Letters: No one needs a second chamber of politicians


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The Independent Online

Creating an elected second chamber is an understandable but, nevertheless, reactionary response to Lords having for centuries derived their authority from birth and dodgy patronage. But it's not a solution.

Yes, let's finally end hereditary Lords, stop party leader patronage and cut the place down to size. But we should remind ourselves what we want a second chamber for before we start deciding how it should be composed and how its members derive their authority.

Most agree that the Commons can benefit from having a revising chamber which offers sober second thought, to reflect on matters of practical implementation and upon expert and professional advice. (A politically neutral independent appointments commission would provide the obvious mechanism to achieve that.) Creating another chamber of party political tribalists seems to me the last thing we need.

God knows, the Lords needs massive reform. But it should all be in proportion to the primacy of the pre-eminent democratic chamber of the House of Commons.

Andrew George MP

(St Ives, Lib Dem)

House of Commons

The problem with politics is politicians. Their objective is not to do what is best for the country but to get re-elected.

The House of Lords is the counterbalance to short-sighted populism. The House of Lords has a width of knowledge and experience to draw upon and has intellectual and informed debates without the need to worry about point-scoring. We need this.

However the method of getting into the House of Lords is flawed. Thus, we need a method for appointing people to the House of Lords that does not dilute their impartiality or the breadth of experience available, but has some accountability. The solution is 15-year terms by appointment through a cross-bench appointment committee with one 15th of the seats available every year. Naturally the nominees would be known to the public beforehand, thus making the committee accountable.

The UK and Canada are unique in the democratic world in having unelected upper houses, and we are fortunate to have them. Let's build on the positive aspects of this and not just create yet more politicians.

Nabil Shabka

Lane End, Buckinghamshire

I have just heard David Cameron explaining why he opposes a referendum on Lords reform while supporting referendums on London and other places having mayors. This commitment to democratic sovereignty, but not when it is opposed to your own entrenched interests, is typical of our political class.

Reforming the Lords is as major a constitutional change as we have seen since women got the vote. We should settle this by referendum. But it should not be the sort of referendum we had on voting reform, where the most popular option, true proportional representation, was deliberately kept off the ballot because the Tories knew it would easily win. We need a proper multi-option run-off referendum under which we, the people, get to decide whether we want a fully elected PR chamber, or, as currently, a fully appointed one, some mixture of the two or something else.

No decision from which the people are deliberately excluded will get any lasting respect. Parliamentarians are already not overburdened with popular respect.

Neil Craig


I roared with laughter when I read that some Tory MPs are angry about the proposed Lords reform because this, they claim, would threaten the primacy of the Commons. That's not what is bugging them. What they see in such a move in the end of their ambitions to become Lord this or Lady that after they step down as MPs.

So long as we have a society in which deference is widespread, we will never even approach the open, accountable, democratic society we want and need. Enough: we must support the Prime Minister in his insistence on reform of that medieval institution.

Jon Taylor

Marthwaite, Cumbria

Save us from foreign laws

The European Court's recent judgments on deportation and extradition revolve around the likelihood of fair trials and humane treatment abroad.

Continually debated is the extradition of British citizens for trial in the United States in respect of offences against American law allegedly committed in Britain.

Jack Straw is accused of approving unlawful rendition.

For years, and again recently, different British governments have attempted to detain or try persons without informing them of certain evidence against them, perhaps without allowing them even to know the offence with which they were charged. What common principles are raised in all of these?

In 1841, Warren Hastings's biographer, G R Gleig, argued that Indians, before they came under British rule, had not been subject, as some said, to arbitrary despotism but were "in possession of laws ... unchanged, from the remotest antiquity". Therefore, in the 18th century at the start of British rule, "it would be a grievance to deprive the people of the protection of their own laws".

But worse, it would be "a wanton tyranny to require their obedience to others of which they are wholly ignorant, and of which they have no possible means of acquiring a knowledge".

Peter Robb

London N1

I was not surprised to see how much criticism Theresa May has come under for her outright bungling of the Abu Qatada affair. My initial thoughts were that I have seen politicians resign for smaller mistakes and that she should be seriously considering doing the same.

