This section deals with another problem associated with the Government draft Bill. It follows on from my post below.
I agreed to go to the Lords in 2005 and I remember going in for the first time and seeing a line of wheel chairs plugged in to charging points – and the debate was on assisted dying! Had I made the mistake of my life? Well, yes I thought I had – but experience has given me a different perspective. For a start those wheel chairs tell you something rather important about how different the Lords is from the Commons. It is far more representative than the Commons of people with major disabilities. Also of ethnic minorities. Tony Blair appointed the first black leader of the House of Lords – Valerie Amos. It is as representative as the Commons for women but less representative on age and geography. One advantage of an appointed chamber is that with the right appointments system you can get representation for groups who would otherwise find it difficult to get heard.
The quality of debates in the Lords is very high. Quality of debate can be very high in the Commons too but it is bound to be more gladiatorial – it is the cockpit of the nation’s politics and you can’t take the strong emotions out of politics. Appointment means you have some real experts in the Lords who would be unlikely to stand for election to the Commons. This is a double edged sword. Experts tend to attend the debates that they are expert in – but the Lords debates the whole range of government policy and general political policy and their expertise is no advantage there. This is one of the arguments that send supporters of an elected chamber straight to the case for election. Who do you represent if you are appointed and why should being an expert in one field allow you to legislate on all other fields? Surely everyone who legislates should be elected?
Well, not necessarily. I don’t rely on the fact that a number of countries have unelected chambers – that’s interesting but doesn’t make the case. It is important to remember that everything the House of Lords does can be overturned in the Commons. The House of Lords cannot legislate without the final approval of the Commons. Quite rightly the elected chamber has a veto. The Lords does of course exercise great influence, but so do civil servants who have far more influence than most of us readily admit.
To be continued…