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Totally agree with Strathclyde about the 'list system'.As the experiment has proved with MEPs we get lumbered with some odd people who have friends within the party hierarchy who are then impossible to get rid of.

A good article.

Justin - I thought you didn't like this site anymore after all your comments.

I don't see why we can't just have Lords elected from counties on a per head basis. Any other system simply goes against democracy.

You could even have the whole country as a single constituency, but have individual candidates fighting it out... would be harder than a House of Commons campagin because you'd be competing to come top of your party and all other candidates. If we are going to change a system that works pretty well we might as well come up with a more interesting electoral system than list PR, which is a recipe for party hackery of the worst sort.

Why couldn't they just leave the old pre-1997 Lords in place? Why all this relentless change, change, change - reform, reform, reform - modernise, modernise, modernise? As if it's somehow a good in itself, and not the end to something else which remains (as usual) completely undefined. It's ludicrous and saddening.

We need traditional institutions like the Lords to keep at least some check on the dizzying pace of life around us. Further, hereditary peers meant a constant, reliable pool of people encouraged from an early age to devote themselves to the public good, and they and life peers were/are both afforded long-term thinking and perspectives on issues, instead of having always to frantically worry about re-election or to assume that anything after ten or twenty years is irrelevant to them. The Lords was unique amongst upper houses precisely in its archaic make-up; because of that, it could look at things more broadly, understand things more deeply, and act more wisely.

I say that any future government should firmly turn the clock back.

We have to avoid the list system at all costs. An absolute disaster with no real link between voter and representative.

Has anyone dared suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should leave it alone?

"Has anyone dared suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should leave it alone?"

Don't be silly. It would set a very dangerous precedent. Once the idea that reforming something isn't necesarily a good idea takes hold our leaders could find themsleves a good deal less busy.

You have to understand the psyche of the labour party. They only DO change. They cannot do anything else except CHANGE it again. They live and breathe change. Ever since 1906 when they got themselves together. We can only hope that the Tories under Cameron get back in before too much damage is done to the fabric of this OLD country, which is built on long lasting tradition, not a load of jumped up jonnie come latelys that cant wait to throw all the babies out with the bathwater.

Richard, are you being satirical???????

The old pre-1997 Lords was an eccentric anachronism...and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But now it's gone, and it won't be coming back, so the best thing is to plan for something good to take its place rather than the absolutely asinine proposal that Straw's put forth. Better to just eliminate the upper chamber and leave the red benches empty than adopt something so self-righteously idiotic, but there are also alternatives that would be better than getting rid of it altogether.

The problem with MP's putting forward plans on this at all is that they invariably want, individually and as an institution, an emasculated upper house that won't ever stop them from getting their way, which defeats the point of HAVING an upper house. And they've grown up never knowing an upper house with teeth, like the Lords had before 1911, so they have to conjure something with an equal or even greater lack of perceived democratic legitimacy which, again, completely defeats the purpose of there even being a second chamber.

As someone who worked for a state legislature in the US with two essentially equal chambers, I suppose I simply can't and don't get what the fuss is about: is there any MP who can, in good faith and with a straight face, explain why something else would be better than an all-elected Lords? Presumably on a very different basis than the Commons, but still? Want to be democratic and modern, and still conservative with an eye on historic legitimacy? How about, ironically, making the new Lords something like the pre-1832 Commons: as someone mentioned above, make the counties the constituencies, and the number of members to be elected from each county based on its population. And yes, before anyone raises it, the historic county lines criscross inside Greater London, but that shouldn't matter: you're electing national legislators, not someone to run a London borough: the constituency lines don't have to match municipal ones (God knows, they practically never do here in the US).

I still stand by my old plan: election for life:

Works on so many levels...

JA - I agree with you

JA - I agree with you

Perhaps Straw should read what Lord Grey wrote as Preface to the 1911 Parliament Act................

Whatever reform these people develop the 1911 and 1949 Parliament Acts should be revoked and that is what they are desperate to prevent..............but if the Bundesrat or US Senate could not reject a Money Bill it would infringe the right of the states to determine anything...............

The issue in this country is to stop The Executive in The Commons having absolutist power

The one bit of Straw's legislation I like is the 'term of service limited to 12yrs'.

I'd suggest something more like 15 yrs should be applied to ALL elected policitians - there would be no more ancient bed-blockers wasting money and space just because they know the right kind of handshake, or because they like the boodle too much.

When you pull on the threads of the constitution, you must be very careful not to unravel the whole thing.

