The Lords is on a Path to Failure: This is How We Fix it | Henry Lloyd
I have long deplored the way that the House of Lords currently functions. It is undeniably bloated, completely unrepresentative, and the Life Peerages Act, of 1958 causing such a growing issue within the house, exemplified by Boris Johnsons recent announcement to increase the number of Lords by a further 30 appointments.
After much consideration about the best way to approach a reform to the Lords under a Conservative government, I believe, in regards to peerages, as well as the lords itself, there are four key points which need to be considered for change, that will retain our history and tradition of heraldry and custom, while bringing it into the light.
In the next decade we will see the increasing scrutiny on to the politicians running our society, and the idea that half a branch of our parliamentary democracy is not democratically elected will further fall into the conversation as a negative factor of our society, and at some point, if we don’t change it, we will lose the House of Lords, and centuries of British tradition, for good, to be most likely replaced with some kind of Senate, which just the thought of makes me grimace.
By making the House of Lords electorally representative of the people, we reduce the risk of a complete upheaval of government in future. By reforming the Lords now, we can stop someone else from doing it the improper way.
My concept for the House of Lords reform is fairly simple, and it also helps to reduce the size of the Lords as an institution altogether, relieving the apparent burden on the taxpayer by having a way of not including Lords who do not actively contribute to Parliament, and now is the time to begin an active conversation on this matter, as no doubt, it will take years to form out into an official plan.
The opening part of my reform would be to establish a 150-seat selection of crossbench peers, who choose to serve for life, or until they decide to retire from the Lords.
These can include any number of life or hereditary peers from the current composition of the Lords but will not allow more crossbench hereditary peers who are currently not in the House to join.
When space opens up in the crossbench peer division of the House, it will be down to the government of the time to fill that role with a non-partisan Lord, either through the creation of a life peer, or selection of a currently unseated life or hereditary peer. Should a crossbench peer decide to join a political party, they must forfeit their place in the crossbench division of the House.
The secondary part of my reform would consist of 500 seats that are elected through purely proportional representation, which is taken from the percentage of vote acquired by political parties in general elections. It would function by political parties drawing up a list of preference of life and hereditary peers to be selected for their party at an election and the resulting percentage won would dictate the number of seats given to a party, so long as they broke the 1% vote margin required to win a seat. This would also remove the need for the 92 hereditary peers rule, as they are as a result proportionally elected, if they are successfully selected by a party, and included in an election victory, it will allow greater freedom of political ambition to holders of ancestral titles across the country, of which currently only 92 of the 814 peers can currently access. Some of our greatest politicians post-war were members of the Lords, such as Halifax, Salisbury and Home.
An example of this in practice from the 2019 General Election would be the Conservatives winning 43.6% in the last general election, of the popular vote, this would translate into 227 seats in the House of Lords, compared to Labour’s 167, the Liberal Demomcrats’ 60, SNP 20, and so forth.
As someone who is also greatly intrigued by aristocratic history, when it comes to the creation of titles, I believe that the ideal solution would be to encourage the creation of new hereditary peerages, not only to give administrations more consideration to who they make peers, but also to encourage the commemoration of profound acts of service to the nation and her people, for the recipient, and their dynasties. In the last 50 years, we have seen fewer and fewer hereditary peerages created, due to the introduction of the life peerage, the last being for Harold MacMillan in 1984, and the last hereditary Baronetcy for Dennis Thatcher in 1990, in effect in the place of Margaret, who herself as a woman, could not be created a hereditary title under current British law. I feel that the two should be able to co-exist alongside one another, as hereditary peerages serve as a reminder to not only our past but also in the future, to our history today, denoting great actions of individuals and a reward that can be passed down for generations to come.
My issue with the creation of the Barontecy of Dennis Thatcher in 1990, is why we should also change the titular succession in the UK, of hereditary peerages, with absolute primogeniture instated, however without disruption to existing lines of succession, unless there is currently no valid male heir. This would bring the system into line with that of the system of royal succession, which has since been changed to reflect the modern era of gender balance and equality. An option to also opt-out of titular inheritance should be formed as an official process, should a son or daughter not wish to inherit the titles of their parent, or a child due to inherit a peerage, who also serves in the House of Commons, not wished to be displaced, which was one of the reasons why Winston Churchill turned down the offer to be created a Duke in 1955, so not to effect the careers of his descendants. This was passed in the Commons a number of years ago through a private members bill, however, was rejected by the Lords at its first reading. The reform, I believe, should also introduce the levelling of equivalent titles for male spouses, such as the system implemented by other European nations. As an example, this would allow the husband of a Countess to be styled Earl Consort, levelling the gender inadequacies in the current titular system. This would also apply to the husband of a female monarch, with him being styled, King Consort. With both Prince Phillip and Prince Albert, only being styled Prince Consort, due to their foreign nationality.
While this topic is considered a niche in British politics, there will come a time when pressure will rather quickly fall onto the government to change how the Lords are run, and I believe that through the proposals I have outlined here, or a plan that is somewhat similar, we can avoid the destruction of the most historic part of our parliament, while actually making fully democratic and accountable at the same time, which the outtakes from the Russia report, when focused on, may force us to do.
Of course, there are loopholes, missed elements, and very debatable points, however I believe it is comprehensive enough to at least trigger some thought on the matter.
Photo by Ann Longmore-Etheridge on Flickr.