The House of Lords: we don’t need more democracy

In this day and age, everywhere you turn you hear people complaining about the Lords, asking why we really need them in the modern world, claiming they are highly undemocratic and made for a different, much older time. However, few seem to be actually considering the positives that having a secondary unelected chamber brings; they are so caught up in keeping us as “democratic” as possible that no one seems to see the benefits.

PoliticalBeat
By Matei Sacerdoteanu
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A chamber fit for a modern British democracy! (Photo: Flickr)
Think about the House of Commons. Have you ever seen a debate take place? It is not a pretty sight at the best of times, with juvenile heckling, jeering and “Punch and Judy” style politics between the government and the opposition, which at times can actually hinder the entire democratic process. This is because, wait for it, everyone in the Commons is a politician. In the Lords we have people who were appointed there; they don’t need to have a certain party allegiance and because there is a much weaker stranglehold from the main parties, they actually have more freedom than our elected politicians to stand up against their own party if they feel a wrong choice has been made. In the Commons this is rare, because if someone does stand against their party, it can invoke party discipline from their whips and thus many decide to stay silent.
It is this freedom and independence from government, as the Lords are unelected, that makes them such a useful safety net when it comes to decisions made in the Commons, a brake to the government of the day when they make a decision that would actually not benefit the country as a whole. The Lords don’t have to be held down by popularity, they can make decisions that may be unpopular with the wider public, but do so acting in the best interest of the country as a whole. This is because they are unelected.

Some may call it undemocratic, yet this is the best form a secondary chamber can have, as it means they can be useful and do their job, without worrying that they will lose it in the next election simply because they stood up for what they saw as right. If the House of Lords consisted of only elected members, it may actually cause them to vote for what is best in the short term and not take into account what would benefit the whole country in the long term.

This much more relaxed level of party influence in the Lords is also very vital in ensuring they take an impartial look at policy and legislation; they are simply better at scrutinising the government because they are an unelected chamber. The government of the day has no power over their position and can’t interfere with them for being impartial and thinking of the good of the country before the good of the party. So why do people want them to be an elected chamber? Is that not why we have the Commons? Having two elected chambers would lead to some fierce friction between them; this is not a good way to create a smooth running government.

An additional reason I can quite clearly think of for us being much better off with the House of Lords is simply the difference in knowledge. To get into the House of Commons, you don’t need to be a specialist in fields such as law, medicine or economics, you are voted in because of what you promise to achieve and the policies you want to implement. Thus, there are a high number of elected MPs who have no real managerial skills or knowledge of how to draw up proper legislation. In the House of Lords, there are many specialists in different fields; the House contains Law Lords and also some of the most experienced business professionals and medics from around the country.

A very recognisable Lord for the average citizen would be Lord Alan Sugar, of Amstrad and more recently, The Apprentice fame. Simply put, he can use his business nous and entrepreneurial expertise to help the country by contributing in the Lords and has many times. Lords are the ones that have to improve the rushed and often poor quality legislation drawn up by MPs in the Commons, who often don’t have the legal knowledge to think of every loophole, and to make sure their legislation is worded clearly and doesn’t have negative impacts on citizens due to some overlooked aspect.

True, the House of Lords did suffer the cash for honours scandal of 2006-2007, where it was found out that certain persons were offered peerage as Lords after donating very large sums of money to Tony Blair’s Labour party. However, this is one blemish on the track record of the House of Lords, which indeed would have affected the impartiality in the Lords, yet it is one event in a century of the House having served the country well. Not to mention, the Commons has had its share of scandals as well, such as the expenses scandal, which I bet we can all agree is much more serious; this is not a good enough reason to get rid of the Lords.

Therefore, it is crystal clear that the House of Lords has many uses and will continue to have these uses for as long as they are around; they benefit our country and our government and it would be a grave mistake for us to take this for granted and simply abolish the Lords. Democracy is not always the answer, our country is democratic enough as it is.

  • But the thing is, a lot of lords who get put into the house are quite happy to vote against the national interest and to vote for their own personal interests. Like Lord Coe whom rarly votes, but does so for NHS privatization, whilst his company bids for NHS contracts? Lords can also not be removed which means what accountability do they have to people? Nouthing. The house of lords works in a few respects, but its crammed full of ex Tory, lab, lib dem and other cronies out for their pockets and not the country. And please, £300 a day?