Arguments against an elected Lords

One argument against an elected second chamber is the danger that it could become a ‘mirror image’ of the Commons. People would be likely to vote along their usual party lines, meaning that Lords would have to focus on political tactics to get elected, such as charisma, rather than expertise. Many current Lords are human rights experts (which has been very significant in relation to the Human Rights Act) or other examples of the growing ‘professionalism’ of the chamber, but these people would be less likely to stand for election or be successful. However, the fact that unelected people can decide on fundamental principles like human rights undermines Britain’s claim to be a modern democracy.

Voting for peers could also result in voter fatigue. Lots of evidence shows that the UK public is already disillusioned with the political system – namely the turnout of significant elections, such as 65.1% in the UK in the 2010 general election. It therefore seems likely that Lords elections would go the same way as those of police prime commissioners – under 15% nationwide in 2012. However, the fact that such an important body is not democratically elected arguably contributes to apathy.

Another argument against an elected Lords is that proportional representation – the system most likely to be used, as that was the one suggested in Clegg’s 2012 House of Lords Reform draft bill – could lead to instability, as it would be likely that no party would achieve a majority. This increase in adversarial politics in the chamber could prevent legislation ever being passed. As in the USA, gridlock could be a common occurrence, and the governing party would not be able to fulfil their manifesto commitments. Moreover, the fact that 67% of the turnout voted against the imposition of AV in general elections in 2011 suggests that the public do not want a different electoral system, and so imposing one would not enhance democracy. However, proportional representation would be likely to increase the quality of electoral representation, by avoiding problems created by FPTP such as electoral deserts.

An elected second chamber could also lose power to hold the executive to account, because peers would be subject to the same dominance as the Commons. As Lords cannot currently be dismissed except for ‘major misconduct’, they do not have to worry about government officials ‘withdrawing the whip’ – essentially, they do not have to toe the party line in order to keep their jobs. They can therefore oppose government decisions. For example, in 2007, the Lords forced huge amendments to government plans for more casinos – a proposal that had narrowly passed through the Commons, because of its Labour majority. Instead, Lords can focus on protecting the rights of civilians without political interference. However, there are currently restrictions on their power that could be lifted if it was elected, such as the 1949 Parliament Act’s ruling that it can only delay the passage of legislation for one year.

Overall, there are certainly a number of valid criticisms for creating an elected second chamber. However, most of these issues seem to stem from the fact that the Lords could then encounter the same problems as the Commons. The ultimate issue, therefore, seems to be that the executive would dominate both. Perhaps then a complete reform of the electoral system for all bodies could resolve these problems.

Maya Tikly-Young


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