Saturday 8 April 2006

Hereditary Peers

[In circulation on Left and Right]

I had always opposed an elected second chamber, since I believed that, with both (and it must be both) an American-style committee system and an Australian-style caucus system, the House of Commons would be compelled to do its very well-paid job properly, and there would thus be no need of a second chamber (although the chamber itself could continue to be used for ceremonial purposes). I still believe that both committees and caucuses of this kind should be introduced.
However, I have come to see the wisdom of the Old Labour view that the House of Lords should either be left as it is (doing "no harm, and occasionally some good"), or else replaced with a proper Senate, an elected second chamber, not previously high on any list of priorities, but now rendered necessary, both by those scandals, and by the ill-thought-out dismemberment of the House of Lords in order to give the illusion (as with the hunting ban, for example) of a Labour Government doing Labour things, when in fact such a measure had no impact whatever on the fight against poverty, ignorance, ill-health, squalor and homelessness, unemployment, crime, and war, since anything having such an impact would cost money.
Not least because the scandals have come from the BBC-defined "centre" (which in fact has little or no popular following), it is to be hoped that a common scheme will be produced by those seeking a prelude to further co-operation on, for a start, the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, and opposition to further "neoconservative" wars.
To that end, I suggest that registered voters in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and each of the nine English regions elect from among their own number 15 Senators per area (180 in all), for a six-year term: three from each of List A, List B, List C, List D and List E. List A would be the top five candidates in a ballot of all members of the Labour Party (or its designated sister-party in Northern Ireland) in the area, List B the same for the Conservatives (likewise), and List C for the Liberal Democrats (likewise). List D would be the five members of other political parties who secured the most nominations by registered voters in the area, and List E would be the five members of no political party who so secured.
The five lists would be put to the whole electorate in the area, and each voter would vote (by mean of an X) for up to one candidate from each list, with the top three from each list declared elected at the end. I predict 11 members or supporters of the Campaign Group from List A, 11 members or supporters of the Cornerstone Group from List B, 11 or more people from List D who thought of themselves as Marxists but would really work very well with the Labour Left and sections of the Liberal Democrats, 11 or more paleoconservatives from List D, and no members of the BNP from anywhere.
List C would yield 11 Liberal Democrats who (like Faith, Flag and Family Tories) were profoundly uneasy about the effects of capitalism on agriculture, small business, family life, and so on; and another 11 who (like the Labour Left) opposed the "free" market precisely because it corroded to nought everything that true conservatives sought to conserve, and in so doing drove despairing millions into the arms of equally corrosive Jacobinism, Marxism, anarchism or Fascism. Both List B (probably) and List C (certainly) would produce at least one Catholic Unionist from Northern Ireland.
The rules for disqualification would be the same as for MPs, and the rate of pay would probably have to be, although I should personally prefer to fix it at the national average wage for full-time work, in order to keep Senators in touch with life as most people in Britain live it (I should like to do the same for MPs). Senators could vote in elections to the House of Commons, so the post-1911 taxation of peers without their representation would be ended. No Bill to apply only in England would be submitted for Royal Assent unless approved by a joint session of all MPs and Senators with English seats. The Senate would also have both the committee system and the caucus system.
What, then, of the hereditary peers? Quite frankly (as Tony Blair would say), recent events have created potentially a very popular case (at least if it were presented as part of something like the above scheme) for a renewed and restored role for Their Lordships. They seem decidedly preferable, even to one as solidly Labour as I, to those who have effected a sort of coup by heavily indebting my party (if not all three)without reference to the Party Treasurer, thus securing for themselves lifetime seats in the Mother of Parliaments (plus, in at least one case, Ministerial office).
So I suggest, as part of the above, that the hereditary peerage be closed by statute, and that the remaining elements of sex discrimination be abolished (as also for the Crown, before Prince William produces an eldest daughter – it is inconceivable that any of the other Commonwealth Realms would object to this), so that those hereditary peers who would not be disqualified from membership of the House of Commons and the Senate, and who were not members of or donors to (including creditors of) any political party, might sit, unpaid in any way, as a Grand Committee of Hereditary Peers, with the power to require a referendum on any Constitutional Bill as identified by the Speaker of the House of Commons for the purposes of that House's procedures, and exercising the current powers of the House of Lords in relation to Ecclesiastical Measures.
Hereditary peers would continue to participate, as at present, in ceremonial occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament; and they would have the right to vote and stand in elections to the House of Commons and the Senate (though not to participate in the Grand Committee while sitting in either of those bodies), so the present provision for disclaiming could be repealed.

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