The House of Lords. It’s been around since Edward III, it holds the government to account and it’s home to colourful figures such as Ken Clarke and John Prescott. That all seems pretty good, but the reality is that it is old and no longer fit for purpose.
Let’s explore why this is the case.
There are many ways in which an individual can be elevated to the House of Lords, dissolution honours, resignation honours, and the House of Lords Appointment Commission to name but a few. However, getting elected by the public is not a viable route. Every single lord and lady is unelected, and herein lies the fundamental problem.
Every bill that passes all stages within the House of Commons makes its way to the House of Lords. The members then suggest amendments to the bill, to again be considered by the House of Commons. But what if the general public prefers the bill before the Lords’ amendments? What can we do about it? The answer is diddly squat. All we can do is grin and bear it, whilst democracy slowly gets chipped away.
Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly lucky and incredibly grateful to have been born and bred in a country where democracy even exists. Unfortunately, however, I do have to use a slightly liberal interpretation of the word democracy. For example, in the 2015 UK general election, the Conservative Party won 36.9% of the popular vote and 50.9% of the constituencies. Similarly, UKIP won 12.6% of the popular vote, but a measly 0.154% of the constituencies. That doesn’t seem fair to me.
There are some compelling arguments to retain the first-past-the-post voting system that would allow the above statistics to occur. After all, the system produces majority governments far more often. But if the House of Lords elected its members with proportional representation, we could continue to avoid fruitless minority governments – remember Theresa May’s premiership? Also, we would have a body that amends laws in such a way that is representative of how the public voted in the last election, and of course, we would have the power to elect new and different members.
Now it is true that the House of Lords isn’t what it used to be. The House of Commons is a damn sight more powerful than the House of Lords. But this begs the question, if this is the case, why have the House of Lords in the first place?
In any functioning democracy, elected representatives need to be scrutinised, now, in times of Brexit and COVID-19, more than ever. This is usually the role that the media plays, but that isn’t enough on its own, especially given the influence that the media has in deciding elections.
It is therefore necessary to have a body like the House of Lords that can hold the government to account (huge emphasis on the word ‘like’). However, such a body must be decided by the public, and must have the power to stop MPs from doing things they have absolutely no mandate to do.
So what is the solution?
The House of Lords must elect its members alongside MPs in general elections, it must use proportional representation (the D’Hondt Method works all over the world) and its main purpose must be to scrutinise bills and to make sure that the party in power keeps its manifesto pledges.
The UK can already boast that it’s one of the freest and most tolerant nations in the world. With the correct reform of the House of Lords, it can be one of the most democratic nations too. I sincerely hope that my generation will be the one to bring about this change.