Compared to the House of Commons, the Lords looks competent.
Every year, there are always calls to abolish the House of Lords. There are even fairly regular petitions. The complaints are understandable. The Lords aren’t elected, it’s crammed with bishops and their automatic appointments which makes it an establishment building pushing through a Christian agenda when most of the country doesn’t subscribe to Christianity. It seems increasingly outdated. The only things the Lords are really known for are pomp, ceremony and people in their golden years taking naps during debates and getting expenses paid for it.
Yet, the biggest criticism of the Lords that they aren’t elected is actually their greatest strength. It’s precisely the reason why it should not be abolished.
“Yet, the biggest criticism of the Lords that they aren’t elected is actually their greatest strength”
It can be reformed, of course. There shouldn’t be such an emphasis on Christianity and the selection process is far from ideal when it is so heavily skewed in favour of older people and against younger people. As of December 2017, the average age of the House of Lords was 69. But at its core, the fundamental principle of the House of Lords should remain.
The House of Lords essentially acts as a watchman of legislation given by the House of Commons. The Lords can reject bills from the Commons. Eventually the Commons can push through its agenda anyway, but losing to the Lords means the majority party and the Prime Ministerare often politically weakened and so the legislation is often either abandoned completely or substantially watered down.
Every member of the House of Commons is at the mercy of semi-regular popularity contests. The leglisation they create is often rushed and dictated by their point scoring agenda. It’s about one-upping rivals. The Lords doesn’t have to play this game. They will remain throughout it all, as MPs get voted out and new ones are granted seats in the Commons. The Lords is our constant source of reliability. They sift through the detail of all the bills and try to make it far better than the mess that can come from the Commons.
Few Prime Ministers have demonstrated the importance of the House of Lords quite like Theresa May. It is the Lords who have repeatedly thwarted May’s attempts to circumvent Parliament on Brexit. It was the unelected Lords who defeated May and insisted Parliament must be given a final say on the Brexit bill. It wasn’t about political games. It was about monitoring the path of Brexit and ensuring due process was followed.
The Lords have also tried to challenge the cuts. In January 2016, the Lords tried to remove cuts from the Welfare Reform Bill and while the Lords were defeated, a month later they beat the Government over plans to cut social security to disabled people by £30 a week.
The Lords have many flaws, but they are free from vying for contests over their seats. They can get on with the job. Their responsibility is to themselves and to their position. They aren’t posturing for their careers. In fact, their careers are often viewed as over. This means they’re far more likely to be impartial to the Government’s whims and the Opposition’s badgering. They’ll just focus on the legislation and make it as good as they can, or hand it back to the Commons and force them to do better.
There are a lot of things wrong with our system, but if we want to reform anything then perhaps our attention should first turn to the Commons. After all, the Lords seem to be doing their jobs quite well in comparison.
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