House of Lords – Election or Selection?
Martin Vickers MP
Tuesday 17th July 2012: Last week, 89 backbench Conservative MPs rebelled against the plan for electing the House of Lords. Some objected to the rushed measure; others to Proportional Representation; others worried that an elected Lords would sideline the Commons. Many opponents were ‘new intake’ MPs.
But many Conservatives and other MPs want an elected upper House. Here, Martin Vickers the Conservative MP for Cleethorpes, puts the case for election, not selection. For his full article, see Freedom Responsibility and The State: Curbing Over-Mighty Government
No one should be taken in by the opposition to an elected Upper House. The case for change remains strong. Today most peers are appointed – often selected from a narrow group of ex-MPs, rich businessmen (and women), representatives of the quangos, Whitehall officials, local government etc. Some are talented, others, less so.
Let’s consider one of the objections to election made by peers and MPs alike. It’s often said that the present membership has a great deal of expertise that would be lost if the House were elected. But the existence of a pool of talented and informed individuals does not mean that they should be a part of the legislature. Many are former members of the Commons but by what criteria does one ex-MP become a peer but not another? The same can be said of business leaders – why some but not others? Whatever the truth the process is viewed by the public as wrong and increases their cynicism, a cynicism which corrodes and damages the whole political process.
It is objectionable that part of our legislature which exercises a major influence over lawmaking is an unaccountable, undemocratic assembly. The Upper House scrutinises legislation and the Commons retains ultimate power through its control of finance and with the aid of the Parliament Act. The essence of a democracy is the accountability of those charged with decision-making. An unelected chamber fails this test. My preference is for a wholly elected House – though the Bishops should be retained, possibly with leaders of other faiths.
*This piece is an extract from Martin Vickers’ ‘Electing, Not Selecting’, which appeared in the Politeia pamphlet, Freedom, Responsibility and the State: Curbing Over-Mighty Government.