As modernist architect Louis Sullivan said "Form follows function". We should look at the functions of the House of Lords and work backwards from there to discover its optimum composition which itself will direct us to the means of filling it.
While the Lords can introduce bills, their main function is that of scrutinising and amending proposed legislation coming out of the Commons. It is essential that there is not competing mandate between the the Commons and the Lords, the Commons set the legislative agenda and the Lords amend it.
MPs will always have a half eye on their future electoral prospects and therefore have a natural pressure to legislate for what is popular. Good parliamentarians focus on doing what is right even if it is unpopular yet short-termism and badly thought through legislation still makes it on to the statute book, the Lords needs to be ready to stop this.
Increasingly MPs and their advisers are getting younger, there isn't anything wrong with this but youth and experience rarely come hand in hand. If energy and innovation become things that the Commons have in abundance then focus, expertise and experience would be good balances for the House of Lords to provide.
By the nature of our electoral system MPs are party political politicians, again I don't believe there is anything inherently bad with being political but as Sir John Major once said "If the answer is more politicians, you are asking the wrong question". If we are looking for the House of Lords to provide balance to the work of the Commons it might seem sensible for them to be less party political in their make up.
Let's not pretend for a moment that MPs reflect the society that they serve, there are proportionally too few women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds on the green benches. These two groups seem less attracted to representative politics at the "sweet spot" point in their lives, often too busy with family and/or work to give up their 20s, 30s and 40s to getting elected. The Lords could and should provide the diversity reality check at least until the make up of the Commons catches up.
So let's look at the factors that come from the Lord's functions (as I see it):
1. No competing mandate with the Commons.
2. Free of the pressure to be populist.
3. Experienced and expert in a range of fields.
4. Less party political than the Commons.
5. More representative of the society that it serves.
The Government's current plan is for an elected Upper House, as I see it none of the above would be addressed by having more elected people in the legislative process. They would almost all need to be sponsored by political parties and as such I struggle to see how they would really differentiate themselves from MPs.
My idea (not complete I confess) would be for the Lords to be filled by people who have qualified by virtue of positions which they have held. To a degree this already happens.
There are already 26 Bishops who sit in the House of Lords as Lords Spiritual, they are there because of their rank in the Church of England. We used to have the Law Lords who were there by their rank in the judiciary and it is standard practice for top police officers, senior civil servants, Armed Service Chiefs, former Commons speakers etc, become Peers when they retire from those posts.
Rather than these appointees being the minority and being there by a mix of tradition, custom and legislation we should formalise the process and broaden the pool of institutions and bodies from which Peers are drawn.
Not being elected would free them from the worst of the populist pressure that MPs face. Getting to the top of their profession, Trade Union, Constabulary, armed force, religious body, charitable body, business organisation etc. would ensure that the Lords is packed with people who have real world experience, know what they are talking about and hold the respect of the sectors from which they came.
While there would be some natural left/right leaning (unions, charities, clergy etc. tending to be left leaning and business people, military etc. tending to be right leaning) there would be no need for potential Lords to schmooze political parties to get on or a political party's grass roots to get in.
Finally if the right pool of bodies and organisations is created the future Lords would genuinely be reflective of the society that we live in. And if they aren't no one will be able to blame the politicians for looking after their own.
What are your thoughts?
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