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Denis Cooper

Yes, we should not have unelected legislators. But to avoid the second chamber becoming an echo of the first, we should move from "first past the post" in each Parliamentary constituency to "first past the post, and second past the post".

Ie we have two elected chambers, and as now the first is the dominant chamber, while the second only has the power to delay legislation, not to veto it. Each of the present constituencies returns two Members of Parliament, but with each elector still having only one vote. The candidate who receives the greatest number of votes becomes the Member of Parliament for the constituency, as now, while the candidate who comes second becomes the Second Member of Parliament.

Don Jameson

I foresee no end of debate about the method of election, which will probably distract from the sound principle of an elected second chamber.

I also see no end to the Supremacy of The Commons arguments, which is also a shame - as well as an illusion.

I hope this policy makes it to the Wiki stage, where it could generate some quite meaningful thinking about our legistlature.


In the words of the wonderful MP for Henley-upon-Thames, I could hardly fail to disagree less. The only reason that the Lords has any serious function is because it is *not* subject to the comparatively sordid business of electioneering.

It is precisely because this is an *appointed* group of scrutineers that they are able to uphold ideals that may not be populist but which are right. Like the Justices of the Supreme Court of the US, their life-appointment safeguards their integrity; their career is not at risk if they do the unpopular "right thing." It is on this basis that they have been able to stop or at least curtail bad legislation on ID cards, authoritarian internment in the name of "anti-terror," etc, so spectacularly in the course of this last Parliament.

There is no problem of democracy here; if necessary, the supremacy of the Commons is legislatively protected by the Parliaments Act, and now enshrined in the common law since the HoL decision on the Hunting Bill [Jackson and ors -v- HMAG]. So the electoral will always can and will prevail under the current system.

The "elected dictator" that Mr Lambert bemoans can only become stronger when *all* of the legislature is governed by *elected* members of the party which s/he leads, whipped and directly answerable to him. Now, these people do not need to be politically subservient to the PM in order to safeguard their careers; under this elected proposal they will be.

The House of Lords has recently been our only defence thanks to cross-party action against the rabid authoritarianism of this government, while the supine lobby-fodder in the Commons could not afford the career costs of a principled disagreement. To replace the HoL with a worse version of the House of Commons, filled with slightly-less-powerful political careerists answerable to their party machine would be a gross mistake.

The fundamental ideal of increasing the stake that voters feel they have in their society and government is a virtuous and important one. But the ways to enact that are to make sure that our supreme elected House is taken seriously and not nonchalantly over-ridden by a cabal of the sofa as now; and to make electable more offices [police chiefs, maybe senior education officials] where that *is* appropriate.

But to push all our constitutional scrutineers a short way up the greasy electioneers' pole is a bad, bad idea. If we are Conservatives at all, then we *must* reject it.

Alison Anne Smith

House of Defenders ??? what a rubbish name, sounds like a childrens cartoon from the 90's. "The House of Defenders" with "Speaker" - the Leader and "Lord Chancellor" - the Law Lord !

What superpowers would they have ? Apart from the ability to debate for hours and hours and hours.......yawn !

Peter Littleton

This is a good idea. However, whilst it is in principle wrong to have an unelected element in the legislature, the House of Lords does have one or two things going for it. Its members are able to be relatively independent of the executive, because they don't rely on their Party any longer. Whilst I agree that parties can appoint people of their political persuasion, that is the end of their control. Unlike in the Commons, where individual thinking among the backbenches is sometimes discouraged.

Secondly. Like it or not, the current House of Lords does do a very good job. Many of its members are active, and scrutiny in the House of Lords is often much for thorough than in the Commons.

In making democratic reforms, we must not lose these elements. I would propose these modifications to Damon's proposal.

1) Members are permitted to only serve one, or at most two terms. This would remove the constant and sometimes overpowering concern for reelections. Let the members of the Commons worry about that.

2) Members should be elected through proportional representation. The House of Lords has long been a place where non - political voices are heard. PR would allow smaller parties and candidates to be represented.

