If ever there was a time to strongly argue for genuine House of Lords reform then today is surely that day? Rather than burying bad news, we ought to be using the daily revelations in the Loans for Peerages scandal to push for a lasting settlement to Blair's tinkering with the second chamber. A settlement that should form part of a much wider constitutional review and include proposals to resolve the West Lothain Question.
In 1997, Blair promised to reform the House of Lords by removing the hereditary peers. As is very well known, this was only ever part done with a deal for a certain number of hereditary peers (essentially the ones that actually did work) to remain and become life peers. Since then, the House of Lords has been defined solely as a chamber of patronage. It seems almost inconceivable that anyone could argue that a situation where entry to the second chamber is based on Prime Ministerial patronage is somehow more satisfactory then one based upon birth. The least worst option argument simply doesn't wash.
Those in favour of the second chamber being appointed have - it seems - a tendency to argue that if the House of Lords were elected then it would fundamentally undermine the supremacy of the Commons. The problem - as far as I can tell - is the Commons is not actually the supreme body, Parliament is. The Commons has no supremacy in a general sense. It does have statute supremacy in the Parlaiment Act which provides for the specific circumstances (i.e. forcing throiugh a manifesto commitment), but in the wider constitutional sense the Lords can still block the Commons anyway, it just tends not to because it's aware of it's own lack of democratic legitimacy.
In my view we should be looking at introducing something along the following lines:
- The chamber must represent the proportional party shares of the national vote for the Commons.
- The quasi-sincecures for Lords memebrs should be ended by introducing term limits.
- The positions should be paid at the national average salary rate.
- The Parliament Act should be ammended to account for the chamber's new legitimacy.
Putting it simply, we should not be afriad of genuine bicameralism. It is good for democracy, and ultimately good for legislation.