The Salisbury-Addison Convention, which ensures that manifesto commitments from the ruling party are not blocked by the upper house, would be difficult in the extreme to maintain in a partisan chamber, which might have a different political balance.

Secondly, the House of Lords often acts against government legislation where it feels that popular opinion is against a particular bill. Would elected Lords have such freedom?

In the American system there are two equal chambers writing laws, but there is a referee - a President - who is removed from their day to day business.

This is what you get with policy on the back of a fag packet - constitutional confusion. The same occurred with the department of constitutional affairs and devolution for Scotland and Wales, no consideration for the constitution.

Classic NuLab.

I remember a Daily Telegraph letter from a few years ago proposing that the only people that should be eligible to sit in the Lords (I think) were people that held pre-1832 hereditary peerages (I say 'people' because presumably this includes the earldom of Mar, which allows for female succession). I loved it because it was so utterly ridiculous. God bless the Telegraph.

Even if one accepts the 'lottery of life' argument for a hereditary cross-section of the British people, the gaping flaw with this proposal is that ultimately all hereditary dignities will expire with the effluxion of time, with the exception of the Crown of course.

The Conservative Party would be toughened up, in my opinion, if its party membership learnt how to 'eat its own' and how to organise internally by putting its upper house membership up for grabs, with the seats to be decided by National Convention. All these people that anonymously love to reminisce about how wonderful FCS was during the 1970s could show how good they were at organising the numbers, and put up or shut up. Failing that, the Party would feel it had a real investment in the parliamentary party, A-Listers aside.

Can anybody explain how a second chamber made up of county representatives would have prevented the appallingly poor legislation and government we've had to endure since 1997?

Suppose like the Commons they were elected by first past the post on a different cycle - maybe unlike the Commons on a fixed four year cycle. At any time from the end of 1992 more or less up to the present day, this second chamber would have been dominated by Labour and would have been nothing more than a rubber stamp for whatever crap came across from the Commons.

Even if they had been elected by some form of PR, with all its attendant evils, Labour would still have been the largest party even if it didn't have a majority.

It's not good enough. While we have the Commons elected by first past the post we need a second chamber which can be relied to provide strong and effective opposition to whichever party happens to rule the roost in the first chamber.

That should be the primary purpose of the second chamber. Not to be "a revising chamber", or to be "a house of experts", or to "represent the regions", or any of the many other ideas which have been dreamt up as ways to fill those nice red benches rather than just leaving them empty, but to compensate for the chronic inability of the opposition in the first chamber to provide any effective check on the "elected dictatorship".

I have a somewhat radical suggestion for consideration. Why not have a random selection for a fixed period of service (say 8 years) in much the same way that jury service is conducted. You have a repesentive spread of individuals without the problems of elected party hacks and some very real independence. More importantly it would be reflective of public opinion.

Guidance would be provide by a group of civil servants who would explain how the system works what the role was and their responsibilities. We could pay a small salary (£40k say plus travel expenses).


Anon, I have visions of someone like Onslow from "Keeping Up Appearances" rocking up as a member of the Lords in ermine, with a stained singlet and a pair of shorts underneath... : )

Alexander, I am not certain that Onslow would be on the electoral role :o)

It should be noted that Onslow has the right to express his opinion and that is perhaps the most important thing. More importanly Onslow is the sort of person who would ask the simple questions, such as why do we need this?

anon, said civil servants would have them for breakfast, served in whatever way their political masters - the government, with its Commons majority - directed.

Dennis, I prefer to keep faith with the fact that most people will not do as they are told but will opt to do the job to the best of their ability. You may be right but it offers the potential for impartiality that none of the other offerings have

I have to say Anon that your idea has some credence, except for the time limit. All this time limit stuff is pure ageist nonsense. Some of the longer serving members of parliament are those who actually make an attempt at keeping some accountability with legislation. Eric Forth is a great example. These restrictions mean every party would be filled with the NuLab catchphrase clones that many of us have had to put up with since 97, lacking backbone, principle and not effectively representing those who put them there.
I think the Upper chamber would be most effective if those in it weren't actually representing any party. To use a NuLab catchphrase, "people's representatives". People would put themselves up to be in it on a county basis. They would have no whip to worry about so would vote on consciounce. They would also be more likely to be real proper people, not those who know what to say, the way to say it and who to say it to. They would contest elections on a manifesto only basis which would be published in local newspapers. That would mean that this would not just be the preserve of the wealthy.
Alternatively it could be left like it is, after all the Lords have done a pretty good job in rejecting stupid legislature, such as the ban on hunting with hounds.

