There is little point in your reading any of my opinions on things, until you understand what I mean by "good" and "evil", so you should start by reading how I define these, and only then go on to read the rest of my bigoted maunderings.

Not everyone will love everything I have to say, and you will find above a link to a page telling the tale of one attempt to have my views banned, and another about how I was eventually banned.

How to reform the House of Lords properly

Recently, the House of Lords underwent a major reform, and most of the hereditary peers lost their seats in the House. There had been calls for many years to reform the Upper House, even to scrap it entirely. I believe that there is great room for improvement on what has been done.

Democracy is one of the best methods which people have worked out for governing large societies. Sometimes the word "democratic" is misused to mean "good". Democracy is very flawed. It is far from good, but it is better than most of the realistic alternatives. The House of Commons is elected by the people of the country, and the elected MPs must act to please those people, or else lose their jobs. If everyone in the nation votes entirely selfishly, as they probably do, then the people elected will in theory carry out the wishes of most of the population, which is fair enough.

However, the vested interest for a career politician is not most in governing the nation particularly well, but in gaining power, staying in power, and keeping a job. To this end, these people group together in political parties, and spend much of their time making sure that they are not ousted from power and influence, by others who want the same things. The media spend far more time reporting who is trying to wield power, and who the winners and losers of this competition might be, rather than analysing the effects of policies. The word "politics" has more to do with behind-the-scenes-manoeuvres, and competition for power, than to do with ascertaining the best way to run a nation.

The policies which a government chooses are massively influenced by what that government believes will please voters, and out-manoeuvre rivals. This is bad for a nation. A perfect government would think entirely of what is good for the people, and would never seriously consider implementing a policy which would harm the nation, but save the image of the government. We live in a very imperfect world.

Governments are often accused of "inconsistency". It is taken as a sign of weakness and incompetence ever to change one's mind. Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of a very powerful government, and under her rule, the legislation for the "Poll Tax" was drawn up. At first, many people, myself included, thought that this new method of taxation seemed refreshingly radical, and fair and practical. If anything, it seemed rather socialist, rather than conservative. As time went by, however, details of this proposed legislation became clear, and it was obvious to just about everyone, that this was a tax which would never work. However, rather than redraft the legislation, in the light of the reasonable criticism it was getting, the government chose to preserve its image of strength, and it attempted to hammer through this flawed bill, and thanks to the power of the Conservative Party of the day, it succeeded in getting the bill through the Commons.

The Lords then showed its value. After much more sensible debate, which had far more to do with the effect of the legislation on Britain, and far less to do with the government's image and grip on power, the bill was returned to the Commons. The Lords had refused to act as a rubber-stamp, and had shown the people that there were educated and informed people working in Westminster, who could and would seek to prevent such flawed legislation's being passed.

This, then, was the good side of The Lords. The Upper House is there to curb the excesses of the Commons. Precisely because the Commons will inevitably be concerned with who is in power rather than how best to govern, we have a second house, which will reject the bills which are born of the follies of power-politics.

Later, however, the Lords showed its bad side.

The Poll Tax, though it was still doomed in the long-term, eventually got passed by the Lords, after a "three line whip". The Conservative Party made every effort to see that every person it could get to support it, would turn up and vote in the Upper Chamber, and save the government's face. Peers, who seldom if ever turned up to Westminster, were rounded up from the furthest corners of our fair realm, and driven in to vote for Thatcher's flagship bill. Many of these men and women were hereditary peers, and the public perception was that such people would always favour the Conservative Party.

The Upper House had shamed itself. It showed us all that party politics could stop it from doing its job. This issue was the saving of the Conservative Party, not the good of the nation. This was one of many occasions which gave ammunition to those who argued that the principal of hereditary peerages was bad and should be abolished.

In fact, not only is the hereditary principle a good one, but actually everyone and his cat supports it. How would you like it if the state prevented you from giving your children anything? A very major motivating factor in people's lives is the desire to give one's children a good life. We all want our children to be healthy, happy, rich, successful, secure. To this end, parents everywhere save money for the future, give their children treats and presents, and many helps in life. This is perfectly natural, and contributes enormously to the wealth and success of a  society. To complain that a peer has his peerage as a "mere accident of birth" is to complain that a person born in Britain to British parents gets to be a British subject as a "mere accident of birth."

As far as the House of Lords is concerned, the great benefit of the hereditary principal is that a person who has fought to gain power will fight to keep it, and will be willing to make all sorts of pernicious alliances to keep it, whereas man who has inherited a seat in the Lords does not fear losing his seat, and so is not nearly so prone to such vices. Many of the hereditary peers stayed away from the Upper House, having insufficient interest to keep them there. Many would turn up and address the house on certain matters on which they were expert, and then not turn up again for many months, or even years.

