Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Unelected House of Lords

As all conservatives should, I support an unelected House of Lords.  There is absolutely no need for an elected second chamber in this country.  I will explain why in a short article.

Supporters of an elected second chamber point out that the United States has two elected chambers, the House of Representatives, and the Senate.  This is true, but they also have an elected head of state, who is the President.  Our head of state is unelected (a virtue in itself, because it can be a role that unites the country around one figurehead rather than a partisan figure with 35% support).  There is a clear division of responsibility in Congress and in Parliament.  The House of Lords is not a legislative chamber.  It is a revising chamber.  The Senate can propose legislation which can be passed into law.  That power is vested in the House of Commons in Britain. 

I would of course take the power away from political parties to appoint peers.  That task should be performed by an independent body, and party strength should be based on vote shares rather than constituency numbers.  There should also be an extension of the crossbench peerage.  Expertise defines the House of Lords.  How many revising chambers around the world can boast former military generals, Nobel scientists, former foreign secretaries, home secretaries and Chancellors?  There are charity workers, ex teachers and nurses, doctors and scientists.  There are many renowned economists e.g. Lord Desai, Lord Eatwell, Lord Skidelsky etc.  There are many prominent businessmen such as Lord Sugar and Lord Digby Jones.  Harold MacMillan once said ''we have not overthrown the divine right of Kings to be replaced by the divine right of experts.''  He was right, however, because the Lords is not a legislative chamber, we will not be ruled by the divine right of experts. 

I also believe that the hereditary peers should be reintroduced.  It was a pointless and vindictive act to remove these old men from the chamber.  Public service and noblesse oblige run through the veins of these men, and has done for centuries.  They don't get paid, and as I've said before, they don't propose legislation but amend it.  The Salisbury convention is a sensible rule devised by the Marquess of Salisbury after the 1945 general election, which enabled the Labour Party to pass its manifesto legislation through the House of Lords.  Roger Scruton once wrote that the hereditary peerage is much more democratic than the life peerage because it is completely random.  Lloyd George once quipped that the House of Lords was composed of ''five hundred men chosen at random from the ranks of the unemployed.''  He hilariously had a point.  They are chosen at random, an accident of birth.  Political appointees tend to be toadies.  Conservatives believe that human nature is fallible.  I am forever referring to Roger Scruton as he is probably the most intelligent man alive in Britain today.  He wrote a book called the Uses of Pessimism.  We are conservatives because we are pessimistic.  Human nature is not infallible, and therefore we should bow and pay lip service to the wisdom of established institutions and practices.  The House of Lords was a perfect example of that.  Despite the inbuilt Conservative majority, it was as rebellious with Margaret Thatcher as it was with any Labour government.  Perhaps that's why the elected politicians despised it so much.  It was proudly independent.  It remains a paradox of modern politics that it is the unelected chamber that protects us from the authoritarian legislation that emanates from the Commons these days, as ministers bow to the pressure of Murdoch and Dacre. 

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