But anon, I don't want impartiality - I want OPPOSITION to the executive.

Dennis, their impartiality (political not judgemental) would surely give rise to more opposition to legislation since their role would be to challenge the Government to justify the requirement for it (its still a work in progress)

Sasha, I suggest a time limit as it ensures that individuals can get back to doing what they want with their lives, but more importantly ensures that no one becomes overtly party political, and new influxes of individuals ensure that the connection with wider public opinion is maintained, ensuring that no one is institutionalised over time. The purpose is to create a chamber that possesses some semblance of rational objective thought.

As for the suggestion on elections it may work but most likely would be hijacked by the current parties who would provide tacit support.

anon, to some extent, but remember that your random selection would be a random selection from the people who were eligible to vote in the election which actually brought the government to power - plus or minus a few, and even though some of them did not actually vote. It's possible that public opinion would change between the date of the election and the date of the random selection (whichever came first), but as I've pointed out earlier we've now had nearly 14 years in which public opinion has been consistently inclined towards the governing party, so any normal election or even random selection of a second chamber during that period would not have produced a second chamber hostile to the governing party - which is what I believe we desperately need to counter-balance the over-weening power of the executive, supported by its majority in the first chamber. Apart from anything else, the governing party can use its majority to control the timetable in the Commons, and it should not also be allowed to do that in the second chamber. This is why I believe that we need to make sure that the governing party will never be able to rely on a majority in both chambers. My other concern about the random selection method is that it doesn't necessarily take into account the sheer complexity of legislation and government. I would prefer to have our laws made by intelligent and expert legislators who know what they are doing. As somebody pointed out, the most effective peers are generally those who have been around and doing the job for many years, either as a hereditary or as a life peer after a career in the Commons.

Dennis, you make an interesting point "I would prefer to have our laws made by intelligent and expert legislators who know what they are doing".

Therefore I assume you would prefer to forgo a trial by your peers in such circumstances since the judge would know best. In my opinion you risk making a rod for your own back (no offence intended).

In all seriousness what experience does any new MP or member of the Lords for that instance have in defining our laws. Currently we have a Parliament stuffed to the gills with lawyers and they seem to make a pretty poor fist of making new laws. Our current PM is a lawyer with a QC for a wife.

My point is that if we are to have a second chamber then it should be independent of party political influence with regards to appointment. Random selection akin to the jury process would at least provide this ensuring a true cross mix of society.

If as you say you want a diametrically opposing second chamber then how would this come about? Elections would produce a similar result to that of the Commons would it not with the same swings and majorities?

Alternatively would you suggest that the majorities are reversed in the second chamber producing a majority for the losing side?

Anon, if there were elections on the four-five year basis that we have now then surely those elected would reflect the public opinion of that area irrelevant of however long they have been there. You also said that the time limits would exist so that they could go back to doing what they want. If they became bored, then when the time of re-election came round again then they simply wouldn't have to stand again.
I suggested that the elections would be run on a manifesto and prehaps hustings basis partly because the cost would be neglible to the contestant but also so that political parties couldn't provide fiancial assistance to them. If, however, your suggesting that a local party could ask it's members to vote for someone then there is a possible abuse. One would have to hope that the turn out of those who weren't members of a party would dwarf that of those who do, which actually isn't hard considering the majority of constituency parties only have members in the hundreds(if that).

Sasha, I think we agree on the same point. I was responding to Dennis's suggestion that the second chamber should oppose the first. I did not suggest elections of any sort given that a second chamber would simply reflect the first in its proportional make up and outlook. I think that we are in agreement on that point.

I would like very much to see individuals stand without party affiliation but assuming that there would be 1 or 2 representatives per ward then I would suspect that there is likely to be systematic abuse of the system. My gut feeling is that such a system would rapidly descend into a contest along traditional party lines and any independents would quickly be crowded out. In order for it to work at a level suitable for independents to gain a foothold we would have to have a significant increase in the number of representatives in the second chamber.

The wider issue is that also those independents do not have a group of supporters to canvass or leaflet on their behalf. How would they compete with the resources poured in to support the "independent" choice of the local parties? These individual candidates’ supporters may all be members of the local party but they could realistically agree to supporting their candidate. Would this be classified as abuse of the system? No financial support is involved (rememebr that spending is capped in local elections anyway so its mainly about bodies on streets)? If such support is considered abuse then is that not contrary to the principle of democracy since suspicion would no doubt fall on any individuals offering support?

