Monday, 2 November 2015

By accident, not design

In the wake of the UK Government’s defeat in the House of Lords last week, there has been plenty of comment as to whether the behaviour of the lords is or is not in line with what the lords are ‘meant’ to do.  The implication is that the second chamber has a clearly defined role and purpose as a revising chamber.  That is, of course, complete nonsense; its current role was never ‘designed’ by anyone.
The original intention was that the chamber was there to represent a particular class interest, and to have at least equal power with the chamber representing the rest of society.  Indeed, at the outset, it was the more powerful of the two houses – it isn’t referred to as the ‘upper’ house for nothing.  Over a period, that power has been whittled away, piece by piece, as the elected chamber asserted its authority, and placed ever more restrictions on what the unelected lords could do.
It now has a role as a revising chamber not because anyone ever sat down and thought about whether we really need a second chamber or what its role should be, but simply because revising and delaying are the only powers which haven’t yet been stripped from it.  I’m far from convinced that any rational process for designing a parliamentary system would ever produce anything remotely resembling the House of Lords, nor assign to it the curious vestige of powers which it exercises.
The problem with all proposals for reform is that they never start from first principles; the innate conservatism of the UK state means that they all start from what is and try to propose different combinations of roles, responsibilities and methods of selection.  The very existence of the second chamber is rarely challenged.
It should be.  The most rational way of dealing with the House of Lords is to strip it of all its remaining powers.  Plenty of countries manage with unicameral parliaments, and there’s absolutely no reason why the UK couldn’t do the same. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agree entirely (I think)!