I am always amazed, but no longer surprised, by how any critical story affecting Parliament is used by some to claim it makes the case for an elected second chamber. Take the scandal over parliamentary expenses. Some people said this made the case for an elected second chamber. What? It is not clear why another body of elected politicians will solve the problem. The way to deal with it is to reform or abolish the existing system of expenses.
We now have another batch of peers created, leading to a very real problem of a large House. Again we have some saying this makes the case for moving to an elected House. No it doesn’t. It makes the case for reducing the size of the existing House. The argument is essentially a practical one, unrelated to the issue of principle that should determine any fundamental change to the nature of the second chamber.
One of the points I made in the debate on the Queen’s Speech last Thursday, drawing on a post on my blog, is that reform of the House must derive from first principles. We need to be clear as to what we expect of Parliament in our political system and therefore the role and relationship of the two Houses and their relationship to the other elements of our political system. Once we know what we expect of the second chamber as an integral part of our constitutional arrangements, then and only then can we start to determine the composition best suited to the fulfilment of that role.
In the meantime, we should not be distracted by pet schemes for deciding the composition of the Lords (x percent elected, x proportion chosen by this and that body) – generated often by people who mistakenly think they have come up with some novel scheme – and instead get down to the hard task of thinking about what we actually expect of our political system.