In all honesty though, Qatada has wholly outmanoeuvred the Home Office, and to resign now would be like admitting defeat. Abu Qatada has made her look like a fool, but we can't allow him to destroy her career – we need to direct our frustration at Qatada himself, not at May.

Joseph Byrne

New Malden, Surrey

On 20 April you published the headline "Clarke clashes with EU court chief over reforms". It is disappointing that even The Independent continues to make this fundamental error.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is not an EU court. The Court of Justice of the European Union sits in Luxembourg. It interprets the EU Treaties for the 27 member states of the EU. The ECtHR sits in Strasbourg and interprets the European Convention on Human Rights for the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. The distinction is simple and the difference is important.

Philip Moser QC

London WC1

Cyclists have a right to wobble

We have racism, ageism and sexism. John Griffin adds bicyclism to the list with his prejudiced and ignorant attack on people of all races, ages and sexes on two wheels ("Tories' favourite cab tycoon blasted for attack on cyclists", 21 April).

He said: "Should a motorist fail to observe a granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or a rain-drain, then he is guilty of failing to anticipate that this is somebody on her maiden voyage into the abyss."

Surely every motorist (he or she) will have been warned by a responsible driving instructor that all cyclists, not only grannies (oh, and grandpas) have to divert from the straight and narrow to avoid potholes which could buckle a wheel or topple the rider, and puddles which might conceal a pothole of unknown depth.

If our roads were kept in repair they would not have to, and Mr Griffin could continue on his merry way confident, as are too many drivers, that the public highway is his and his alone.

Peter Forster

London N4

Artists who subvert art

The institutionalisation of subversion. How does that work? Well, Hans-Peter Feldmann has made a career of it ("The German jester has the last laugh", 23 April).

He's a bit of a card. When he won a Hugo Boss prize of $100,000 he papered the Guggenheim with it. Not short of a few bob, our Hans-Peter. But seriously, in his new show "he has set out to demolish the idea of high art" – no doubt a cause of untold suffering – "and put in its place an art of assembled items that impels the viewer to think again of their worth and possibilities". And I'm sure we all feel properly grateful to him for his efforts.

So you can have your art-cake and eat it? Definitely. You can have expensively mounted exhibitions in swanky art galleries that all set out to "subvert" the idea of art. Oh the irony! How long since Duchamp first did it? And it's still OK to build your whole career as a sort of art-hater – I mean conceptualist? Well, so many artists do. And the jest is on us for not being more demanding.

Martin Murray

London SW2

In brief...

Debates with the BNP

It is saddening to read that several candidates in the London mayoral election are refusing to share a platform with the BNP. It is now over 150 years since John Stuart Mill explained clearly in On Liberty why it is important to hear and debate all opinions on a topic, and he would be dismayed that politicians who call themselves liberal are refusing to debate with people with whom they disagree.

David French


Nuns in conflict

The core reason that the Catholic Church in America is in conflict with a group of nuns is that they are supporting abortion (letter, 21 April). This being such a central theological and philosophical stand for the church, it has to intervene. The Church has the Virgin Mary as a prime mediator, so the question of priests not being required as mediators is irrelevant.

Tom Baxter


Olympic get-out

I understand that Trenton Oldfield, the Boat Race swimmer, has been ordered not to go within 100m of the Olympic torch route. As I have no wish to go within 100m of the Olympic torch relay, could your readers suggest an act of public nuisance I might commit to ensure my exclusion?

Roger Moorhouse

Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Last penny

Tom Bawden ("Change we can't believe in", 21 April) thinks we should give up the 1p coin. Surely that's the wrong order. First, let retailers stop pricing things with an odd number of pence at the end, and after that we can give up the coin.

Ian Leslie

Ludlow, Shropshire


Michael Tompkin (letter, 18 April) says of the Liberal Democrats in government: "The prospectus was not false, only the implementation was maladroit." You could, of course, say much the same thing about the Titanic.

Steve Rudd


Crazy voters

Sam Boote suggests that "all elected politicians including councillors should use the NHS and send their children to state schools" (letter, 23 April). Why do the people insist on voting for representatives that don't?

Mike Cordery

Garrucha, Almería, Spain