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How The House of Lords Could Become One of Britain’s Greatest Institutions

The last 50 for the House of Lords has been little short of a dogmatic attack upon it as a tradition and political body within this country. To some extent this has been justified; the hereditary system was becoming out of date and needed an update. However, I would argue the way we have updated it have been misguided; we now have an inflated Lords full of people who do not deserve their position, a dying hereditary tradition which has been a major part of British politics and identity for 1000 years and a confusing relationship between the Commons and the Lords. I believe the Lords could become a brilliant advisory body, still second to the Commons, that maintains the tradition of the peerage but also brings it into the 21st century.

The first thing to do, is to allocate a certain number of seats in the Lords to a certain profession or area of government; say there were 3 seats for health experts and then 3 seats for seasoned entrepreneurs and business people (3 keeps it purely for the best) etc. Should a law be coming through the Lords that is directly relevant to that profession, they will be then given first rights to speak on the topic during the debates, ensuring that a voice with credibility is given to them and the laws are properly scrutinized. Alongside this, to ensure that experienced politicians are in the chamber, one could create a tradition of Prime Ministers and perhaps long term holders of one of the great offices of state (Prime Minister, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor), are given a peerage after they resign or leave the Commons. I think this is the best way that we can prevent democratic, short-termism, the flooding of the Lords by Prime Ministers to get a majority and it ensures that laws are properly analysed by people who know what they are doing in open and public debate.

There is then the question of how to appoint peers. I believe positions in the Lords should either be applied for or chosen by the speaker of the House of Lords and then scrutinized by a cross party committee in parliament that must choose based on the experience of the candidate, not the ideology, similar in style to the Senate’s scrutiny of the President’s appointments. This ensures that Lords are chosen on merit, not for the advantage of any particular party and means it will be full of experienced peers rather than who it was politically convenient for the Prime Minister to choose.

This system would also necessitate paid Lords who have to serve a minimum tenure of perhaps 15-20 years. They would have to be able to earn their way to ensure that their job was done fully and not as a side career. I think they should be paid more than the Commons as a mark of respect to their experience and also to ensure that these are people at the end of their career and not people doing this for a career. Moreover, it means it is not blocked to people who do not have the wealth to sustain themselves without the pay. I admit, this would change the Lords from the way it traditionally operates but, perhaps this is what is needed.

It also seems logical to me that the Life Peerage should become hereditary (at least to the senior of the three peers in each “section”) however, only the person it is given to will have the right to sit in the chamber. This would be a way of continuing our long survived tradition of Hereditary titles in this country without associating them to wealth and power but only respect. We already give out plenty of knighthoods, OBEs and MBEs and therefore I think it makes sense to also turn a hereditary peerage into an acknowledgement of experience. Knighthoods and such for achievements and peerages for the achievement of being in the Lords on the grounds of your merit. This would not only continue a tradition but open it up to people from all walks of life and create something of a meritocratic aristocracy.

The Lords has been a key part of our parliamentary government for centuries and I think it is important it remains so. I sincerely believe that with the right reforms and system, it could incorporate the great British traditions and systems we had before while making it significantly better at scrutinizing and much more meritocratic.HT

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