Justice must be seen to be done, however, and it is true that many people saw the Upper House as being populated entirely by representatives of a  small sector of British society: elderly, male, upper class. It was thought that these people would serve the interests of their type, at the expense of others. That these people were biased towards old age is true, although I see far more wisdom in deferring to the opinions of the old, experienced and wise, rather than the young, naive, and ignorant. True, some young people are wise, but older people have had the chance to prove their wisdom. The male bias existed too, but it does in all establishments of government, and is not unique to the Lords. Men are more interested in acquiring wealth, status, and power, and will try harder to get them. The only way to get equal numbers of women in, would be to impose some artificial system which ensured this. Such a system would undoubtedly do far more harm that the tiny benefit to be gained from having more women in Westminster. That the lords were upper class was perhaps the most serious aspect of the bias. It must be remembered, however, that rich people who have become rich by their own efforts are far less charitable than those born to riches. If one wanted a parliament biased against the poorest people in a country, then one would recruit entirely from the ranks of the nouveau riche: those who have most to lose from policies which help the masses. A man secure in his wealth, who knows that he was lucky to get it, is far more likely to feel sympathy for the deprived.

I believe that there is wisdom in the expression "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". There was so much about the Upper House which was good, that it would be foolish to change everything. I have acknowledged, however, that there were problems with the House as it was. Now for my proposals.

No member of the House of Lords should be allowed to join a political party.

In the first three years of his rule, Tony Blair appointed 209 peers. This is frankly disgraceful. Any prime minister is bound to be massively biased towards appointing peers who support his party, or who will be ineffective in supporting the opposition. Also, people wanting to become peers will have a way of achieving this: corrupting the government. A prime minister who appoints peers will be obliged to elevate people to the Lords when he "owes them one", while other appointees will "owe him one". This back-stage dealing is not in the interest of the nation.

No lord should ever be subject to a "three line whip". Three line whips compel members to turn up and vote in accordance with the wishes of their political party. Lords should be independent of such things; therefore, they should not be allowed to join political parties. The Upper Chamber is there to bring wisdom to parliamentary proceedings, and to make it more likely that the decisions made in Westminster would be in the interests of the people, and not those of the political parties in the Lower House. This ability is clearly hampered by the simple fact that peers are members of political parties themselves.

How, then, should peers be appointed? Given that the hereditary principal is good, but imperfect for recruiting all of the Upper House, a  substantial proportion of the Upper House should be hereditary. The rest should be appointed not by the prime minister, nor by anyone connected with any political party. They should be appointed by the head of state, the monarch, and the monarch should be advised in this by an independent group of advisors, subject to scrutiny.

The quality of debate in the Upper Chamber has always been higher than that in the Lower. The Upper House should be populated by educated and intelligent people. Some of these might be people who have excelled in some field or another, perhaps in business, science, academia, or charity. People who have in the past donated substantial funds to political parties would disqualify themselves by this. People who become successful in business and the like are people who strive to succeed, not in order to get a peerage, but for some other reason of their own. I see no need to represent every type of person in the Upper House. To do so would require the appointment of a certain quota of stupid people, to reflect that many people in Britain are stupid. Those advising the monarch should seek to recruit the best people for the job, however, they would be fairly criticised if all their appointees were strikingly similar.

Some people suggest that the Upper House should be elected. The main reason for having an upper house is to fight against the flaws of democracy. This cannot work if the upper house is elected as well as the lower. It is truly a ridiculous idea. Furthermore, one only has to look to places like the United States of America, where the upper house is elected, to see that most of the people who get elected are the sons of former members of that same house, and near enough all of them are stinking rich. If you want to get away from an upper house biased towards rich men who are related to other members, and who band together along party lines for the sake of their positions, then you must not support an elected upper house.

A healthy amount of randomness, and some bias away from the upper classes, might be brought about by the appointment of peers who will start new hereditary lines. These new lines would start with people from a variety of backgrounds, including working class.

So now I have stated my opinions, and have put forward two major proposals, which I'm very sure about, and a minor one, which might require more thinking about.

1. No member of the House of Lords may be a member of a political party.

2. Lords are to be appointed by the head of state, advised by an independent board.

3. New hereditary lines should be created, from among British subjects of varied backgrounds.

My feeling is that the right proportion of heredity to non-hereditary ("life") peers is probably around 1:1 (half).

I look forward to critiques of what I have written.

Lloyd 2000

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