Here's how I believe one should think about House of Lords reform, and my proposals for what to do. I believe that the correct sequence is to consider: Purpose; Powers; Membership.
I assert that the proper purpose of a Second Chamber is to provide an additional, different perspective on (certain forms of) legislation. This has much the same kind of value that an additional, different perspective has in many other spheres of life, whether writing a novel or producing a mathematical proof or designing a new kind of dress. We produce the idea thinking about it from one angle, and then test the idea (prove its value, in the old sense of "prove") by seeing whether it stands up to scrutiny from another perspective. Such an additional perspective challenges the rationale, identifies flaws in the proposed implementation, hones and improves.
I shall come on to membership later, but I observe, straight away, that it follows almost immediately from accepting my proposed purpose of a Second Chamber that, at least in the UK context, it should not be elected. In countries with federal structures, the different perspective of the Second Chamber is provided by the distinction between representatives of local areas and representatives of the states of the federation. But in the UK we do not have (and do not want) a federal structure. So there is no candidate for the state perspective. Consequently, an elected Second Chamber could not provide an additional, different perspective. All it could provide would be the same, elected perspective, with slightly different individuals involved. That would simply mean two elected bodies competing – totally pointless.
The current Second Chamber, the House of Lords, is a revise-and-delay chamber. It can propose revisions, but cannot impose them. All it can do is to delay introduction of the original measure.
Most discussions of Reform proceed from the assumption that a reformed Second Chamber would have the same revise-and-delay role of the House of Lords. That would, of course, be one option, but by no means the only one. If the Second Chamber were to be democratically elected, then I don't see why it should have powers different from the First Chamber (the Commons – presumably then renamed, since there would be two "Commons" chambers). What would make the Lower Chamber the more authentic reflection of the public will than the Upper Chamber?
I believe that the correct distinction is that the Democractic Chamber (the Commons) should have responsibility for the raising and spending of money – since representative democracy came into being in the UK precisely in order to provide consent and oversight to taxation - whilst the non-Democractic Chamber should have equal powers in respect of everything else. The struggles between Commons and Lords in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were not about whether the Lords should have a role in determining appropriate punishments for crimes, for example. Most matters that do not concern taxation or spending of taxes are not uniquely well-suited to democratic input – i.e. there is no particular reason why the democratic will alone should be decisive. For example, I see no reason why either the majority verdict or other democratic algorithm alone should determine whether there is a death penalty, whether an abortion is murder, whether homosexuality should be legal, whether fox-hunting should be legal, which drugs should be permitted to be sold online as opposed to in shops, what chemicals should be permitted in toys, whether single vaccines should be permitted and mixed forbidden, whether a contact is in place when hands are shaken or only when a piece of paper is signed, or many other such issues. I propose that the Second Chamber should have no power whatever to consider bills that concern taxation or spending of taxes, but equal power with the Commons concerning all other legislation.
(In addition to the above powers on legislation, I propose that it should be for the Second Chamber to select the monarch on the death of the previous monarch, as with the witan or the college of cardinals. However, that is a complex and controversial subject of its own, which I shan't explore further here as I do not believe that my other arguments depend upon it and I do not wish to distract from the main thrust of my case.)
It follows straightforwardly from the purpose of the Second Chamber that it should not be elected. But if not elected, what else is there? There are many candidate options, including:
- appointment (e.g. as with life peers, or one could have term appointments – i.e. one were appointed for, say, ten years)
- professional delegation (e.g. the TUC or individual unions might send some delegates, the CBI others, the BMA others, and so on with the National Trust, the WWF, and so on)
- representation in proportion to religious observation (e.g. representatives of the Church of England, Sunni Islam, Catholics, Shia Islam, Hindus, Buddhists, Humanists, Raelians, and so on, in proportion to these groups' numbers of regular attendees)
- technical delegation (e.g. lawyers and scientists and economists, delegated by their representative bodies)
- lotteries (e.g. as with jury service, there could be a cycle of obligatory attendance)
- hereditary (e.g. one could appoint certain families to raise children to participate)
And of course there are many other non-democratic (and hence potentially useful) ways one could select members. Here is my proposal.
- Between 400 and 600 members. I shall run the numbers below assuming 600 members. Just scale down if the smaller chamber is preferred.
- I propose that half the members (300) should be selected randomly. It would be better if randomly-selected members knew their random selection from an early enough date to prepare for the role. Thus I would prefer hereditary – probably with new hereditary families. But I suspect that would be so controversial as to derail the whole scheme, and it is more important that there be random membership than whether people are prepared. So I propose that half the members be selected by lot, as with jury service. If you are selected for Second Chamber service, you must serve there for six months. I suggest that there is overlapping turnover – so, each month one sixth of the membership leaves to be replace by a new set. Hopefully, after a while people would see the benefits of expertise, responsibility and obligation being bred from an early stage, and so hereditary would once again be feasible. But a jury-style (or Athenian-style) component to the chamber would be a good base.
- One third (200) should be professional delegates. A Royal Commission should determine the ratios and delegating power of the relevant professional bodies. I believe that these should be delegates, not representatives, in the sense that they are delegated to vote in particular ways required by those that send them, as opposed to being representatives in the Burkean sense (once chosen, a representative exercises her own judgement). They would be changed whenever the delegating body wanted to change them (subject to its rules allowing).
- Between one twentieth and one twelfth (30-50) should be technical delegates or term appointees (e.g. for ten years), chosen to offer particular technical expertise and perspective on legal, economic, scientific, environmental, philosophical, or other relevant issues.
- The rest (50-70) should be religious representatives.
This proposed breakdown of Second Chamber membership provides a clearly different perspective from voting, and thus addresses the purpose of the Second Chamber in a way that elections would not. The mix of members should also be well-placed to contribute usefully on the issues other than the raising and spending of taxes that it would be the function of the Second Chamber to contribute equally towards.
Perhaps there are other, superior, non-democratic schemes for the Second Chamber to this. If so, I would be eager to see them. The current debate has, for far too long, focused on the pointless and destructive idea that the Second Chamber should be elected. We need to get past that and move on.