Like many people, I think that the House of Lords needs to change, but struggle with the inconvenient fact that it seems to work rather well and has a good record on defending civil liberties.
The House of Lords is too large and has some glaring anomalies, but it also contains a breadth of knowledge and experience that will be lost if we move to a wholly or largely elected second chamber.
For a party that claims to have waited 100 years to reform the House of Lords, the Liberal Democrat plan looks remarkably like something that has been quickly jotted on the back of a fag packet.
I reckon I could do better. So here is my proposal for dealing with the most pressing issues, whilst avoiding throwing out the baby with the bath water:
- All MPs to stop comparing the UK to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain.
- Peers who have been convicted of a criminal offence lose their seats in the same way that they would if they were members of the House of Commons.
- Peers able to resign their seats at any age.
- Invite people to retire or resign.
Once you’ve cleared out the crooks and the people who want to resign or retire have done so, divi up reduced number of seats amongst existing members according to a formula e.g.:
- Main parties to choose amongst their own members.
- “Others” to choose within their group, but keep the same mix of parties as at present (DUP, Plaid Cymru etc.)
- Crossbenchers to choose within the crossbench group.
- Remove the hereditary peerages (but former hereditaries can be selected to continue as ordinary members e.g. if they are doing a good job).
- Bishops not to be members of the House of Lords ex-officio
(but can go into the Crossbench pool and be selected to continue as ordinary members.)
Stage 3 (Optional)
- Ditch the fancy robes.
- Change or simplify the titles (but bear in mind the cost of doing so).
Wait for the results of the referendum on Scottish Independence before making any more changes.
Image : embroidered portcullis – detail from Henry VIII’s funeral pall (on display at The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)