In an impassioned plea for an elected upper chamber, Henry Davies slams the Lords (with some contributions from a certain Mr Dennis Skinner) and calls for a radical change fit for the 21st century.
By Henry Davies
|Is the House of Lords out of touch? I think you know the answer. (Photo: Parliament.uk)
|My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, for just a moment I want you to imagine what I’m about to describe. Imagine a country, formerly an empire, which has progressed into the modern world. It has a democratic government, and a constitutional monarchy, of which the main function is purely ceremonial. But wait, the government isn’t quite democratic. The upper chamber in the bicameral system is still filled with the remnants of empire. A House of Nostalgia, ram packed with slumbering octogenarians, being paid £300 a day, just for turning up; a pathetic nod to the country’s archaic traditions. On top of all of that, these men and women are not elected, nor do they serve terms. They are appointed for life. Ladies and gentlemen, I have just described to you the United Kingdom’s House of Lords.
First things first, I’d like to make this very clear; this article is in response to an article from one of my esteemed colleagues, Matei Sacerdoteanu. His article, entitled “The House of Lords: we don’t need more democracy” can be found here. In the spirit of democracy and debate, I have chosen to voice my opposing opinions on the same platform.
For those of you not entirely familiar with the bicameral system of the United Kingdom, it basically means that legislation is formulated in a lower chamber (the House of Commons) and is sent to an upper chamber (the House of Lords) for revision and modification, or vice versa. When it comes to democratic reform, the House of Lords is a very important matter. It is, to us reformists, inconceivable that a country so advanced as our own, still has an entirely unelected chamber. On top of this, its lack of diversity is staggering, and abuse of privilege is rife. The House of Lords has no place in the UK’s political system, and I am a devoted advocate of huge changes to the current system.
|Baroness Trumpington “flicking the V”.
(Photo: Daily Mail)
Many proponents of the Lords make the simple argument; it works. They say that due to the nature of politics and parties, purely appointed Lords will make decisions that benefit the country, not their party. This is nonsense. They not only make decisions that benefit their party, they make decisions that benefit themselves. The problem of self-interest is rampant in the House of Lords, and because these people don’t have to fight elections, they aren’t subject to the same scrutiny as our elected officials. Time and time again, we have seen the House of Lords delay and revise legislation in a way that benefits them, and the establishment in which they sit. For example, Lord Sebastian Coe has voted on just 136 of the possible 1,714 votes since the year 2000. Some of these votes (including the Health and Social Care Bill 2011) were in support of Tory NHS reforms, which could possibly (and I stress possibly because we can’t afford lawyers) be of financial benefit to Lord Coe, who has professional ties to healthcare contractors. Not only is there a culture of self-interest, we also find an apathetic attitude in the upper-echelons of this august body.
Putting aside the flagrant abuses of power and lack of diversity, the House of Lords is simply out of date. In the 21st century there is no place for the archaic tradition of Barons and Baronesses. Britain cannot keep hold of its traditions and outdated practices forever. At some point it has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the present, to align itself with the rest of the Western world. We should drop the pomp and circumstance and celebrate democracy and equality as our defining principles. Whilst some aspects of our history are beautiful, others are grotesque and embarrassing.
I contacted the prominent Labour Backbench MP, Dennis Skinner, one of the main minds behind the 1976 resolution to abolish the House of Lords. He told me that due to a “lack of support” for abolition, he has been voting for democratic reforms as a “last resort”, but abolition was still his “preferred choice”. Describing the situation as “an anachronism”, he said:
“We trot around the world, telling people how to conduct democracy, when we’ve got an entirely unelected House in our legislature.”
I’m not going to preach to you everything that is wrong with the Lords – you can draw your own conclusions. But whatever your opinion, you must see that something has to be done about the ridiculous lack of diversity, abuse of power and archaic nature of the upper chamber. Whether that be a semi- or entirely elected structure, or even just a diversification, it is imperative that we strike a balance between male and female peers, include other religious leaders as well as the Bishops, and ensure a representative sample of society.
Whilst it pains me to bring this up, it is also very important. Whilst there are many who believe in reform, the result of this general election has made something clear: reforming the parliamentary system is not on the electorate’s agenda. The two parties who have strongly advocated Lords reform, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, have suffered crushing blows. Clearly, the British public does not have the appetite for such changes at the moment. I strongly believe that this does not mean that they do not want it; it purely means that it is not a priority. Whilst it will not impact most people’s day to day lives, this institution is in dire need of modification. We must review our current system, and initiate a programme of reform.
Want to support young writers? Then please share!
Henry is an 18-year-old studying Politics with International Relations at Aston University. He was an active Labour Party member, but resigned recently due to Corbyn's leadership.His position on the left-right spectrum varies depending on the topic he’s discussing, but generally he describes himself as a social democrat. As well as politics, he has an unhealthy relationship with Netflix and pizza.
Latest posts by Henry Davies (see all)