The House of Lords (HoL) has earned itself a very bad reputation amongst the public since the 2016 E.U. referendum due to its constant attempts to overturn the result of that vote.
It has constantly attempted to block government legislation on leaving the E.U. passed to it from the House of Commons (HoC) for perusal, packed, as it is, with supporters of staying in the E.U.
This anger is justified to a certain degree, but the often quoted solution of simply abolishing the Upper House is overkill, it’s throwing out the baby with the bath water.
The case for substantial reform of the Lords is certainly beyond question and has been for many years now. However, knee-jerk overreactions won’t improve the situation and very careful consideration is called for before attempting any kind of constitutional reform as it affects all citizens’ lives in several important respects, something which the egregious disaster of legislative devolution leading to the current constitutional crisis has clearly highlighted.
The role of the HoL is to scrutinise bills passed to it from the HoC and make suggestions, called amendments, that it believes will improve the operation of the bill.
These amendments are then passed back to the Commons, which considers their merits and votes on whether to adopt them.
If it votes to accept the amendment, then it’s incorporated into the bill. If voted against, the amendment fails and is ignored. This is the crux of the matter. The HoL is a revising chamber ONLY. It can SUGGEST amendments to legislation being considered by the HoC, which has the power to either accept or reject them solely at its discretion, and that’s all.
It cannot overturn the will of the democratically elected Commons.
This time honoured system has mostly worked well up until 2016. Before New Labour packed the chamber with placemen (Labour supporters who would do its bidding), it was staffed with members who, on the whole, were experienced ex-politicians and / or people who had a long experience of working in a certain field who consequently had a broad depth of knowledge to offer the HoC in framing legislation.
On several occasions, most notably during the 1980s, they helped the Government to formulate bills that worked more successfully than the original version drawn up by the Commons.
The HoL is a time honoured component of the U.K.’s legislative process that can greatly enhance that process if it functions properly. However, since 2016, it hasn’t been fulfilling its proper role.
Abolition is overkill, as discussed above. Substantial reform is definitely called for however.
What form should this take? An initial analysis would indicate:
- The number of peers should be drastically culled from their current 800 to 400, which is consistent with historical levels.
- The HoL’s power to hold up the passing of Commons legislation for a year should be scrapped and replaced with the ability to do so for a very limited time (a month?), after which the bill goes back to the Commons for a vote and if won is passed into law.
- The expense system should be radically overhauled to prevent the gross abuse of the system that has taken place.
A properly constituted HoL is a very beneficial part of the U.K.’s Parliamentary legislative system.
It would consist of a group of people with a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer the HoC in framing successful legislation.
It should be allowed to continue in a reformed capacity as a complimentary component to the democratically elected Commons.
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© 2021 Stephen Bailey