Comments: Reforming the House of Lords

While appreciating the initiative of Power 2010 asking the Bishops to help in the Reform of the House of Lords, one wonders whether it is Bishops within the House that need to be reformed. If the recent actions of +Winchester are any indication, the sooner Anglican Bishops are no longer seated in the House of Lords, the better for both Church and People.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 11 March 2010 at 10:06pm GMT

I'm not conversant with the issues involved in potential reform of the House of Lords, but I take cheer in the fact that, if the British House of Lords were to be reformed, then it may, just may, be possible, to reform the Canadian Senate that is modeled on the House of Lords. The Canadian upper chamber is unelected and cannot do more than hold up legislation; but many of us here would like to see an elected Senate, or failing that, abolition of the Senate. Its sole purpose at present is that it is an appointed chamber and an expensive pork barrel palace of political patronage.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 11 March 2010 at 11:03pm GMT

There is no need whatsoever to reform the House of Lords from 'bottom up'. The general public should be rather reminded of the good things that have come out of the Lords and to which the Commons were opposed... (E.g. the bishops talking about Fathers for Justice or the depenalization of homosexuality. In fact, in this last case it was the bishops who raised awareness on the problem and campaigned for the depenalization which lead to the report.)

Also, creating another Commons would be pointless. It is not a question of more representation. Moreover, two entirely elective chambers and no written constitution... it seems to me just as an accident waiting to happen.

A wise politician once said: "Power wears out those who don't have it".

Posted by Diego at Thursday, 11 March 2010 at 11:47pm GMT

Watch what you ask for. Look at the clowns in the elected US Senate.

Posted by Andrew at Friday, 12 March 2010 at 12:20am GMT

Ironically, Rod, recent changes to the Lords over the past decade or so have actually made it MORE like the Canadian Senate (or, as I prefer to call it, the festering pustule on the arse-end of Canadian democracy). The significant differences between the Lords as it is and our Senate are:
- the inclusion of the 26 Lords Spiritual,
- the inclusion of some number of hereditary peers (elected from among all the hereditary peers).

The former is the effect of establishment. The latter means that there are some number of Lords whose membership in the chamber is not dependent on the patronage of serving or recently serving politicians.

One other significant difference is that it has been custom that other parties in the Commons are able to recommend names to Mrs. Battenburg for inclusion - although I think those all still go forward via Number 10. This is roughly analogous to the custom under previous Canadian Prime Ministers to appoint token numbers of Senators from other parties.

Prime Minister Harper, despite his short tenure, has actually appointed (or directed the Governor General to appoint) more Senators than any other Prime Minister in Canadian history.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Friday, 12 March 2010 at 7:08am GMT

Andrew, I don't know about the composition of the US Senate, but take heart. However many clowns you elect, you always have the opportunity to replace them at the next election. The clowns in the House of Lords are there until they die, with the exception of the Clowns Spiritual who stay until they retire from their dioceses. We have no opportunity to say they're no good and we want rid of them.

Posted by toby forward at Friday, 12 March 2010 at 8:45am GMT

Ron, you write "one wonders whether it is Bishops within the House that need to be reformed." Have a read of the whole press release, you'll see that this is precisely what the deal is about! But rather than just moaning at the bishops, or indeed the House of Lords, this initiative is aiming to engage them positively in re-thinking their own role and participating in the long-overdue reshaping of democratic institutions. The initial aim was ten thousand letters. That was doubled in one day. I doubt that the bishops in the Lords have ever received so much correspondence! Please note that you can modify / draft your own letter through the website, too. This is not just 'click-and-go' stuff... though, as with voting in elections, some will do that. See also the five principles we've offered as a basis of reform: The details are complex, but the vision needs to be clear.

Posted by Simon Barrow at Friday, 12 March 2010 at 9:45am GMT

Yes, Malcolm the Harper government has had to eat a lot of crow with regard to the Senate. My point was that if there is serious conversation in the U.K. about reform of the Lords, then it holds out hope that the deadlock in Canada with regard to a constitutional amendment might also be possible. Speaking of Lords Spiritual, it brings me to a topic closer to home, and that is reform of the structure of the Canadian Church. There is a proposal going to our next General Synod to change the role of the Primate. All indications are that the Canadian Primacy could become more patriarchal, that the primate would actually have more of a presence in dioceses by right rather than by invitation. I do hope we don't go in that direction. In fact, we should be going the other way, and reducing down the role the House of bishops currently play in intervening in the work of the National structure. What do you think?

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 12 March 2010 at 1:22pm GMT

"The clowns in the House of Lords are there until they die,..."

They don't have a mandatory retirement age? I believe our (TEC) bishops cannot vote in the House of Bishops after a certain age.

