Friday, 18 October 2013

A dysfunctional Senate should not be an argument against an elected House of Lords

A letter in today's Independent suggests that the recent deadlock in the United States Congress is a grim and dreadful warning against electing the House of Lords. It should be pointed out that the present House of Lords, full of placemen and placewomen, can also block legislation and occasionally does. However, there are two major differences between the two upper houses. Firstly, the Lords cannot block money Bills, so the Commons will always achieve its budget. Secondly, an elected UK government will, because of the Parliament Act, always get its way eventually. None of the proposed reform schemes would alter the powers of the Lords.

Moreover, Senators are elected by the first-past-the-post system and, because of the domination of two-party politics, are even more beholden to their local party machines than our MPs are. Hence the sight of Republicans being torn between threats of Tea Party dominated state machines and the blandishments of Wall Street and the President. (Whether the US is right to assume that the world will continue to allow her to run deficit budgets is another matter.)

If the Electoral Reform Society has its way, the influence of party bosses will be insignificant. Even if party lists are allowed, the fact that when reform does come it is virtually accepted that it will be by a proportional system and that the terms will be so long that a member of the Upper House (whatever it is to be called) does not have imminent re-election at the back of his or her mind.

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