Monday, April 03, 2006

Blair's plans for reforming the House of Lords

Yesterday in the Telegraph the details of the Labour plans to reform the House of Lords were detailed in an interview with the Lord Chancellor. When I wrote up my ideas for reforming the House of Lords I presumed two objectives. First, ensuring that the house has the democratic legitimacy to challenge the Commons when it needs to. Second, ensuring that its opinions do not change too rapidly in line with the Commons so that it acts to slow intrusions into liberties thanks to transient threats.

It appears, by contrast, that Blair's objectives for the Lords are that it should do very little at all. His opposition to elected Lords was on the grounds precisely that they would be able to challenge the Lords and the new proposals would rob them off their ability to temporarily block most legislation. Fears for the power of the executive can only really be understood as MPs feeling territorial; our system clearly allows huge power to governments which usually have large majorities thanks to first past the post and the freedom of an unwritten constitution. The Lords even now only has the power to delay legislation. While it is understandable that Labour feel it a poor result that their legislation is delayed the items which have been resisted most fiercely in the Lord recently were bills such as the Religious Hatred Act or ID cards which made significant changes to the balance between liberty and control and clearly should not have been passed in a hurry. The ability, under the Parliament Act, to ignore the wishes of the Lords in the final instance provides the Commons with all the supremacy it needs.


Anonymous said...

The Conservatives didn't care about the consequences of FPTP or about the power of the House of Lords in the 80s or early to mid 90s. Methinks the Conservatives have now lost confidence in their ability ever to get back into power again. In any case it is this government which has incorperated the ECHR directly into British Law, devolved power to Scotland and Wales and (re)created the GLA. Hardly the actions of a centralising government.

Dave Cole said...

Although it has decentralised some powers, it is worth noting that we are (apparently) the most centralised state apart from, er, North Korea. Or if Certain People are reading this, the Democratic Peoples' Repulic of Korea.

Power has been devolved, but not enough. Local councils are still weak, to the extent that the village my parents live in (North Cadbury) is unable to bring in any speed limits.

Moreover, the tendency where it has not devolved powers is to centralise. While targets can be useful, there are an awful lot of them, especially, it would seem, in healthcare and education.

In Wales and Scotland, power is still centralised in Cardiff and Edinburgh respectively. Decisions are closer to 'the people' but are still not 'close'.

London is more complicated; the Mayor's role is very strategic and the perpetual wranglings between City Hall and the various London boroughs suggest that the balance is not yet right.

While there have been very significant moves to decentralise, this doesn't (I am sad to say) represent a commitment to reinvigorating democracy from Labour. The 'Abolition of Parliamentary Democracy Act' (actually called something about efficiency and red tape) and the lack of desire to bring in a democratic House of Lords does suggest that the Government wants a free hand at the top.


Anonymous said...

What's so good about local democracy as compared to centralisation? Why should a bunch of councillors be any more objective, fair or representative than a regional or national government? Indeed, you could say that local democracy, by putting local interests ahead of national interests is a double edged sword - especially when you consider that more people vote in national elections.