The reform of the Upper Chamber of the House of Parliament is fundamental to democracy, but like all issues it is not clear-cut, but the question and the debate are at the heart of the meaning of democracy in the UK. I have been heartened by the level of debate in the House of Commons about ‘the other place‘ as they refer to House of Lord - emphasising the differences between the two Chambers and they there are meant to offer revision of Legislation, but have no power to stop legislation, only delay. Since the creation of the 1911 Parliament Act the House of Commons can stop debate, and proceed regardless of the opposition from the House of Lords.
A good example of its current function is the NHS Reform Bill the House of Lords made 1,000 amendments to the Bill before it returned the Bill to the House of Commons, whilst it did not stop the Bill – at one point an amendment was going to be voted on that would have fundamentally reformed the Bill, it create a better Bill – even though I am fundamentally disagree with NHS Reforms.
The House of Lords do not debate Financial Bills.
The Lords themselves not elected and sit by patronage, either from political parties (Life Peers), from being created Lords by the Monarch (Hereditary Peers), or a selection of twenty Bishops(the Lords Spiritual), in effect they are not accountable to electorate, hence why their decisions can be overturned – but I quite like the system, it fosters informed debate and normally the Life Peers are experts rather than generalists.
The House of Lords provides reasoned debate away from party political in fighting in the House of Commons, the Lords cannot be replaced, sacked, or intimidated, but it is a throwback to the days of Empire, reform of the House of Lords is going to be an ‘once and for all’ change, and I am not sure it should be subject to political deals done between the Conservatives and the LibDems – it just seems shoddy.
The fact they are unaccountable is not an issue, the Lower House can overturn any decisions.
If, as proposed, the UK receives an elected Upper House (proposed to be called The Senate) then the Upper House, however it is elected, will have a democratic mandate – it will have a right to have its voice listened to, and as such could form an effective opposition to the executive, which cannot be done effectively in the House fo Commons due to that old British word patronage. It is one of these issues that I agree with ‘on balance’ – an effective opposition to the Government is always good, it creates compromise, it also stops over zealous programmes being enacted.
As always the ‘the devil will be in the detail’ and perhaps, like in Germany if the Bundestag and Bundesrat cannot agree a committee is set up to reach a compromise, but I fear the House of Commons will vote to retains it veto on any Senatorial amendments.
Having elected Peers does seem a good idea, unable to run for any political office after their 15 year term creates a sense of independence, but they then would not be able to held to account at the following election, in a sense you would be electing a 15 year Dictator, with no comeback – it seems wrong.
The other democratic deficit is will the British people get to vote on the Bill – after all the creation of a Senate will fundamentally affect our democracy and how we are governed.
Lords Reform is a question of democracy.