who believed in democracy would get rid of it.

The recommendation should not be one new appointment for every two Members who leave. We should ramp that ratio up—to three or four out for every one in—or hold all appointments until the number is down to below 400 at least.

Alternatively, we could have it that two must leave for every one appointed and then let the appointments clean the stables.

We could get rid of all the incumbents and think again about who we actually want in that Chamber—a revising Chamber, as some would have it. We could abolish it or make people stand for election.

We could do practically anything to breathe new life into a museum, but what would be unsustainable would be tinkering at the edges to reduce numbers slightly over many, many years and keeping the same broken system.

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Monday, 11 December 2017

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