In addition, this would be unlikely to yield an overall majority, meaning legislation is better scrutinised.

3) The Lords' powers should be 'beefed up'. Repealing the 1949 Parliament Act would allow the chamber to block legislation for two years. If we are going to elect representatives, we must give them a real purpose.

Finally, the name. The British Constitution treasures tradition like no other in the world. Its charm is in the fact that it has democratised while leaving many of it traditions in tact. I think this is one of them and the name should stay. The new members could vote on it in their first sitting.

Annabel Herriott

This is a daft idea. The whole point of the H of L is that it is a body of independent thinkers, with expertise beyond an upper 2nd PPE at oxbridge. Diversity in fact. Bliar has sort to muck it up by his place men, but there are still some glorious eccentrics in there.

Denis Cooper

"In the words of the wonderful MP for Henley-upon-Thames ..." Who on earth can you mean? As far as I am aware, the present MP for Henley-upon-Thames is a deceitful europhile called Boris Johnson, who succeeded a deceitful europhile called Michael Heseltine.

There is a very simple reason why the House of Lords has been both willing and able to resist some government Bills: the government does not have a majority in the House of Lords.


Conservative 210
Labour 213
Liberal Democrat 79
Crossbench 196
Bishops 26
Other** 17

Nothing to do with them being unelected, independent, and all that misleading nonsense. If Blair could have got a House of Lords with an overwhelming majority of appointed Labour toadies, in the same way as he has a House of Commons with an overwhelming majority of elected Labour toadies, those Bills would have gone through the Lords just as easily as they went through the Commons.

David Banks

Name wise - how about UK Senate for the second chamber? The 'UK' bit would distinguish it from devolutionary bodies.
House of Defenders sounds a little strange, but the idea is a good one..
However i oppose it. The further you go up the chain of government ( from the pondlife of the Commons upwards) demanding electoral legitimacy the more you endanger the top of the chain , re: the monarchy. They of course are traditionally only legitimated by God and Birth. Where will this crazy urge for democracy stop? Please lets go back to a hereditary Lords , and yards and yards of flummery , mystery and snobbery. Its better than letting the great unwashed choose the head of state.


This is a fantastic idea. It offers a way to reform our legislature without too much disruption. Some of the details will take working out - e.g. the no net increase in legislation thing, but its a great idea.

I wholly approve of the idea of this new chamber ratifying treaties, but it should be via a supermajority as in the US. That would mean that things like the extradition treaty which everyone was moaning about a few weeks ago would never get ratified (kind of like in the US).

Again, emulating the US classes of Senator system is a good one as it would enable the retention of FPTP which is the only fair electoral system without mirroring the results in the Commons. Another way to do that is to elect on a different constituency basis.

My preference would be two or three per county - based on the real counties.

James M

Interesting policy idea. I have to err towards caution though and generally disagree with it.

I feel the House of Lord's strength lies in the experience of its members, its position as a scrutineer of laws from the senior house - the Commons and I would be very concerned about over-politicisation, coming from this idea. I also do not like the name. I see no need to break from the title House of Lords - there are too many attempts these days to create some false idea that anything traditional is wrong and/or we cannot be proud of these institutions. Rather than trying to avoid accusations of being pro-establishment or stuck in the past - we should sell the virtues of an evolving the character of the House of Lords over time and its name.

Having said all this - we clearly do need some kind of House of Lords reform, as the Blair government has done a botched job thus far and I would argue for balance.

My suggestions for further debate would be:

- Keep the House of Lords name.
- Have a predominantly elected Lords (perhaps 2 from every country of the country). A number of unelected members, chosen by an independent panel or a similar system. These would be former PM's, senior business leaders, other independents. Finally I would want and expect religious leaders to be in the House of Lords.
- Not sure on form of election, but I have concerns about even more electoral systems being used and would have no major problems with FPTP - I want to start selling this system more, rather than beating it up.
- For those elected - I would suggest a 10 year term, with 50% of the members being elected every 5 years to reduce the number of elections. I would also support, a funding system that would allow independent candidates to get the same financial backing (once they garner a certain amount of signatures and a deposit) as party backed members.
- I would broadly keep the same powers as the House of Lords has now.
- Finally I would see such a House of Lords as potentially very important in any future changes in the way the UK is governed, perhaps taking on a scruntinising role of all individual country legislation.


