Letter: Picking a senate

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Sir: It used to be so simple; peerages were either inherited or awarded. The result was an amalgam of distinction and ordinariness that gave the Upper House its particular character.

Now some alternative to succession has to be found. Direct representation would replicate the House of Commons, produce another chamber of professional politicians and risk running into the difficulties experienced by the United States Congress.

What is needed is a second chamber composed of a much wider range of talents, capable of sharing the heavy burden of parliamentary business by revising, and where appropriate, retarding Commons legislation, scrutinising European legislation, undertaking committee work, debating current issues in a non-partisan way, and generally tempering the divisive nature of the Commons.

The Irish constitution points the way. Under that, 11 of the 60 members of the Seanad are nominated by the Taoiseach, 6 are elected by the universities, and 43 are elected from panels representing: (i) national culture and language, literature, art, education and specified professional occupations; (ii) agriculture and related interests, and fisheries; (iii) labour; (iv) industry and commerce; and (v) public administration and both state and voluntary social services. The Electoral College is composed of members of the Dail, the Seanad, the county boroughs and the county councils.

The principle seems sound, and the choice of electors could be tailored to the strands and concerns of contemporary society.


Coombe Bissett, Wiltshire