‘Representation is key’
The future of Westminster should not be left solely to parliamentarians, said Iranga Tcheko from Kingsford Community School presenting the option for an elected House, which opened the debate. Members of the Lords should be elected by the public, she said: ‘Can we truly call ourselves a democracy if some of the parliamentarians who preside over the issues that affect our lives are not voted in by us?’
Awarding power through the appointments system is wrong, she argued, because it does not allow for people to join the Lords from a wider enough range of backgrounds. ‘In a country such as England that has a variety of faiths – Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and many others, we believe that they should all be represented in the House of Lords.’ However, appointing Members from other faiths would not right this wrong. ‘We understand the role the bishops play, but they should be elected alongside other people,’ she said. Democracy is important, and representation is key.
The House of Lords is predominantly white and male, she continued. She urged her audience to look around the room: ‘It is not representative of anyone before you.’ This leads to people being ‘out of touch and out of sync’ on issues that ‘could ultimately determinemany of the factors that happen in our lives.’ Election promotes diversity, including demographic and geographic representation that the Lords lacks.
The Lords cannot claim any legitimacy or accountability if Members are only there on appointment, Iranga said making the final remarks of her speech. Elections hold Members to account to the voters. We cannot trust anyone else with the issues that are potentially life changing. ‘No one person can appoint people who will speak on behalf of 60 million people.’
‘Democracy and change do not mean more elections’
Reece Weaver, introducing the appointed option for Robert Clack School said that Members would be independently selected by the House of Lords Appointments Commission. There would be no more hereditary peers because ‘they do not bring expertise to the House and are not always active Members.’ Bishops would be removed because his school did ‘not believe that religion and Parliament go together.’
Before moving onto his main argument, Reece had a few points to make about the democratic process. ‘Democracy and change do not always mean more elections. Just because we have a democracy in the UK, it does not mean that we need two elected Houses. And just because we want change in the UK and in the House of Lords, this also does not mean that we need more elections,’ he explained.
An elected House of Lords would challenge the supremacy of the House of Commons. There would be tensions between two elected Houses as to supremacy and the ‘right to power.’ Moreover, two elected chambers ‘skew accountability’ and neither House could hold the other to account, he argued.
An elected second chamber also defeats the objective of a second chamber because Members would be whipped to vote along party lines. ‘The second chamber would become another party political battle ground, just like the House of Commons.’ Legislation would become deadlocked if the parties did not agree on matters and laws would not be made.
Election would also mean that the Lords would lose independent crossbenchers who ‘provide important knowledge and expertise’ and who would be replaced by ‘career politicians’ with no knowledge outside of Westminster unable to provide ‘the baseline of knowledge that the House of Lords has today,’ Reece said.
A hybrid system would lead to conflict over legitimacy. ‘There would be tension over whether the elected Members or whether the appointed Members have more right to be there and have more power in the House of Lords.’
‘If it serves the people, it should be accountable to the people’
St Angela’s and Bonaventure’s Sixth Form College saw ‘the bigger picture for a better future,’ Adebayo Adisola said, proposing the option for a hybrid House of Lords: ‘Accountability, expertise, independence and diversity aren’t expendables, but are essentials in the perfect House of Lords.’ A hybrid House with 70% of Members elected and 30% appointed would achieve this.
‘To achieve maximum efficiency we need people who don’t care about party affiliation and don’t care about getting re-elected.’ These people will be able to sufficiently scrutinise legislation: independent and unafraid because they do not face re-election, he said.
The job of the House of Lords is to keep the Commons in check, which would be achieved by a Lords with a majority of appointed Members applying a ‘discerning and independent eye’ to the scrutiny of legislation.
Knowledge should be valued, Adebayo said: ‘We need a House with people who know stuff.’ Most politicians aren’t experts. Someone who has spent their working life in the education system is more likely to make a better decision on education, he explained. The appointed Members in the hybrid system would ‘preserve expertise.’
He continued: ‘The Commons is voted for because politics directly affects people. Popular TV shows allow us to phone in and vote for the people we want to win because the contestants are accountable to us. If it serves the people, it should be accountable to the people. As recipients of House of Lords legalisation, the House of Lords should be accountable to us.’
Electing a proportion of Members of the House of Lords achieves accountability while maintaining expertise, independence and diversity, Adebayo said: ‘That 30% that would be elected can hold the 70% who are appointed accountable to the decisions that they make.’
All the other options ‘fall down’ in respect of the essentials, Adebayo said in closing. Appointment does not achieve accountability. Abolition achieves nothing. Election has no independence and lacks expertise. A hybrid House ensures all the essentials.
‘This medieval institution has no place in a modern democracy’
According to St Saviour’s and St Olave’s School, proposing the abolition option, the House of Lords should be ‘exterminated’. Naturally, they disagreed with all the previous options.
‘Abolition of the House of Lords is the only option that can have a positive improvement on the way this country is run,’ asserted Dina Al-Madhi introducing the option. ‘All of you urge us to keep this undemocratic House, but why is it that we allow people who were never elected by the British public to pass bills that some times work against us and produce negative outcomes for society?’
Hereditary peers don’t contribute to the Lords in any way, Dina said. Their membership derived from ‘long dead rulers.’ Appointed Members were no better: ‘Appointed Members of a new second chamber will be under the patronage of today’s rulers which clearly suggests that if we do not get rid of this pointless House the vicious cycle will continue for centuries to come.’ Appointment has been ‘a convenient way for rulers to reward friends, relatives and rich donors.’
The membership of only Church of England bishops is ‘absurd’ in a multicultural society and demonstrates how the House of Lords does not represent the British people. ‘We did not elect these people. This medieval institution has no place in a modern democracy.’
Removing this House will be for the greater good of society and for the government because the House of Lords had become the Commons ‘safety net,’ Dina argued. The thousands of amendments made to bills in the Lords would not be necessary if the ‘Commons had no one to rely on but itself. The House of Commons has become a House of procrastinating MPs. It’s time we got them to pull their fingers out and do their jobs properly.’
Abolition gives power to the people of Britain who elect the different governments, Dina said in closing. The role of the Commons and of local and the devolved governments would be strengthened. Trade unions and the media would provide influence and information.
Image: Parliamentary copyright