Apart from the silly name, there is a huge discrepancy between the good intention of defending "the liberty of individuals from government encroachment and incompetence" and what you are going to get which is a few hundred more (expensive) politicians, a large proportion of whom probably will not share these aims. There just isn't an appetite for that.

One feature of the idea you might want to look at again is the the idea of approving appointments, without doubt one of the worst parts of the American system which routinely leads to an orgy of character assassination and delay, and inevitably compromises the person eventually appointed. We do elect the government and have to take on trust whoever they want to be ambassador to Togo without getting it rubber-stamped by second rate politicians.

What would be really fun is Denis Cooper's suggestion of having a sort House of Losers for those who lose elections (or "come second"). In today's society, such deferred success certainly needs to be rewarded. Perhaps whoever comes third could be the Comptroller of the Net Quantum of Laws?

Denis Cooper

Although I've voted in favour of this proposal, I don't support some parts of it.

I wouldn't want to radically alter the functions or powers of the second chamber, only change its composition in such a way that it could provide a more effective counter-balance to the "elected dictatorship" in the first chamber.

Therefore I wouldn't want its members elected by PR, or on a list system, or in large multi-member geographical constituencies, aka "European Regions", or even our own counties, and absolutely not for non-geographical or demographic "constituencies" such as "faith groups", "business", "universities" etc.

And since its most important function would be to restrain the power of the government when necessary, I would want to be quite sure that the governing party would never have a majority in the second chamber as well as the first.

All this has led me to the "first past the post, second past the post" system I described above, because then the party which wins a majority of seats in the first chamber cannot also have a majority in the second. In fact, the larger its majority in the first chamber, the fewer members it will have in the second.

For example, at the last general election the Labour candidate came first in 353 constituencies out of 646, which means that at the absolute maximum Labour could only have 293 members out of 646 in the second chamber. In fact it would be much fewer than that, because in many of the 293 constituencies where the Labour candidate didn't come first he didn't come second either.


It is of course an interesting idea, but is such radical reform neccessary? Would a fully elected second House be more effective?

A second chamber subject to the comparatively sordid business of electioneering, career politicians and party loyalists VS Some of our nation's most intelligent and experianced academics, scientists and clergy.

A greater increase in elected peers perhaps, but surely a second chamber made up of respected and often experianced men and women of stature is more appropriate than a 'commons imitation' of often rather poor 'representatives'?

Monarchy and the Lords have a solid role in protecting the nation and holding the executive to account.

The policy idea may be clever, it may be a vote winner but it could open the political establishment to a new level of corruption.

I reject this policy idea.

Peter Coe

The big problem, it seems, in discussing the reform of the upper house is that no-one is able to define the role of it.

Surely, when Conservatives come across bureaucracies there seems no purpose to, our instinct should be to abolish them?

Get rid of the second chamber and all issues of elected members vs appointees, primacy, functions etc. disappear.

A lot of the comments about the House of Lords being valuable because they are unelected, or serve as a vital check on the Government seem to me to simply arise from whiners who still don't seem to have come to terms with the fact that the Tories have lost the last three elections: the Lords would have been nowhere near as obstructive had this been a Conservative Government.

That's inherently unfair, undemocratic and unreasonable - get rid of this body.

Yet Another Anon

If there is going to be an elected Second Chamber then it would have to be elected on a different basis from that of the House of Commons or there would be no point, this might include perhaps Multiple Member Constituencies, or election on STV, perhaps election on the basis of age grouping with seperate age groups having seperate seats, or elections staggered so that there are only some of the seats are up for election every year - simply having longer terms of office just means that you will end up with a Shadow House of Commons.

