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Brook Whelan: A fully-appointed second chamber is not ideal, but it's the least worst option available in our parliamentary system

Picture 1 Brook Whelan is a Councillor in Bath and North East Somerset.

The debate over House of Lords reform has been going on for some years, and it has mainly focused on how to make the House of Lords more democratic and accountable to voters.

The idea of making the House of Lords fully-elected does sound a great idea at first. After all, who would really want to deny voters the chance to have their say in choosing who gets to take their seat in the House of Lords?

Many supporters of making the House of Lords elected base their enthusiasm on the way that the Senate works in the United States, and assume that such a model could work just as well here. That is a perfectly reasonable argument, but what they overlook, however, is that we have a Parliamentary system, and not a Presidential one.

A fully-elected second chamber would simply not work under our political system. I suspect that supporters of this change have not thought through the practicalities of it. Constitutional reform should never be done on the back of an envelope.

Firstly, an elected second chamber would cause serious difficulties in its status and relationship to the House of Commons. I am yet to hear any reassuring comments from supporters of this change that would allay my fears over this point. How exactly would this be resolved?

Secondly, the prospect of voters facing yet more elections will not get them racing to the polling station either. If the House of Commons were to retain its supremacy with this reform in place, then we will find that voter turnout could potentially be even lower than it is currently for the House of Commons in the general election. If the House of Commons is to retain its supremacy, then what is the point of an elected second chamber?

Thirdly, I am yet to hear about what the role of Senators would be in an elected second chamber. Would they be there purely for scrutiny and revising of legislation? Or would they have a more different role? Would there have to be additional Select Committees set up?

Back in 2003, during a Commons vote on House of Lords reform, there were seven options given for MPs to vote on, and the result of the vote was inconclusive, but the option which had the most support (but not enough to win the day) was the option to make it fully-appointed, and I think it even had the tentative support of Tony Blair at the time.

A fully-appointed House of Lords is not an ideal solution for a 21st Century democracy, but it's the best we can do under our politcal system. The House of Lords does an excellent job in scrutinising legislation, and has a high reputation for its due diligence, attention to detail and asking the right questions.

There are, of course, issues about how we can make the appointments process to the House of Lords more transparent. So what I would like to see is the House of Lords Appointments Commission open up its meetings to the public when they are debating potential new appointments to the House of Lords. I would also like to see the setting up of televised hearings when the Commission is vetting these new applicants. This will allow the public to see who exactly is in the running to be appointed, and will allow them to see for themselves whether the candidates are worthy of a place in the House of Lords.

A fully-appointed House of Lords? It's not ideal, but is far better than what else is on offer.


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