Over here in Yankee-land, we have the every six year circus and the every two year circus (oh, what the hey, consider it continuous) for the U. S. Senate and House respectively. Now that we've got the right to have unlimited funding from LLC's, corporations and labor unions to influence these elections, I know my stock in marketing media is going to do very well.

There is something to be said about a group of legislators that aren't obsessed with pandering to the likes of Enron, Exxon and Glenn Beck, and are hopefully more educated than the constituency, and truly have time to ponder meaningful change in a country's course. But being there for life?

There's got to be a middle ground in all of this....

Posted by evensongjunkie (formerly cbfh) at Friday, 12 March 2010 at 1:59pm GMT

sorry if I wasn't clear. The Lords Temporal are there until they die (perhaps, unless the cleaners notice, even beyond then sometimes), the Lords Spiritual leave at 70 at the latest, although brain death seems to be no barrier to continuing in office.

Posted by toby forward at Friday, 12 March 2010 at 5:00pm GMT

Rod, I"m not familiar with the proposals. Are they online anywhere?

Posted by Malcolm+ at Saturday, 13 March 2010 at 1:27am GMT

Malcolm, there is an article on The Journal site, but it is a fuzzy article. The byline is that the Task Group is "not keen to change primacy model" i.e. move the primacy office back into a sitting diocesan bishop like days of yore, but then when you read the article, clearly there is a plan to entrench the "expectation" that the Primate be in dioceses. Its the slippery slope argument. Once you increase the role and profile of an office, authority is not far behind. The office of General Secretary of GS seems to have become much less of a national profile than it was during the previous Primate, add to this the suggestion that the Primate be empowered to speak "prophetically" which raises questions about the role of General Synod and CoGS, and there is the making of a more hierarchical Primacy. However, one would need to see the specific changes being proposed to the Primacy Canon.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 13 March 2010 at 2:05pm GMT

The clowns in the US Senate (as I inelegantly called them) by virtue of being there, attract huge lobbyist and other money. It is very hard to remove a sitting senator unless they are conspicuously incompetent or corrupt. Boxer is far to the left of the average Californian, as was Kennedy in Massachusetts, proved (perhaps) by the election of a Republican when Ted Kennedy finally left for another place (not sure it was Heaven). Same thing can be said for right wing Republicans, and even for moderates (Feinstein, who is a very good senator.) So I would warn my fellow Thinking Anglicans that there is no easy answer for the House of Lords. The current system of appointment of the pals of the Prime Minister cannot be better than Bishops.

Posted by Andrew at Monday, 15 March 2010 at 10:58am GMT

To whom it may concern:
It is very unfortunate, in my belief, that a large majority of persons feel that an elected House of Lords is a constitutional neccessity, or will serve a better purpose than the Lords do at present. Many seem to forget the point and purpose of the Lords - it is to be an independent, impartial, expert, and meticulous check on Government legislation. What Mr. Blair and his colleagues did in 1999 goes against all parliamentary logic. The removal of many lay peers in the pursuit of "democracy" is unfounded and without substance. In its place, the Lords is now a breeding ground for ex-politicians to stick around the corridors of Westminster through the Life Peerage Act, which I think should be ridden of. The Lords Appointments Commission is perhaps the most full-proof method as it embodies the essence of democracy, where persons are plucked from a variety of society's professions and give expert contributions to the House and that reflects well in the sort of legislation to be passed. Lay peers, too, should not be banished from the House as their educated expertise is vital to the basis of good and thorough scrutiny. I wish such open-minded and conscious decision making could take form in my country's upper house, Seanad Eireann, where all but six members are chosen by MPs and the prime minister, essentially making it a party-political chamber. The entire purpose of the Lords is to, as I have said, give clear and expert criticism of Government proposals. Peers are not obligated under any circumstance, even if they are party members, to vote on a party line as they have tenure, and that tenure is service for life without any political pressure or fear of removal. I cannot, therfore, support any measure of popular election to the House of Lords.

Posted by Anthony Hughes at Friday, 28 May 2010 at 1:28am BST

Step One:
Retain current arrangements for Hereditaries and Bishops. Automatically grant a life-peerage to all members of the supreme court ; who become entitled to sit in the Lords (as ‘Law Lords’) upon their retirement from the court.
Step Two:
A Bill placing a limit on the total number of peers there can be (whether sitting in the Lords or not), at any one time. I suggest 1750 people.
Step Three:
The Life Peers to select 25% of their numbers to sit in the Lords (the remaining 'pool' of Life Peers could, like the pool of Hereditaries, be voted back into the chamber, upon the death of a sitting Life Peer).
Step Four:
100 New Category Peers, selected entirely at random, maybe by a form of national lottery, phased in 20 per year. Replaced one at a time, on the death of one of their number.

Posted by Matt at Tuesday, 8 June 2010 at 2:53pm BST
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