House of Lords reform is something that all the political parties have skirted around ahead of the forthcoming general election, so far with relatively little agreement on what form it should take.
As a traditionalist I’ve asked the question as to whether the next government, if it is a Conservative one lead by David Cameron, would restore the House of Lords to its former glory – pre-Blair. Sadly I’ve reached the conclusion that this is unlikely to happen. Therefore the Conservative Party needs to find a way out of the dilemma it faces over House of Lords reform, and push forward a system which reforms the second chamber but retains the merits of the current House of Lords.
The advantage of the current House of Lords, even as reformed, is that it allows experts to be utilised when discussing and shaping legislation. In addition it has an element of stability (longevity) given that House of Lords Members are there for life. The disadvantages of the House of Lords include a heavy reliance on a system of patronage as a means of selecting our legislators.
Historically the hereditary peers in the House of Lords could remain independent of the government of the day. This was down to one simple key issue, namely that the peers were unelected (and therefore unselected) which meant that no amount of threatening or bullying by party whips and party machinery could force a change of mind. In turn, this lack of an electoral mandate constrained the way in which peers could operate.
With the exception of some experts, the same is not true of the politically appointed Life Peers who make up the bulk of today’s House of Lords. This has often resulted in accusations of cronyism and cash for honours, a situation where mud has stuck, tarnishing the reputation of the House of Lords. There does, however, now seem to be a consensus around moving towards some form of elected second chamber. But the nature and composition and method of election for the second chamber are all areas under scrutiny and debate.