The recent vote against the proposed Tax Credit changes by the House of Lords, despite having previously been been voted through by the House of Lords, has once again raised a question of the legitimacy of the UK’s second chamber, albeit from the opposite side of the political spectrum than most previous demands for change. While the Lords has changed significantly over the last 20 years, with the vast majority of the hereditary peers now gone, it is now overloaded with appointed peers, totalling 821, (plus another 41 who are currently disqualified or on leave of absence), with no retirement age, and lacks democratic legitimacy. Set against that, the lack of elections results in peers being rather less malleable to party whips and independent of thought than their colleagues in the House of Commons, who are never more than 5 years from having to stand for election.
So is there a way to combine the benefits of the appointed House of Lords while adding democratic legitimacy? I believe there can be.
First, the size of the Lords has to be limited. I would set this 750, with a retirement age of 70 (the same as judges), and a 15 year term for each peer, with no second term.
The Lords certainly benefits from the expertise of non-political appointed peers, and I believe it would be a shame to lose this entirely. I would therefore propose 150 of the 750 be appointed cross-benchers, 50 retiring and being replaced at the end of each 5 year parliament.
The remaining 600 peers would reflect the results of elections, but rather than change dramatically at each election, there are benefits from a degree of continuity, so I would propose they be based on an average of the popular vote at the last three elections. The representation of parties would be limited to those who averaged 5%+ in the last three elections, with allowance made for the smaller nations by including the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies in proportion to their population, while for England the UK General Election results would be used. As with the appointed element, one third would retire at the end of each 5 year parliament and their replacements reflecting the change in those averages in the elections during the term. The peers themselves would be selected by their parties in whatever method they choose. This model would give the following party split:
Scottish National Party