I think a chamber of 325 members of which 195 be elected on the EU system(six year periods) and a further 130 from the current appointed crop of people would be the best solution. The idea of placing a restriction of time can't be allowed simply on the fact of losing a lot of experience gained by sitting in the chamber.

You've got some good points Anon. Ideally we could dispense with the canvassing and leafleting thus making the playing field more even although, the practicalities of policing it are non-existant. Peter, that is exactly why I also oppose time limits.

anon @ 16:05 -

"Therefore I assume you would prefer to forgo a trial by your peers in such circumstances since the judge would know best."

No, but there is really no comparison between a jury and legislature.

A jury is made up of ordinary people with no special knowledge of the law, who are there to reach a verdict on the basis of the facts of the case as presented in court. The legal expertise is provided by the judge and the lawyers on either side.

In a legislature it is the members who must have the expertise to argue for and against a particular proposal. There are legal staff available who will give some advice on request, for example whether or not a particular wording will have the intended effect when later interpreted in a court, but basically the members must formulate and argue their own cases for and against a proposal.

"Currently we have a Parliament stuffed to the gills with lawyers and they seem to make a pretty poor fist of making new laws."

Absolutely, but that's because normally it doesn't matter how good a case is argued by the MPs opposing a measure, whether or not they happen to be trained lawyers. If the government has a working majority of loyal party hacks they can and do simply ignore the objections and vote the measure through.

"Random selection akin to the jury process would at least provide this ensuring a true cross mix of society."

Firstly, normally a juror serves for only ten days:


There are relatively few cases where the jurors find that their normal lives have been put on hold for much longer, but never for as long as even the 5 years of a Parliamentary term, let alone the 8 years you suggest.

I think it would have to be permissible for people to decline to serve, and what would happen then? The initial random cross-section would inevitably include individuals at one extreme who were completely incapable of dealing with the complexities of legislative work, and some at the other extreme who could quickly master it. But which would be most likely to decline to serve because they already had a important career which they wanted to pursue?

"If as you say you want a diametrically opposing second chamber then how would this come about?" Well, somebody else has had the same idea as me:


"Every time the nature of a reformed second chamber is debated, I wonder why it shouldn't become a chamber comprising those who came second at the general election. The legitimacy of its members would be conferred by the fact that they actually received votes, whilst the fact that they got fewer votes than members of the first chamber would justify the Commons' supremacy.
Stephen Parsons
Knighton, Powys"

"Elections would produce a similar result to that of the Commons would it not with the same swings and majorities?"

Give them long fixed terms and stagger their elections, like the US Senate, which hardly has a reputation as a rubber stamp for anyone.

Thanks Sasha but what about the make up of the chamber.

Dennis, I suppose the question comes down to what we expect the second chamber to do. If we accept that it is meant to be a check on the legislature then I believe that a selection process would be acceptable. This would be akin to the jury process judging the case on the merit of the facts presented to it. I do believe that the general public has greater capacity to question the value of legislation and to make decisions than is currently given credit.

I stand by my analogy between a jury and a second chamber based on this fact. As a result I believe that the legislature would be compelled to produce 'good' legislation. Not legislation that was hurried through (as is currently the case) for whatever purpose.

Resources would be on hand as they are in the judicial system to advise and clarify the members on any points that were to arise in the discussions.

People could exempt themselves but I think that many people would take up the challenge. As for the length of service I did propose a salary (£40K plus expenses) which is hardly forcing people to live on the poverty line.

Perhaps I am out on a limb here (it feels like it) but if you want to retain the value of a second chamber then somehow it has to be impartial (which elected chambers do not possess) whilst at the same time being representative.

Ah, but I particularly look to an elected opposing second chamber as a means of checking the elected dictatorship in the first chamber. The only other alternative would be a first chamber elected by PR, which I wouldn't particularly want. If you have time have a look at the Parliament website, and see the level of complexity legislators have to deal with - assuming they're doing their job properly.

Peter, I did suggest a fully elected chamber where only Independents stood on a manifesto (no canvassing thus no costly campaigning making it easier for poorer people to stand) only basis but Anon exposed a few flaws in that. Ideally the Lords would only contain Independents meaning legislation would be looked at on a pro/con basis rather than a party line basis.

Problem is Sasha that they wouldn't stay Independent for long, and also as shown by the case in Russia were they have in the Duma half elected by first past the post independents have tended to be elected as Pro Yeltsin/Gaidar only to be in the end people who have had no problem with going with Putin hardline stance.

Well the sad fact is Peter, that is the most likely case. If you look at Independents on local councils they often also tend to follow a general party line. It is unfortunate that my idea is more utopian than practical.

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