Friday, 30 March 2007
Lord of democracy I
In the news today are the Blair government's plans for new casinos, including a "super-casino" in Manchester. The plans, particularly the choice of Manchester rather than Blackpool, have been controversial, and passed through the House of Commons fairly narrowly, considering the size of the Labour majority. Opposition in the House of Lords was even stronger, including those against the super-casino in general as well as critics of the methods used to choose the venue, and the plans were defeated by three votes.
In response to this, several people have suggested that the elected lower house should have its way ahead of the unelected upper house, particularly as the main legislation behind the plan has already passed both houses. As I understand it, if the government chose to continue with the plans, the most the Lords could do is delay them for one year. In Australia, where the upper house (the Senate) is elected, we are more accepting of the idea that the upper house can veto bills. Deadlocks can only be overcome through a full election followed by a joint sitting.
You might wonder whether there is a point to having a chamber whose nature is such that the legitimacy of its votes is so easily questioned. In fact, reforming the House of Lords is another issue that has been in the headlines recently. Proposals for a reformed house were voted on in Parliament earlier this month. The Commons approved two models, one with members directly elected and one with 80% elected, 20% appointed for fixed terms. The all-elected model received the most support. The Lords, however, rejected this, and supported only appointed members of the house.
I find it interesting to consider the equivalents of the House of Lords in the former British Dominions. Not having hereditary peers, the Canadian Senate has always had appointed members and powers comparable to the House of Lords, although there are currently moves toward fixed terms and elected members.
The Australian Senate, more directly based on the US version, was meant to be "the states' house", with an equal number of members for each state. It was also deliberately given quite a bit of legislative power and was one of the earliest directly elected upper houses. Early drafts of the constitution required senators to be chosen by state parliaments, as in the US at the time. I wonder how different Commonwealth-State relations would be now if that model had been kept.
10 points for naming the building in the centre of the photo and finding the (very weak) link between it an this post.