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Published on January 17th, 2012 | by Saira Khan
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="350" caption="Demonstrators outside Houses of Parliament, August 10th 2011, James Graham ©"][/caption] In the wake of the disastrous AV referendum, Nick Clegg decided his political redemption could be found in another effort to create a more democratic Britain; reforming the House of Lords. His initial draft sought the reduction of the Lords membership from 789 to 300 by 2015, all of which would be full-time members, serving single 15-year terms, and elected by proportional representation. Under Tory pressure, Clegg agreed to reduce the elected membership to 80%. Many Tories see this reform as time-consuming, irrelevant and likely to follow the same course as the AV referendum. In early January, a joint committee of MPs and peers amended Clegg’s white paper to a membership of 450 part-time Lords. This, they claimed, would retain enough independent cross-bench members as well as allowing them time to brush up on their areas of expertise. Currently, Lords are appointed by the monarch – on the advice of the PM – or by inherited membership. Lords retain membership for life and are generally more independent-minded than MPs, who can be whipped into their partisan lines. The majority of Lords can vote to amend or oppose bills from the Commons, but ultimately, cannot veto them. This power was relinquished under David Lloyd George’s Parliament Act of 1911. The House of Lords scrutinise bills and can request that the first chamber re-think their proposals three times. This does not seem a superfluous amount of power. So who is in the right; Clegg or the constitution? The positive side of an elected second chamber would be, foremost, its democratic value. The UK and Canada are currently the only two countries in the world with unelected second chambers. Furthermore, more people may have the opportunity to stand for a position in Parliament; giving the people greater representation. On the other hand, this change would mean the supremacy of the Commons is subverted. Moreover, the House of Lords would likely become a House of political professionals who know how to get elected as opposed to a group of people with specific expertise. There is also the issue of how often elections should take place and the additional costs entailed in this venture. So is a partly elected chamber the answer? This would maintain the democratic supremacy of the Commons and would appear more straight-forward than seeking a fully elected chamber. Whilst it may seem that this option offers the best of both; a somewhat democratic Government as well as the expertise needed to appraise Commons bills, it does have its fair share of problems. Firstly, a partly elected House of Lords would result in a two-tiered system, causing friction between those members appointed and those elected. Secondly, there would be confusion about where power should, and does, lie. Thirdly, partly elected is, in actuality, no more democratic than an appointed chamber, but would appease Mr Clegg nonetheless.

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Clegg or the constitution?

Demonstrators outside Houses of Parliament, August 10th 2011, James Graham ©

In the wake of the disastrous AV referendum, Nick Clegg decided his political redemption could be found in another effort to create a more democratic Britain; reforming the House of Lords. His initial draft sought the reduction of the Lords membership from 789 to 300 by 2015, all of which would be full-time members, serving single 15-year terms, and elected by proportional representation. Under Tory pressure, Clegg agreed to reduce the elected membership to 80%.

Many Tories see this reform as time-consuming, irrelevant and likely to follow the same course as the AV referendum. In early January, a joint committee of MPs and peers amended Clegg’s white paper to a membership of 450 part-time Lords. This, they claimed, would retain enough independent cross-bench members as well as allowing them time to brush up on their areas of expertise.

Currently, Lords are appointed by the monarch – on the advice of the PM – or by inherited membership. Lords retain membership for life and are generally more independent-minded than MPs, who can be whipped into their partisan lines. The majority of Lords can vote to amend or oppose bills from the Commons, but ultimately, cannot veto them. This power was relinquished under David Lloyd George’s Parliament Act of 1911. The House of Lords scrutinise bills and can request that the first chamber re-think their proposals three times. This does not seem a superfluous amount of power. So who is in the right; Clegg or the constitution?

The positive side of an elected second chamber would be, foremost, its democratic value. The UK and Canada are currently the only two countries in the world with unelected second chambers. Furthermore, more people may have the opportunity to stand for a position in Parliament; giving the people greater representation.

On the other hand, this change would mean the supremacy of the Commons is subverted. Moreover, the House of Lords would likely become a House of political professionals who know how to get elected as opposed to a group of people with specific expertise. There is also the issue of how often elections should take place and the additional costs entailed in this venture.

So is a partly elected chamber the answer? This would maintain the democratic supremacy of the Commons and would appear more straight-forward than seeking a fully elected chamber. Whilst it may seem that this option offers the best of both; a somewhat democratic Government as well as the expertise needed to appraise Commons bills, it does have its fair share of problems. Firstly, a partly elected House of Lords would result in a two-tiered system, causing friction between those members appointed and those elected. Secondly, there would be confusion about where power should, and does, lie. Thirdly, partly elected is, in actuality, no more democratic than an appointed chamber, but would appease Mr Clegg nonetheless.

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