Politics

Reform the Lords – along with the rest of politics

Last week I was persuaded by the engaging Giles Dilnot to be interviewed for the Daily Politics on Lords Reform. His report rightly pointed out what a stuck record this is, and one I have normally avoided as a huge waste of time. However I have lately been wondering about more radical political reform, including the Lords, and thought I had better explain the context of what I said on camera.

The Lords currently do a pretty good job of using expertise and experience to improve legislation. It is impossible to justify Parliamentarians being appointed for life, but any reform to fix this grotesque anachronism must also improve its function. Electing the Lords would simply create a rival elected chamber to the Commons and would not provide a politically independent improving secondary chamber.

These are the tried and tested arguments for the status quo. But the status quo should not be an option either.

The sense of disillusionment amongst my non-political friends and anyone else I talk to about politics has never been greater. Election results and polling show a total lack of faith in politicians. Protest parties do well as electors struggle to see much to choose between the main parties as they squabble over the middle ground. Meanwhile in Westminster few believe their own party will do well at next year's elections.

The answer to this wholesale disillusion is not simply to reform the Lords. The answer is to go back to what Parliament is for and see how reform of the executive, of representation and of the legislature can help re-engage the public.
 
We need a government to make executive decisions on our behalf. Currently we vote every five years, always on a Thursday, with a pen and paper in an often unfamiliar community centre in our neighbourhood. That vote is not directly for the the leader of the government. It is for our local representative who is then one of 650 that decides who forms the Government.
 
This is absurd and confuses representation and executive power. Most people voting for their MP are thinking more about who they want as Prime Minister rather than who they want representing them in Parliament. We should end that confusion and allow people to directly elect the PM.
 
The PM should then be allowed to choose ministers from beyond the talent pool of Parliament. Take the executive out of Parliament but retain the harsh accountability to Parliament. Representatives will then do their job and legislate freer of the patronage and pressure of Government whips. The Government would legislate less and focus on more competent decisions, co-ordination and delivery.
 
Most important this change would allow for enhanced representation. Our Parliament is unusually dominated by the Government, especially the legislative programme. Our representatives should be freer to run campaigns and then legislate in their own name. In this Parliament we should have had a Creasy bill in payday loans or a Perry Bill on online safety. Instead Stella Creasy and Clare Perry are dependent on how they manoeuvre the executive to change the law.
 
A reinvigorated representative function could help spark political re-engagement. And where would that leave the Lords?
 
If we legislate less and free up the Commons to spend more time on law making, then we need an improving second chamber less. I believe we could then move to use collaborative online tools to ask the public to use their expertise to improve law as it is made. Or we could use citizens juries to do the same.
 
The Commons must still be the primary chamber. They should continue to overrule the second chamber, but make that a second chamber of the public. Why shouldn't the amending phase be a combination of wiki legislation and a citizen jury that hears evidence and then agrees amendments. Each bill would have it's own jury informed by a transparent online process.
 
The vested interests in Parliament are very unlikely to agree. And of course I am being provocative. But I am absolutely sure that we will only re-engage the public if the the whole political process is reformed and welcome other ideas that want better processes for the executive, representative and legislative functions of Parliament. Get that right and then we solve the enduring conundrum of Lords Reform.
Standard