This is the third part of my article on Lords reform and follows from the two below. Read this and then prepare yourself in body and soul for the last terrifying instalment!
This brings me to the critically important issue of the scrutiny of legislation. Select Committees in the Commons do a good job on ministerial departments but on Bills, which become the final laws, the Commons scrutiny is superficial. Most admit that the Lords do an excellent job of subjecting our legislation to detailed analysis – far better than the Commons. Who is going to do this in future if it is not the Lords?
The pressure on MPs is far greater than on Lords. We underestimate just how hard MPs work and how they are torn between conflicting pressures. Many of the amendments made in the Lords are accepted because they improve the legislation and because the Commons want them. If the second chamber is elected are we sure that good scrutiny will still take place? Elected members of a second chamber will have similar pressures to MPs. Would not an elected second chamber become a carbon copy of the Commons?
Only now is the Government beginning to address the question of deadlock between the two Houses. Critics of the present House will say other countries manage without gridlock so why can’t we? Well, we could IF we wrote a constitution – starting virtually from scratch. Consider the implications. You would need to write down the powers and responsibilities of the two Houses. If the Lords is to be only partially elected what is the relationship between elected and unelected members? If wholly elected you would have to remove the unelected Bishops and that means you would have to write a new relationship between church and state and the monarchy. All of this is perfectly possible but is it sensible? Rewriting large parts of our constitution would be a major legislative programme no doubt fought line by line in both Houses. A government that followed that route would find the rest of its legislation grinding to a halt. Any opposition Party worth the name would have a field day. And if the electorate don’t want it and the country doesn’t need it, why do it?