Cllr Peter Golds is leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets.
The House of Lords is yet another elephant trap left by Tony Blair – and now it is damaging the Conservative Party.
Consider the current situation. Once the historic peerage was excluded, why did it continue to be called the House of Lords, when it is not? It is now an appointed second chamber. For millions of our fellow citizens who do not follow constitutional matters there probably remains a perception that the Lords is where the current Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey goes when in London.
That those briefing Andrew Marr when the Lord Sewel story broke the weekend before last apparently told him that the ignoble Lord was ‘a Tory’, and Marr repeated this on TV, indicates an aspect of the problem.
As a first stage the current edifice should be renamed the Senate, members should be called senators. Existing life peers would be referred to as Senator Lord Sewer, or whatever, and new members would have no noble title.
Eventually the historic peerage will be the only remaining Lords, but they will not be part of the legislative process.
Most nations have an upper house of parliament. Some are directly elected, some indirectly elected and some consisting of appointed members. There are legal arrangements in place as to exactly what are the powers of the upper house, almost always described as a senate.
Looking at different parliamentary systems of governance, in both Australia and Italy the Senate is directly elected. In Germany the upper house or Bundesrat consists of members nominated by the Lander after each Land election.
In France, which is a hybrid system of parliamentary and presidential governance, the senate is indirectly elected by caucuses of local elected officials.
My view is that the British Senate should be indirectly elected similar to the French Senate.
The Senate should have powers of recommendation and review of legislation but no more. It should have powerful investigative committees. Yes, it would be permanently balanced but there would be interesting representation including UKIP and probably genuine independents.
A reduced Bishops bench could remain, as should the Chief Justice and other senior law lords, but only for their term of office. The House of Commons could appoint a small number of members for the life of the Parliament, but only with a strict political balance.
Based on the French model, during the period of each parliament an electoral college of locally elected representatives for each county or region would vote following their election on a number of senators for their area, based on the votes cast for each party at that election in that region. This would take place in segments over the five year parliament with Senators being renewed every four years as their respective regional elections take place.
The size would be legislated for based on the electorate of each/county region and equal to about half of the Commons, 300 or thereabouts. There would be no dual mandate, so the urge of councillors to include themselves would be resisted.
Such a rotation might look something like this:
- 2014 was the all-out London local election and therefore in June 2014 London councillors would vote for 33 Senators, whose term would run until 2018.
- 2016 elections take place to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and the Northern Ireland Assembly and so they would elect an appropriate number of Senators, whose term would run until 2020.
- 2017 is county election year when the shire counties and districts would elect Senators, whose term would run to 2021.
- 2018 could be allocated to the Metropolitan counties for their election of senators, whose term would run until 2022.
The first operative year would include electing a full house of senators, after which rotation would commence.
Currently, why on earth should the Director General of the Royal Opera House (now Director General of the BBC) have a seat in Parliament? Or former permanent secretaries and retired European officials? Or many others who sit there – some (such as Baroness Uddin and Lord Hanningfield, to name but two) remaining simply because they have no shame?
Other nations function without their parliament being stuffed full of former officials, the rejected and the retired. There are enough institutions, think tanks and media outlets for them to have their say without needing to be part of the legislature.
The simplest solutions are often the best and what I have outlined is simple, obvious and a break with the past.