Leading article: We must preserve what is best of the House of Lords

The chamber needs reform, but non-partisan service still has a place

Share
Related Topics

The case of four members of the House of Lords who apparently offered to influence legislation in return for a fee has been greeted by general uproar. It is not surprising, given the echoes of the toxic "cash-for-questions" affair that convulsed the House of Commons in the 1990s.

This latest scandal emphasises the lack of transparency in relation to the lobbying links of peers and also the vagueness of the rules governing their behaviour. Whatever the results of the inquiry into the conduct of the four peers, the system manifestly needs to be tightened up.

The argument that this is merely a case of a few bad apples will not do. There have been several recorded instances of peers handing their Westminster passes, intended for researchers, to lobbyists. And how many of us were aware before this week that 145 of the 743 members of the Lords are engaged in paid consultancy work? Most of these peers are doubtless offering innocent political advice for their services, rather than altering legislation in their clients' interests. But the point is that the present disclosure arrangements leave a good deal of room for doubt. At the very least, peers should be compelled to reveal how much they are earning from their outside interests.

Such problems flow from the half-reformed nature of the House of Lords. The Government cleared out most of the hereditary peers in 1999 but, in other respects, the House remains as unaccountable as it ever was. Nowadays, a peer is appointed rather than born to the title, but the seat is still considered his or her personal property. They cannot be expelled from the house or stripped of their titles for corruption; not even if they end up spending time in prison for their crimes. It is difficult for a democracy to tolerate an upper chamber that is, in many respects, a feudal relic.

All this is true. And yet some wider perspective is important in considering the future of the second chamber. It is important to remember that many peers do much good work painstakingly picking through the legislation that is sent up by their professional colleagues in the Commons. When they come across something wrong-headed or dangerous, they send it back. And most of them perform this service for no salary. The lords have certainly proved their worth as a revising chamber in recent years. Last year, the House rejected the Government's legislative plans to detain domestic terrorist suspects for 42 days without charge. In 2005, the law lords ruled that the Government's internment of foreign terror suspects was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The argument for completing the reforms set in train a decade ago is strong. At least a proportion of peers should be made democratically accountable to the electorate, but a wholly elected chamber would be a mistake. The last thing we want is another chamber of professional politicians. It is worth asking whether the House of Lords would have proved such a stubborn check on the Commons over the years if it had been full of individuals keen to secure party funds for re-election? It is unfashionable to speak of non-partisan public service in the present cynical era, but there is still a place for it.

By all means, let the Government clean up and reform the Lords, but in the process we need to be careful not to wipe out what makes the chamber such a valuable check and balance on our democracy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee