Thursday, 15 October 2009

Lords Reform

The Tory leader will use his powers of patronage to break Labour's grip on public life writes Ben Brogan in today’s papers, whilst David Blackburn echoes his call - “The irony is that Cameron wants to decentralise and promote accountability and transparency, but to realise that ambition he will have to resort to the ‘old corruption’.” In other words, using prime ministerial patronage to stuff the lords with right-thinking placemen, cash for peerages, cronyism, cash for lord’s amendments and the extension of everything perceived to be privileged, corrupt and venal that has destroyed all trust in our political system.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Cameron should use the opportunity to do exactly what he promises – to decentralise decision-making down to the people, promote accountability and transparency in parliament and most of all, put personal responsibility at the heart of government.

By all means reward excellence in public service with a life peerage, but make it no more than a title. A knighthood, if you like, with the right to attend the lords once a year in all their ermine finery to hear the queens speech at the opening of a parliamentary session. A thank you from a grateful nation for sustained and valuable service to its people. No more and no less.

Each party should then be allowed a small team of around 30 ‘working peers’ whose purpose is to present and debate - both for and against according to party affiliation - all new legislation that has been passed by MP’s in the commons. Their audience? 500 British citizens, one from each constituency in the country, chosen at random from the electoral register on a rolling basis, obliged by their rights of citizenship to attend for two weeks to vote in the house of lords. Thousands each year do exactly this in jury duty at local courts throughout the UK. And because they are chosen at random, these citizen jurists will fully reflect the makeup of British society – by gender, ethnicity, religion, values and age.

The practicalities? All transport costs and hotel bills (for those travelling more than 50 miles from Westminster and unable to commute) will need to be paid on production of receipts. The Lords already has a terrace cafe capable of catering for far more than 500 people. Working 10am to 4pm from Monday to Friday provides a great deal more time than needed to scrutinise – line by line – any legislation from the commons. So we can also include all legislation from the European Union. Questions from jurists can be entered through a keypad at each seat to be answered by working peers during the course of each debate. Obviously no legislation can be either initiated or wording changed. Divisions should take place throughout the day as clauses are completed and to allow concentration and bodily functions to be maintained.

And to those who assume ordinary people like me should not be trusted to decide whether or not laws should be passed, think carefully. We already vote on policy issues at local, national and European levels. We already deliberate and decide on the liberty of people who transgress our laws. And we are the people who have to live our daily lives affected by your laws.