The main change is that there needs to be committees of Experts not from parliament to scrutinise and report back on bills and issues - sort of Expert Select Committees, maybe those who were not MP's could be included on House of Commons Select Committees including people from the Police, Military and Security and Intelligence Forces, Transport bodies etc...., maybe these need strengthening, I am sceptical about the need for a Second Chamber and certainly the House of Commons could function perfectly adequately with a third of it's current number of MP's, build a new parliament in a more central location in the UK and where it is less prone to rising sea levels - 300 feet or move above sea level ideally, perhaps there should be a directly elected one party National Executive to govern the country and choose the Prime Minister on a UK wide 100 seat constituency on an Alternative Vote System with a £100,000 deposit for every group entry on the list and up to a limited number of times any one person could be listed - thus David Cameron for example could present a number of alternatives for people to vote for in the knowledge that no one grouping would win outright unless it had 50% or more of the vote so unless one group did it would come down to Second and maybe even Third Preferences and so on until one grouping had 50% or more, so David Cameron could present lists comprising an outright Conservative list, a coalition Conservative list which could be an EU leaning one or perhaps a coalition of Euro-Realists and Euro-Sceptics, it could include other parties and even perhaps there could be a list presenting a Grand Coalition with Labour, the variations in proportions of the list could vary so David Cameron could present lists even with a Hung Parliament, and the same would apply to other parties too - thus people could actually vote for a majority government either an outright majority or a fixed level majority, or some kind of Hung Executive - trully it could be said whether the British people clearly decided for a One Party government or a Hung Executive. Then the National Executive could have the powers to select the PM and vote on bills, it could be required that the House of Commons then (which could be elected on a boundary based Alternative Vote System) would require at least 2/3 of it's members voting on the opposing side to the National Executive to veto National Executive bills or 2/3 voting for where the National Executive vetoed their bills, votes in the National Executive would simply require a Simple Majority - normally terms would then go full length (probably a 4 year term would be desirable) with a requirement for at least 80% of Members of the House of Commons or a National Petition with signatures of over 50% of eligible electors in the UK signing to require a recall election which would then trigger elections in both bodies.


What an absolutely bewildering proposal, Yet Another Anon!

I am not sure we need to throw out hundreds of years of parliamentary history at Westminster for it just yet though.


Denis Cooper, I can pretty confidently assert that you must be about the first [and I hope last] person to accuse Boris Johnson of being a Europhile!! Ever since he was Europe Correspondent to the Daily Telegraph he has been one of the most eloquent and vociferous Euro-sceptics on the UK political scene. Read *anything* he wrote in the 90s for them, or better still this recent tirade on the EU Curriculum idea:


Your opinion of Lord Heseltine I would not quibble with.

Back to the point in hand, though. Looking at, for instance, the ID Cards debate, we relied in fact on Cross Benchers to hold up the Government's rapacious thirst for control over our lives. Very often Labour members do indeed constitute a majority of those who actually bother to vote. Which brings about a secondary issue of attendance...

I'm sympathetic to ideas that the *composition* of the HoL should be democratically controlled to some extent. Allowing each party leader to appoint a number of Peers based on the voting proportions of the previous election or something like that might be possible. But I strongly believe that appointment, and lifetime appointment in particular, confers all the advantages that give the HoL any sort of useful role, by insulating their Lordships from career-political considerations.

Supremacy of the Commons is not "illusory," as any former fox-hunter can tell you! We need to strengthen the Commons, and make proper use of the Lords, rather than surrender ourselves to the notion of a wholly subservient bicameral legislature composed of two bodies united only around career-enforced devotion to their whips.

Denis Cooper

Well, aristeides, here's a Tory "loser" for you from the last general election:


Turnout 41,973

Laura Moffatt Lab 16,411
Henry Smith Con 16,374

Labour majority 37

I've no problem with a candidate coming first by one vote, because that's how the cookie can crumble, but to dismiss all the runners up as "losers" ignores the fact that in most cases they've still gained significant support from the electorate.

