LETTER : Labour's undemocratic upper chamber

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair's ideas on reforming the House of Lords ("Beware, Mr Blair, of creating a new form of patronage", 14 April) don't amount to much on close examination. Abolishing the hereditary principle as a basis for entering the upper chamber in favour of a system of appointment on "merit" may sound radical, but it does nothing to extend our democratic rights.

Essentially it is nothing more than an extension of the system of appointing life peers with a few extra bits of tinkering. It leaves open the question of who decides the criteria of merit that will guide the appointments to the upper chamber. Mr Blair may well be considering the possibilities of a partial elected element to the Lords at some point in the future - meanwhile we face the prospect of an upper chamber stuffed with his appointees.

The only meaningful reform would be one that extends democracy so that the upper chamber is accountable to the electorate. Blair's tentative proposals beg the question of whether new Labour is prepared to trust ordinary voters with the responsibility of electing representatives to an upper chamber. Could it be that they regard an upper chamber appointed on merit as a bulwark against the base motives of the average voter?

If Blair cannot trust voters to elect an upper chamber, he should at least have the honesty to say so and explain his motives. We should be told why he thinks we should tolerate this continued denial of our democratic rights.

David Abbot

Stanford le Hope, Essex