In this case, the winner received 39.1% of the votes cast, while the "loser" gained 39.0%. Under FPTP only 39.1% of those who voted saw their preferred candidate elected to Parliament; under FPTP, SPTP 78.1% of those who voted would have seen their favoured candidate elected, in one chamber or the other.


Boris in the 1990s was a whole lot sounder than Boris of today. Is there something in the water at Westminster?

Yet Another Anon

I am not sure we need to throw out hundreds of years of parliamentary history at Westminster for it just yet though.
The history remains as it was but there have been many changes down the centuries mainly in terms of constitutional changes, the Houses of Parliament though was built for past centuries and is crumbling, the State could privatise it and a commercial company could operate it as a museum, groundwater levels in London have been rising for some time, if sea levels continue rising then many parts of London might have to be abandoned at some point this century and the Houses of Parliament are right down by the Thames, it's stuck in one corner of the UK, not only that but the very shape of the House of Commons and Lords with the Opposition and Government bemnches facing each other tends to encourage division - a sort of semi-circular arrangement is probably best, that would avoid accentuating any differences and encourage MP's from different parties to work together on matters of common interest, there will be differences anyway, also things such as videoconferencing and maybe electronic voting of MP's where for example they are away at meetings - there is no reason why the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister and other government ministers shouldn't come out of a meeting in another country, maybe important discussions with other world leaders and then address parliament over a video link and answer questions from the floor of the house in a debate as they would if they were there in person.


Gildas, I won't have a word said against him! Retract that immediately :)

Seriously, though, that's interesting - you think he's really changed since Parliament? I wasn't so politically engaged back then - I'm but 23 - so I'd be interested to hear how you think he's changed. I must say, I can't detect any major change from his journalism of the '90s to now.

The one area where he does disappoint, though, is the very subject of this thread. Quite contrary to his usual thinking he's all up for the idea of two elected politicised chambers...

Perhaps e-mail me if you like - this thread maybe not the place...

David Banks

The very worst idea is that of the present Govt's 'people 's peers'. Yuk!
Elected chambers may sound good on paper but
lets face it democracy sucks.
How about a unicameral parliament , comprisng a one party state whose uniformed cadres control the means of communication. It least it sounds like it could be implemented.

David Simpson

The problem with the present Upper Chamber (nice simple name) is a) the hereditary element (now largely bypassed but unfortunately in the process removing an enormous amount of character, experience and wit from the chamber) b) the political appointees.

The great strength of the UC remains the independence of the peers because they are appointed for life - even Tony's cronies have not been as pliable as he might have hoped.

I have felt for some time that the best approach would be to select peers by lottery (just as we do juries, in effect) with some qualifications - a minimum of education and / or experience for example. Anyone selected can refuse, but if they accept they are obliged to attend a percentage of sittings, for which they are paid both a reasonable salary and expenses. They remain peers for as long as they satisfy the criteria. The peers should have an absolute veto over all legislation, including money bills (as in theory the monarch does now) which could only be overriden by say a national referendum. The pool of peers should be sufficiently large to give a statistically fair sample of the population as a whole (excluding infants and the insane).


What was wrong with the way it was before 1997?

Yet Another Anon

The peers should have an absolute veto over all legislation, including money bills (as in theory the monarch does now) which could only be overriden by say a national referendum.
The monarch can refuse to sign legislation and as such without the signature of the monarch it cannot pass into law, but then again the House of Commons since 1689 has had the power to remove the monarch with a single vote on the Floor of the House and put in a new monarch, the only way the monarch could prevent this if it was what the House of Commons intended is by closing parliamentary sessions and not recalling parliament or by dissolving parliament causing a General Election and hoping that the new House of Commons would take a different view, about the closest it ever came to using the power to replace the monarch was with regard to George III when he went through his rather loopy phase that is still much argued about by doctors and the Prime Minister did threaten this as a means of extracting some concessions and also getting him to see a doctor, then more recently there was Edward VIII who effectively was left with a choice of abdication or of being removed and replaced, it might be better if the Privy Council selected and had the power to remove the monarch.

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